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Portfolio and Written Comprehensive Exam

Overview

The portfolio, written comprehensive exam, and oral defense option for completing your degree provides you the opportunity to showcase your work in the program; craft an argument about what this work says about you as a writer, your writing process, and your journey through the  program; reflect carefully and critically on this work and journey; and use your knowledge in the program’s four core competencies (history of rhetoric, composition theory and pedagogy, and research methods) and your designated “area of specialization” to respond thoughtfully and thoroughly to complex issues or scenarios.

 You will select the thesis or portfolio option for finishing your degree once you have completed 18 hours in the program. If you choose the portfolio option, you will assemble a portfolio committee (currently one director and two readers) and take ENG 5328: Guided Portfolio during your last semester in the program.

You will schedule and complete an “oral defense” of your portfolio and written comprehensive exam toward the end of ENG 5328: Guided Portfolio, after your committee indicates that both the portfolio and written comprehensive exam are satisfactory. 

Question-Answer Forum

The following questions and answers will guide you systematically through the entire portfolio, written comprehensive exam, and oral defense process. Please read this section carefully as it contains all the information you will need to complete these requirements successfully.

Which option should I choose for my culminating project in the MARC program: a thesis or a comprehensive take-home exam and program portfolio?

We developed the thesis and portfolio options to address MARC students’ different needs and interests. Students who plan to pursue a PhD after they complete the MARC program often choose the thesis option, reasoning that they will be better prepared to write a dissertation down the road. These students see academic research and writing in their future and want to prepare themselves for this work. Students who aren’t particularly interested in continuing to conduct academic research or who work or plan to work in careers that simply don’t require such research usually choose the portfolio option. They see value in assembling and reflecting thoughtfully on their work in the program. These students may prefer the kind of learning that happens during courses and thus choose the portfolio option because it is a three-hour option and will allow them to take an additional MARC course. Some students may choose the portfolio/written comprehensive exam option because they enjoy synthesizing what they have learned in the program and applying it to the very specific kinds of questions posed in the written comprehensive exam. We encourage you to think carefully about what you want out of your degree and what you want to do with it and to use this to guide you in selecting the thesis or portfolio option.

Is one option “easier” or “more difficult” than the other?

The thesis and portfolio options are equivalent in scope and rigor. Neither is easier; neither is more difficult. The 6-hour thesis option culminates in a 60-75 pages of new work. The portfolio, a 3-hour option, culminates in 30 pages of new work (10-page portfolio introduction and 3 7-page written responses to 3 comprehensive exam questions).

At what point should I make a decision about doing a thesis or an exam and portfolio?

You’ll need to make this decision before or immediately after you’ve completed 18 hours of coursework. For full-time students (students taking 9 hours per long semester), this will be at the end of the first year. Your decision will determine the courses you take during your second year in the program. If you choose the portfolio option, you will sign up for ENG 5328: Guided Portfolio during your final semester in the program.

What is a portfolio and written comprehensive exam committee and how do I select one?

A portfolio and written comprehensive exam committee is made up of three graduate faculty: your director and two readers. Your director and at least one reader must be on the MARC faculty. The third member of the committee may be another MARC faculty member or a faculty member from another program or department with whom you have taken at least one graduate course. Outside committee members must be classified as “graduate faculty” and have expertise in an area clearly related to your area of specialization. Both the portfolio and written comprehensive exam director and the MARC director must approve third readers who are not MARC faculty. (For a list of graduate faculty, please consult the graduate catalog).

As a whole, your portfolio and written comprehensive exam committee represents expertise in areas related to your portfolio and written comprehensive exam areas. For example, if your area of specialization for the written comprehensive exam is writing as social activism, then you’d want to select a director and two readers whose expertise will help you navigate issues and methods central to area. If someone outside the program or department has expertise that would be valuable to this project and you have taken a course with this person, then you might discuss with your portfolio and written comprehensive exam director the value of asking him/her to serve as a third reader on your portfolio and written comprehensive exam committee. In addition to area of expertise, you should also consider how well you respond to particular interpersonal and work styles.

Once you’ve decided who you’d like to direct your committee, you should make an appointment with that faculty member to formally request that he/she direct your direct portfolio and written comprehensive exam. Once you have secured a director, you will want to schedule a time with him/her to discuss potential committee members—your two readers. You will need to meet face-to-face with these faculty members as well to ask them if they are willing/able to serve as readers on your committee.

How should I select my portfolio and written comprehensive exam director?

Your portfolio and written comprehensive exam director should be a MARC faculty member who has expertise (based on publications, current research and/or scholarship, teaching, and experience) in areas you explore in your portfolio and/or written comprehensive exam. You should also select someone with whom you work well and whose work habits complement your own. You should certainly take courses from as many faculty members as possible before deciding whom to ask to direct your thesis.

Who can be on my portfolio and written comprehensive exam committee?

