Graduate Handbook - Master's Project and Oral Examination

The master's project allows students to demonstrate the research skills and knowledge they have gained throughout their master's studies. While master's projects are usually scholarly papers that might appear in an academic journal, projects may conform to other genres of writing, depending on plan requirements and the expectations of the Master's Examination Committee. The oral exam is generally one-and-a-half hours long and covers both the master's project and a reading list of at least 30 texts. Because the master's project is not a thesis, students do not have to follow Graduate School format requirements for the master's thesis.

Project and Exam Requirements by Plan:

Plan A: Literature and Cultural Theory
The final project is a paper of at least 30 pages, which grows out of and significantly expands some aspect of the student's literary studies. The oral examination usually lasts an hour and a half and covers the final project and a separate 30-text reading list.

NOTE: Customarily, most if not all items on the list will be drawn from coursework. The list should be at least 1/3 Literature and at least 1/3 Cultural Theory. Literature items should be drawn from at least 3 courses; Theory items from at least 2 courses.

Plan B: Rhetoric and Composition
The final project is a research paper appropriate to the student's professional goals. The oral examination, usually lasting an hour and a half, covers the final project and a reading list of at least 30 texts not listed in the project bibliography or works cited list.

Plan C: Creative Writing
The project is a collection of fiction and/or poetry, a novel, a dramatic script or other substantial work of imaginative writing. The oral exam focuses upon the candidate's writing project and knowledge of the art and craft of writing, as well as on a list of 30 related texts that are important to the candidate as a writer and are representative of his or her literary background and interests. The exam lasts approximately an hour and a half.

NOTE: Master's students intending to apply to the doctoral program in Creative Writing should schedule an additional 60 minutes for their examinations. Sometimes called a "qualifying exam," this additional portion of the exam may take place following the first or it may be scheduled at a later date. It focuses on the student's ability to undertake advanced literary studies and requires 15 additional texts and a recent sample of the student's academic writing. At least one member of the M.A. Examining Committee for prospective doctoral students should be from outside the Creative Writing concentration.

Plan G: Professional Writing
The final project is a research paper or other project, which grows out of and significantly expands some aspect of the student's studies in professional writing, and is appropriate to the student's professional goals. The oral examination, usually lasting an hour and a half, covers the final project and a reading list of at least 30 texts not listed in the project bibliography or works cited list.

Plan H: Media, Cinema and Digital Studies
The final project is a paper of at least 30 pages, which grows out of the student's area of study. The oral examination, usually lasting an hour and a half, covers the final project and a separate 30-text reading list.

Developing the Project and Reading List

After completing 12 to 15 credits, students should think seriously about possible topics for their master's project. This is the time for students to ask a faculty member to chair the Master's Examination Committee. Students who have an idea for their master's project, but do not know whom to ask to serve as chair, should consult with their plan coordinator, the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies or another faculty member. The chair will be the person who guides the student through the master's examination and heads the Master's Examination Committee. The chair of the committee must be a current UWM faculty member with graduate faculty status.

The student and chair choose a topic and format for the project that suits both the student's professional interests and the requirements of the master's program. They work together to establish a time frame within which to finish various stages of the project. The project must be completed and the exam taken within one year after completing 24 credits. Students also consult their chair in creating the reading list. This list should reflect the student's master's studies and areas of interest. It should not duplicate the bibliography of the master's project.

Establishing an Examination Committee

The Examination Committee consists of three faculty members. In addition to the chair, at least one other member must be a current UWM faculty member (not retired) with graduate faculty status. Students should consult the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies if this is not the case. In addition, the student must complete the Master's section of the Declaration of Committee form. The form is available online. Return the form to the Graduate Studies office, Curtin Hall 422, when it is completed.

The Examination Committee approves the project and reading list and administers the exam.

Once students decide on the topic of their master's project, they should discuss their choices for the remaining two members of the Examination Committee with their chair. Students should do this early as some faculty make commitments several semesters in advance. Students describe the proposed project to the other two faculty members they want to have on the committee and ask whether they are willing to serve. When students have all three committee members, they must inform their plan coordinator and the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies to obtain their approval.

For approval of the Masters Examination committee, the student will complete the Declaration of Committee form available online. All Committee members must also be approved by the Graduate School to be on student committees. The Associate Chair will inform the student if a Committee member is not authorized to be on student exam committees.

Scheduling the Oral Exam

It is highly recommended that students complete their project and schedule the oral exam either during or soon after the last semester of coursework. Students must have completed at least 18 credits and have the master's project completed or near completion before scheduling the dates for the oral exam. Students should talk with their chair about a schedule that fits their needs and satisfies the requirements in a timely fashion. Students must have their Summary of Coursework form approved by the student's advisor, plan coordinator, and the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies before scheduling the master's exam.

Masters students who have applied to the doctoral program should take the exam in time for the student's committee to make a recommendation on admission to the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies before the last day of classes in the semester in which the student is to graduate. Recommendation for doctoral studies by the student's master's examination committee and approval by the Associate Chair are required for admission to doctoral studies.

At least two weeks before the exam, students should inform the Graduate Program Manager about the date and time of the exam and the members of their committee. The Graduate Program Manager will schedule a room for the exam and send a confirmation to the student.

Students must submit a final copy of their master's exam materials (project, reading list, and academic writing sample, if applicable) to the members of their Examination Committee no later than two weeks before the scheduled oral exam date. Failure to submit the materials on this schedule may result in the postponement or cancellation of the examination. Students must also submit a finished copy of the project to the English Graduate Studies office in Curtin Hall 422 if the student is applying to the PhD program.

Performance on the examination

The candidate will receive one of the following three judgments, recorded on the Warrant for Master's Examination:

  • Pass: Recommended for Admission to the Ph.D. Program.
    This recommendation applies only to those students applying to the Ph.D. program during the semester they complete the M.A. degree and who have designed and written their M.A. projects as preparation for the Ph.D. program. If the student applies to the Ph.D. program, this recommendation will accompany the student's application to the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies, who makes the final decision regarding admission to the doctoral program. Plan C applicants must also receive the endorsement of the Creative Writing Advisory Committee before consideration for admission by the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies.
  • Pass: Recommended for M.A. only.
    The student is judged to have fulfilled the requirements for the master's degree. The student is free to apply for admission to the Ph.D. program, but should expect to present new evidence of qualification to the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies. In Plan C, this recommendation may simply indicate that the student has chosen not to take the additional exam required for application to the Ph.D. program, and may elect to do so at a later time. Students recommended only for the M.A. may retake the exam once. The exam must be retaken within one academic year of the original exam. Students will not be permitted to hold a Teaching Assistantship, either for the academic year or for the summer session, while preparing to retake the examination.
  • Fail:
    The student's performance on the written project and/or oral examination is judged unsatisfactory. The student may be asked to revise the project, retake the examination, or both. The exam may be retaken only once. Students will not be permitted to hold a Teaching Assistantship, either for the academic year or for the summer session, while preparing to retake the examination.

Students are notified of the result of their examination within 24 hours after the exam is over. In addition, within 10 days of the exam, the Chair of the Master's Examination Committee must submit a letter to the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies (with a copy to the student) briefly assessing the student's performance, based on the project and the oral examination.