Information about the format of the exam, registering for the exam, preparing for the exam, taking the exam and grading the exam.
Format of the Exam
The M.A. comprehensive exam is administered in one four-hour sitting and consists of four separate one-hour exams, each of which is graded separately. Each of the four exams is based on a specific course taken during your studies at CUA. One of the courses must be an Analytical Techniques course, and the others are selected from among your musicology courses. We ask that you do not select courses taught by part-time faculty members (if at all possible), as this creates complications in the grading of the exams.
For period courses, you will be expected to demonstrate broad knowledge of the entire period, not just the specific material that was emphasized in class. You will be given three questions, from which you will choose two to answer with detailed, organized essays in a third-person, objective, scholarly style. The questions may be general or detailed. It is more likely that the questions will focus on genres (symphony, concerto, motet, opera, etc.), performing media (string quartet, piano, orchestra, etc.), aesthetic ideas (Romanticism, Modernism, Nationalism, etc.), and contextual issues (patronage, politics, etc.), but questions about specific composers may also be asked. In most cases, you will be expected to speak generally about the subject but to illustrate your points with examples of specific works. It is very important that you focus on actually answering the questions asked. It is not to your advantage to demonstrate how much you know about the given topic or provide excessive details.
The content of the exam for all other courses (including Analytical Techniques courses) is determined solely by the instructor of the course. It is important that you meet with the instructor well in advance of the exam to discuss the format of the exam and how best to prepare for it.
Registering for the Exam
You must register for Master’s Comps (MUS 698A or 698B, with or without classes, depending on whether you are enrolled for anything else that semester) in the semester you plan on taking comps. If you do not pass the exam the first time, then you must re-register when you re-take the exam (even if you are re-taking just a portion of it).
In addition to registering on Cardinal Station, you must also fill out an “Application for Comps” form that is available in the School of Music office. The form will ask you to identify your four selected courses and the faculty member who taught each one. Do not fill out the form without first clearing your four courses with your adviser. The form also gives you an option of requesting to take the exam on a computer. After filling out the form, give it to your adviser, who will perform a degree audit (to ensure that you are eligible to take comps), sign the form, and return it to the office. The form must be returned to the office at least two weeks before the scheduled exam date; the earlier in the semester the form is turned in, the better.
Preparing for the Exam
For period courses, it is not sufficient merely to study your class notes. Be sure to study the entire textbook (including sections not assigned in the course) and to supplement your reading with articles in the second edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. You should read entries on all relevant genres, performing media, aesthetic ideas, and major composers. Another helpful (if somewhat old) book is David Poultney, Studying Music History: Learning, Reasoning, and Writing about Music History and Literature (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1983). It is also important that you familiarize yourself with important works in all genres of the period, to give you a bank of pieces upon which to draw when you need to provide examples for your answers.
Please meet with the instructor of any other course (including Analytical Techniques courses) for specific tips on how best to prepare for those exams.
Your studying is really only as efficient as your note taking; be sure to take notes as you study, using whatever system works best for you. Many people find it useful to re-copy and re-organize their notes throughout the studying process. By the last month before the exam you should be done with all of your reading and just studying from your notes.
Many questions (especially in period courses) will ask you to “compare and contrast,” “trace the development of,” and “summarize” important points. Keep this in mind as you are preparing your notes; it is important to always keep a holistic view and understand how things relate to each other.
Students do not have access to exams in the same subject from previous semesters. However, many people find that it helps to practice writing exam essays on hypothetical questions. It is also helpful to time yourself as you do so. It does not hurt to have several “sample” answers in your head when you sit down for the exam; however, be absolutely certain that you answer the questions asked (don’t simply spit out your sample answer because it’s on the same topic).
The university has an excellent support system in place for students who are concerned about their studying and test taking skills. If you feel you require extra assistance, contact the Center for Academic Success, which also offers Study Strategies Workshops. CUA is also happy to accommodate students with documented disabilities; for more information, contact Disability Support Services.
Taking the Exam
You can take the four sections of the exam in any order.
You are permitted a maximum of one hour for each section. If you spend fewer than sixty minutes on a section, you are not permitted to transfer the remaining minutes to another section of the exam.
Be sure to read all of the questions carefully when you first open each exam. It is more efficient to take a few minutes to think about the answer and sketch an outline than it is to immediately begin writing.
Be as specific as possible in your answers, and be sure to answer precisely the questions asked. It is not to your advantage to provide an excess of information that is not relevant to the question.
When you have a choice of questions, only answer questions that will show your knowledge to the best advantage. If you must write an essay in an area in which you are uncomfortable, it is more important that you demonstrate a general familiarity with the material than to try to BS details. Sketching outlines to multiple questions before answering any of them may help you decide for which ones you are best prepared.
Do not spend too much time on one question. It is very important that you budget your time effectively to cover all of the questions you need.
Be sure to answer all of the required questions! If you do find yourself running out of time, it is much better to write an outline than to omit a question entirely.
Grading of Exams
The individual exams are prepared and graded by the instructor of the course in question, but other faculty members on the committee are often invited to contribute to the evaluation of period course exams. For period courses, the committee will look for evidence that you have reviewed the appropriate sources and have a good overview of the period with sufficient detail to provide relevant examples. It is your responsibility to discuss the grading criteria for other exams with the instructor of the course. Each exam is graded separately, so it is possible to pass some but not others, in which case you will only re-take the portions that you did not pass.
Exams are generally graded within a month of the administration of the exam; it can sometimes take longer for exams to be graded during the summer. The results of the exam will be conveyed in writing in a letter (not an email) from Dr. Santo. Please do not ask your adviser or any faculty member about the results of your exam until after you have received the letter.