MA Comprehensive Examinations

The Department of Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies believes that reading lists constitute the best way to provide students with a general background in the field. Familiarity with these lists is examined by written comprehensive examinations or ‘comps’.

As part of the requirements for each MA in the department, students are expected to write two comprehensive examinations. These take place in the first two weeks of April in the student’s second year of study.

Reading lists are the same across the cohort and are not tailored to individuals; the content may vary from year to year. Students identify the subjects on which they wish to write by 15 April of their first year to their Graduate Advisor. Lists for the following academic year are available from 1 July. While some works on these lists may be covered as part of the candidate’s coursework, there is no expectation that they will be: students should have the ability to work through all these texts on their own in addition to coursework.

Lists for translation exams represent a prescribed set of primary texts in the original language. The works represent a canon of original authors (literary, historical, and philosophical) that draws from many genres and time periods. The process results in an identifiable and useful body of knowledge that is objectively examinable and fills the gaps in the candidate’s reading of central authors.

Lists for essay exams consist of 25-30 recent and substantial contributions to the relevant field and/or selections of key primary sources.

Changes to the lists are the responsibility of the relevant examining committee:

  • Classical Languages Committee: Greek, Latin.
  • Archaeology Committee: Greek archaeology, Roman archaeology, Near Eastern archaeology.
  • Religious Studies Committee: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East.
  • ACRE Committee: Greek culture, Roman culture.

The structures for MA comprehensive exams are as follows:

  • Structure of translation exams (CLAS). Students write two 3-hour exams. For each examination, students must attempt 5 translations of 8 possible passages (4 verse, 4 prose). At least 2 must be from each category. In addition, students must provide short commentary on 1 passage from each category (chosen passages may include those already translated), for a total of 7 answers. Strategies for preparing for the comment section (“gobbets”) can be found here.
  • Structure of essay exams (CLAR, RELG, ACRE). Students write two 3-hour exams. In each exam, five essay questions are asked, of which three must be answered. The student must refer to and discuss at least 15 items on the list, and at least 5 per answer. If the list includes primary and secondary literature, both types of material should be discussed.

Format for MA Comprehensive Examinations

  1. Candidates will write the comprehensive examinations in Greek and Latin within an inclusive five-day period between April 1st and 15th, normally in the second year of study.
  2. Candidates will be allowed three hours for each examination.
  3. Both examinations will be based on the M.A. Reading Lists (see above).
  4. The examinations in Greek and Latin will be marked separately as a “pass/fail” with a 76% needed to pass.

Candidates who do not pass either or both of these exams will have only one opportunity for a retake, which will be held within an inclusive five-day period in the following August.