Portfolio and Written Comprehensive Exam
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 three core competencies (history of rhetoric, composition theory 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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
You are eligible to register for ENG 5328, Guided Portfolio, during your last semester in the program. To register for ENG 5328, you must let Dr. Flore Chevaillier 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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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
No. These requirements must be completed during a long semester (fall or spring).
The portfolio is due no later than two weeks before the scheduled defense.
You may use MLA or APA style. You should consult with your director early on to decide which of the two you will follow.
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).
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 written comprehensive exam responses.
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
__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
__Schedule and complete oral defense of the portfolio and written comprehensive exam by the
__Submit any additional revisions required by the committee by the deadline