Your director and one reader must have graduate faculty status and teach in the MARC program. Your third reader must also have graduate faculty status and be someone from whom you have taken a graduate course, although they may or may not teach in the MARC program.

What role do the portfolio and written comprehensive exam committee members play?

Your portfolio and written comprehensive exam director will likely be the committee member with whom you have the most contact, although in some cases all three committee members may be equally involved throughout the process. The portfolio and written comprehensive committee is there to help you prepare your portfolio and develop your comprehensive exam questions. Readers on your committee will decide at the portfolio and written comprehensive exam meeting how involved they wish to be during the writing process. Some readers want to read and comment on new work in your portfolio and your comprehensive exam questions. Others will prefer that your director handle these matters. These readers may only want to see the portfolio and written comprehensive exam questions in polished form—after you have gone through rounds of revision with your thesis director. 

How do I register for portfolio hours?

You are eligible to register for ENG 5328: Guided Portfolio during your last semester in the program. To register for ENG 5399A, you must let Karen Bryson know which faculty member has agreed to direct your portfolio. She will then open the appropriate section of ENG 5328: Guided Portfolio so that you can register. Please note that you may not ask Ms. Bryson to open a portfolio section for you with a particular faculty member until you have asked that faculty member to direct your thesis and he/she has agreed to do so.

Once you are enrolled in ENG 5328: Guided Portfolio, you will set up a schedule of meeting times with your committee chair.

What is a portfolio and what are the requirements for the portfolio?

The portfolio is a collection of select finished work from your time in the program. It is designed to tell a particular story about your journey through the program or, to use another framework, to help you craft a particular argument about your journey. In addition to select work from your courses, you will write at least 10 pages of new material specifically for the portfolio, including a 3-page (minimum) reflective introduction. The reflective introduction will make explicit the story you want to tell or argument you wish to make about your work in the program. The pieces included in the portfolio will work to “develop” your narrative (if you are using “story” as your overarching metaphor) or act as “evidence” for your claims (if you are using “argument” as your overarching metaphor).

Other new work may include a teaching philosophy (if relevant), introductions to and reflections on individual pieces in the portfolio, revisions of previous work, etc. You will work closely with your portfolio/exam committee to decide on what will constitute “new work” for the portfolio. You are welcome to create a digital or hard-copy portfolio. The portfolio itself should be professional in appearance and easy for readers to use, including appropriate locating devices (table of contents, links), introductions to individual pieces that provide a context (for whom, when, and why the document was written), etc.

The following are specific requirements for work included in the portfolio:

  • a minimum of 4 projects totaling 30-40 pages of material
  • at least 2 projects (of the 4 total) that are 10+ pages in length
  • at least 10 pages of new material—material written specifically for the portfolio
  • a reflective introduction to the portfolio of at least 3 pages (counts toward the required 10 pages of new material)

What is the process for creating the portfolio?

The first step is to secure a portfolio and written comprehensive exam committee. You will then work closely with your committee to select work for the portfolio that suggests important milestones or themes in your journey through the MARC program. You will also begin to write and revise your reflective introduction to the portfolio (a document that must be a minimum of 3 pages) and decide what additional “new work” you will include to meet the 10 page “new work” minimum required for the portfolio. Some students include a teaching philosophy as “new work.” Others include a teaching philosophy as well as short reflective introductions to individual pieces. A substantive revision of one or more of the documents included in the portfolio might be defined as “new work.” You should begin assembling the portfolio and working closely with your committee chair on new documents before or early in the semester in which you are taking ENG 5328: Guided Portfolio as most “new work” will need to be revised (perhaps more than once) before the final portfolio is ready to go to the entire committee. You will defend the portfolio at the same time you defend your written comprehensive exam.

Note: You must factor in response times, potential revision requirements, and Graduate College deadlines for paperwork in planning your schedule for completing the portfolio and written comprehensive exam. Faculty members typically need at least two weeks to read and respond to work submitted. Your committee may request revisions of the portfolio and/or exam responses at your defense (which would trigger another read and response cycle). And the Graduate College must receive your oral exam paperwork no later than 10 days before graduation. Your committee chair will help you plan deadlines for all required components, but ultimately it is your responsibility to meet deadlines in order to graduate.

What is the reflective introduction to the portfolio?

The reflective introduction should demonstrate your ability to think carefully and critically about your work in the program: What have you learned? How have you learned? What changes have occurred in your perspectives? Who are you as a learner, teacher, researcher, and writer now that you’ve completed your program? Your reflective introduction should also provide readers with a “map” of the portfolio itself. You should identify what documents readers will find in the actual portfolio, the order in which they will find these documents, and your rationale for organizing documents in this particular way.

What is the written comprehensive exam and what are the requirements for the written comprehensive exam? 

