This post is intended for MA students who are preparing to take the Comprehensive Examination.
Registration/Eligibility for the Exam – You need to register in order to take the MA exam. The necessary form is available here. It must be submitted to the Assistant to the Chair roughly 1 month before you plan to take the exam. The exam itself is offered four times per year (April, July, August, November), and you may contact the department office for the exact dates. To be eligible to take the exam, you must have fulfilled your language requirement (or be enrolled in a class that will lead to its fulfillment).
Structure of the Exam — The MA comprehensive exam is divided into three sections, each comprised of two sub-sections:
- Scripture (Old Testament, New Testament)
- Historical (Origen to Late Medieval, Late Medieval to Modern)
- Systematics/Ethics (Systematics, Ethics)
Most questions on the exam include an element of choice. So, for example, one question might ask you to either write and essay or to define five items in one paragraph each.
Graders of the Exam — Each subsection of your exam will be graded by a different faculty member. You may see who your graders will be by looking at the last page of the Policies and Procedures manual, available here.
What to Expect on Test Day — If you’re registered for the exam, you will receive exact details of where to be and when a few weeks before your test date.
You will be given two sources that you may use on the exam: the Bible and the documents of Vatican II.
Your exam will consist of three two-hour writing periods, plus one hour for lunch. For each two-hour period, you’ll be given six questions, from which you must answer three, two questions from one subsection and one from the other. So, for example, for one two-hour writing period, you’ll be given six questions from the Scripture section of the exam. There will be three questions from the New Testament subsection and three from the Old Testament subsection.
Plan on writing for the duration of the time you’re given, but don’t be worried if you finish a bit early.
Studying for the Exam (tips) — Use the MA Bibliography, available here, as a guide for what you should be reading. You don’t have to cover everything on the bibliography, and you also don’t have to limit yourself to it.
Meeting in groups to study for the exam is a great idea, but most of your studying will likely be done alone. A group can help keep you accountable for learning your material, but you shouldn’t rely on them to teach you the material. As the test date gets closer, consider getting together in a group to talk through the questions one by one, without notes, and help each other by filling in the gaps.
It is a good idea to start practicing your essays almost immediately. First, it allows you to start organizing your thoughts into a coherent narrative. Second, it gets your hand used to writing a lot. Remember, you’ll be hand writing your answers on test day, so be sure you allow yourself some time to build up your hand muscles!