Exam Option

A description of the requirements of the MA exam option revised in December 2009.

Revisions of MA Examination Option:

Approved by Department of History, December 2009

Exam eligibility and other matters:


Exam option students need 33 hours of coursework (as opposed to 24 + 6 for thesis options). Students should settle on their respective examination fields early in their program, and take classes in accordance with their approved Major and Minor Examination Fields



For students who have previously been pursuing the Thesis option and then switch to the Examination option after they have already advanced to candidacy:


Under most circumstances, students cannot be in Masters Candidacy for more than 3 semesters before taking the exam. Students making the switch should also keep in mind that they may need to do additional coursework before being eligible for this option. In this and other circumstances, a maximum of 3 hours of Thesis (HIST 603) may be applied to the 33 hours of coursework required for the Exam option. A transfer of these credits is not automatic, but will only be approved if student can produce evidence of a body of work completed as part of those thesis hours.



Examination fields:

All fields, reading lists and committees must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies in the History Department.


The student is responsible for assembling their examination fields and committees. The Examination option calls for students to have a Major Examination field and committee member and a Minor Examination field and committee member. Students need to demonstrate that they have at least 3 hours of coursework in each of their fields. If they do not, they will need to do a separate Directed Readings course.


The Major field will cover a more specific area, and the major field supervisor will provide students with a list of 20-25 books or equivalent articles (three articles are roughly equal to one book). The Minor Field will cover a more general/broader topic, and minor field supervisor will provide students with a list of 10-15 books or equivalent articles. Except under extraordinary circumstances, both examination committee members must be graduate faculty in the UofL History Department.  With prior DGS approval, an exam field can be co-chaired by no more than two faculty members. Student must present written justification for such requests and obtain the approval of the faculty members in question.


Faculty should construct a reading list that represents the historiography of a particular topic, and reading lists should include recent publications. Some of those books/articles can be materials assigned to the student in a course (or independent study), but faculty should make sure that there are also some materials not covered by the student in a prior course (ideally at least half). If books/articles have been previously assigned to a student for a class, this should be indicated on the reading list submitted to the DGS.


Unlike the Thesis Option, the third examination committee member may be a member of the UofL History faculty.


Exam Preparation:


During the semester(s) in which they are preparing for their exam, students must  enroll in MAST 600. Examination committee members must supervise students during their exam preparation period (scheduling regular meetings to discuss the readings, requiring students to write discussion papers on the readings, for example). Faculty should also provide the student with a written set of guidelines and expectations for the exam. Faculty may also choose to provide sample question(s) ahead of time, but faculty may not provide students with the question(s) in advance of the examination itself.

During that preparation semester, major and minor exam committee members will draw up the questions for the exam. The number of questions presented, whether the student gets a choice of questions to answer, and other variables are at the discretion of the committee members.


No later than two weeks prior to the first examination date, examination committee members will provide the Chair of the departments Graduate Committee with a copy of the examination questions and the reading lists. The Chair will circulate those questions among committee members, who will evaluate whether the questions are sufficiently rigorous, are in keeping with the reading list and the previously approved field of study, and are clear and unambiguous as to content and thesis. The questions should clearly state the examination format (answer two questions out of three, answer the following three questions, etc.) and the amount of time allowed to write each portion of the exam. Members of the graduate committee will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the questions. The graduate committee can and should ask questions of the examination committee members if they are unsure or concerned about any aspect of the question. The Graduate committee can ask examination committee members to rewrite questions or submit new questions.


If members of the Graduate Committee are also members of the examination committee, they should recuse themselves. If needed, the Vice Chair and/or DGS can be brought in to help evaluate the questions.

Location and Time Allotted for Examination:

As a general rule, written examinations will be administered by UofL Testing Services in Davidson Hall 310. Examination materials must be delivered to Testing Services two days prior to the examination date. At least for now, the History Department will pay all charges related to the administration of these exams.


The amount of time students get to write their exams should reflect the general ratio of 2/3 for the major field and 1/3 for the minor field (3 hrs. for the major exam and 2 hrs for the minor exam, for example). Students can take both exams in the same day (with at least a one hour break in between), or they can take the exams on two separate consecutive days. Students will not be allowed to have books or any kind of notes, cell phone, reference works, or any outside materials during the exam. In scheduling exams, faculty and students should keep in mind that Testing Services closes at 4pm.



Evaluation of Written Examination:


After the exams, all three committee members will read both exams and determine between themselves whether student has passed or failed one or both of the exams. The Masters examination is pass/fail. In evaluating work on the written and oral exams, the following criteria will be applied:


Student demonstrates a thorough coherent understanding of the field.


Student demonstrates a good grasp of historiography of the field and a solid understanding of the processes of historical change.


Student understands the significance of the field for larger historical processes.


Student demonstrates an ability to write an organized essay with a clear argument, organizational structure, and free of major spelling and grammatical errors and errors of fact.


Faculty should not hesitate to fail a student if the student has not met the History Departments standards. Faculty advisor(s) should make reasonable efforts to assess a students readiness to sit for the exam, but students should never assume that the simple act of sitting for the exam guarantees a pass.


Any evidence of plagiarism or cheating on the exam will result in an automatic failure, and students will be subject to automatic dismissal from the program. Examination committee members should make a reasonable effort to review definitions of plagiarism and its consequences with student prior to sitting for the exam.


As a general rule, the committee should take no more than one week to make a pass/fail decision.


Following the reading and evaluation of the exams, the students Major Field advisor will write a letter to the student, copied to the Director of Graduate Studies, informing the student whether they passed/failed one or both parts of the exam, and any other information that might be pertinent.


If a student fails one or both parts of the examination:


Students will have two chances to pass the exam, in two consecutive semesters. If a student fails the exam on his/her first attempt, the student will be allowed to retake the exam in the following semester (or in Fall if first attempt in Spring). With prior approval student can take exam in summer if first unsuccessful attempt was in spring). If on the first attempt the student is determined to have passed the major exam and failed the minor exam, that student will be allowed to retake just the minor exam portion in the next semester. If the student fails the major exam, however (regardless of their performance on the minor exam), the student will retake the entire exam in the next semester.


In the event a student does not pass the exam (and this is the first time they have taken the exam), the committee members will provide the student with detailed written comments on the written and oral components of the exam providing student with a clear explanation as to why theirs was not a passing exam, and suggestions for what the student should do to improve their chances of passing the second time.


A student has a right to appeal committee decision first to the graduate committee, then to the Department Chair and to the A&S Deans office.


If a student fails the exam a second time, s/he is subject to dismissal from the program.


Oral Examination Option:



The oral examination, which may be waived at the discretion of the students committee, will be scheduled about one week after the students written exams.

Students are responsible for scheduling oral exam at a time when all committee members (two inside and one outside) can be present. During that one week period, all three committee members will read both exams and determine between themselves whether student has passed or failed one or both of the exams. The major exam committee member will notify the student before the scheduled oral examination date/time if the oral examination is being canceled because the student has failed the exam. If a student has passed the major exam field and failed the minor field, the oral exam will be held, but the student will be notified at that oral examination that they will need to retake the minor field portion of the exam.


During the oral examination, the committee members will ask follow up questions, provide feedback to the student (and notify them if they have passed the minor as well as the major examination field). Assuming a satisfactory performance in the oral examination, the student will then be determined to have completed all necessary requirements to complete their MA degree.