PhD Exam Guidelines


The oral examination is the last assessed element in the PhD program before you move on to concentrate entirely on your dissertation. The aims of the PhD exam are essentially twofold: to assess your acquaintance with the Italian literary and intellectual tradition, and to serve as a first stage in thinking through and preparing the ground for your dissertation project. Your preparation for the exam will also allow you to build up familiarity with a core of primary texts and critical/theoretical material that will serve you in your future academic career as a resource for teaching and course development. 

Changes to the PhD exam for students entering the PhD program in Fall 2014 or after

The reading for the exam consists of four separate lists, as follows:   

List A: medieval and early modern primary texts (to 1700) 
List B: modern primary texts (from 1700)

List C: critical, historical, and theoretical material relating to Lists A and B 
List D: primary and secondary material relating to your proposed field of dissertation research 

Lists A, B, and C are uniform and prepared by the Department. List D is individual to each student and is compiled by the student, in consultation with his/her dissertation advisor. List D should consist of 20-25 items in total, divided between primary and secondary works. Films, artworks, etc. are admissible as primary works, along with written texts, depending on the student’s chosen area of specialization. 

The exam will be taken at the end of the student’s final year of coursework (second year for students with four-year awards; third year for students with five-year awards). Students should aim to read as many of the primary texts (Lists A and B) as possible over the summer prior to that year, as well as assembling their List D. The D list must be approved by the student’s chosen dissertation advisor and the DGS at the beginning of the Fall semester.   Work on Lists A, B, and C will continue during the Fall semester, when students will take the compulsory, 4-credit doctoral seminar. Work on List D will take place over the winter vacation and in the spring semester. The exam will be taken three weeks before the end of the semester. Students will submit a one-page summary of their dissertation project to their dissertation advisor at the end of the semester. This must be approved before the student begins work on the dissertation prospectus.   
The exam 
The examining panel will consist of the student’s prospective dissertation advisor and two other members of faculty, including at least one with pre-1700 research interests and one with post-1700. The exam will last for around an hour, and will cover material from all lists. Where Lists A, B, and C are concerned, aside from familiarity with the texts, what the examiners will be looking for is an ability to ‘think across’ the lists and to make intelligent and informed connections between primary works of different periods, and between the primary works in Lists A and B and the theoretical works in List C. Where List D is concerned, the examiners will be looking for a firm grasp of the principal issues and critical and methodological trends within the student’s chosen field. In the case of students with a clearly worked out dissertation topic, examiners may wish to know how the student would position his/her own work with respect to existing secondary literature, but detailed questioning on the project will be left to the prospectus defense. While the exam will tend naturally to divide into two parts, one centered on Lists A, B, and C, and the other on List D, this division is not absolute: examiners may ask students to make connections between works included in the first three lists and works on List D.  

Changes to the PhD exam for students entering the PhD program in Fall 2014 or after

The exam will now consist of three parts: (a) the presentation and discussion by the candidate of an initial one-page written outline of the proposed dissertation topic (approximately 15 minutes); (b) an oral examination on the four lists (approx. 1 hour) and (c) a discussion of the sample syllabus (approx. 15 minutes). The written outline and sample syllabus must be submitted to the exam committee no later than one week before the date scheduled for the exam. For further information about the new components of the exam, students should consult the Director of Graduate Studies.