The written comprehensive exam is a take home exam completed over a 72-hour period of time. The exam covers a required reading list (available online at marc.english.txstate.edu) over the program’s 4 core competencies (history of rhetoric, composition theory, composition pedagogy, and research methods), as well as 10 books and articles you select to represent your own declared “area of specialization.” You will write your own questions for the exam in consultation with your committee. Each exam response must be 6-7 pages double-spaced, excluding works cited or references, for a total of 18-21 pages.  

What is the process for taking the written comprehensive exam?

The first step is to secure a portfolio and written comprehensive exam committee. You will then identify an “area of specialization” and create a list of 10 key sources—books and articles—in that area of specialization. You will be responsible for knowing these sources as well as those on the MARC required reading list for the written comprehensive exam. Combined, these are the sources you will draw upon to respond to your written comprehensive exam questions.

Next, you will work closely with your committee to develop 3 potential questions for your written comprehensive exam. These questions must address the 4 core competencies in the program (history of rhetoric, composition theory and pedagogy, and research methods) and your own area of specialization. Be prepared to write and revise these questions several times before they are approved.

Once your committee has approved your questions, you may schedule a 72-hour period to take your exam. Your committee chair will send you the exam via email at noon on the first day of the 72-hour period. You will return the exam via email to your committee chair 72 hours later. Your chair will then distribute the exam to the committee members for their evaluation. The chair will give committee members 2 weeks to read the exams. Exams are evaluated on a Pass, Pass with Revisions, and Does not Pass system. If all or part of the exam responses are given a Pass or Pass with Revisions, you will schedule and proceed with your oral defense. If part or all of the exam responses are designed “does not pass,” then you will convene with your committee to discuss this prior to scheduling a defense. In some cases, students may be required to retake part or the entire exam and schedule the defense for the following semester.

Note: Again, you must factor in response times, potential revision requirements, and Graduate College deadlines for paperwork in planning your schedule for completing the portfolio and written comprehensive exam. Faculty members typically need at least two weeks to read and respond to work submitted. Your committee may request revisions of the portfolio and/or exam responses at your defense (which would trigger another read and response cycle). And the Graduate College must receive your oral exam paperwork no later than 10 days before graduation. Your committee chair will help you plan deadlines for all required components, but ultimately it is your responsibility to meet deadlines in order to graduate.

May I finish my portfolio and written comprehensive exam and defend it during the summer?

No. These requirements must be completed during a long semester (fall or spring).

When is portfolio due to my committee?

The portfolio is due no later than two weeks before the scheduled defense. 

What documentation style am I required to use?

You may use MLA or APA style. You should consult with your thesis director early on to decide which of the two you will follow.

What is an “oral defense” of the portfolio and written comprehensive exam?

An oral defense is a formal meeting of your entire committee in which you “defend”—explain and argue for—your portfolio and written comprehensive exam responses. For example, committee members may ask you to clarify, further develop, or complicate parts of your work in the portfolio and/or written comprehensive exam responses. You may be asked to revise parts of the portfolio and/or written comprehensive exam responses. For this reason, you should allow at least a week between the date you defend and the date that comprehensive exam paperwork is due to the Graduate College (10 days prior to graduation).

What can I expect to happen at the oral defense of my portfolio and written comprehensive exam?

The oral defense lasts approximately 1-1 ½ hours and, if you choose, may be attended by family and friends. You should come to your oral defense prepared to respond to committee members’ questions about your portfolio and/or written comprehensive exam responses.

Your thesis director will begin the meeting by asking you and any guests to step outside. This is part of the protocol as it gives the committee a moment to plan how the defense will proceed. You and guests will then be asked to come back into the room and the oral defense itself will begin. Your committee chair might ask you to begin by talking briefly about your project, but the majority of the defense will be dedicated to conversation among you and your committee chairs about the portfolio and comprehensive exam itself. Committee members will pose questions; you will respond to those questions.

When committee members are finished with questions, you and guests will be asked to step outside again so that the committee can outline any revisions to the portfolio and comprehensive exam and other requirements that must be met before you submit your final portfolio and comprehensive exam to the Graduate College. Last, you will be asked back into the room and you and your portfolio director will discuss further requirements. 

Portfolio and Written Comprehensive Exam Checklist

Note: Checklist items are not necessarily steps in a sequence. Rather, you will complete many of these activities simultaneously.

__Assemble a portfolio and written comprehensive exam committee

__Register to take ENG 5328: Guided Portfolio

__Apply for graduation

__Decide on an area of specialization

__Gather key sources that represent that area of specialization

__Study sources on the MARC required reading list and area of specialization

__Write and revise potential written comprehensive exam questions

__Gather completed work for the portfolio

__Decide what “new work” you will include in the portfolio aside from the required reflective

     introduction

__Draft and revise written comprehensive exam questions and new work for the portfolio

__Receive committee approval for written comprehensive exam questions

__Schedule and take written comprehensive exam

__Submit portfolio

__Schedule and complete oral defense of the portfolio and written comprehensive exam by the

deadline

__Submit any additional revisions required by the committee by the deadline

__Graduate