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Updated May 19, 2019

In Fall 2011, the MALAS Program instituted another culminating option for graduation: the MALAS Comprehensive Exam. It is your choice to either choose the MALAS Comprehensive Exam or to complete a Thesis or Project, and there are pros and cons for each choice.

There are TWO specific courses on the online catalog that pertain to the Comprehensive Exam option. The first, MALAS 795, is the most important as graduate students who elect to pursue the MALAS Comprehensive Exam option must have MALAS 795 on their Program of Study in order to take the exam and to graduate. The second, MALAS 799C only comes into play if a MALAS graduate student fails the comprehensive exam:

MALAS 795. Studies in Liberal Arts and Sciences (3) Cr/NC
Prerequisite: Graduate standing. Individual preparation for comprehensive examination for students taking the Master of Liberal Arts and Sciences under Plan B.

MALAS 799C. Comprehensive Examination Extension (0) Cr/NC
Prerequisite: Completion or concurrent enrollment in degree program courses. Registration required of students whose only requirement is completion of the comprehensive examination for the masterís degree. Registration in 799C limited to two semesters.

The MALAS Comprehensive Exam is offered in the Fall and Spring semesters, and is available also in the summer for qualified graduate students.

What is the difference between the Exam and the Thesis?

The MALAS Thesis or Project needs to be published via standard SDSU MA publishing guidelines found online. The MA thesis is an in-depth research document focused on a topic of your choosing; people who are extremely worried about publishing deadlines or writing an exceptionally long, challenging paper may wish to shy away from this option. Note: the average length of a MALAS Master's Thesis is anywhere from 55 to 80 pages including bibliography, footnotes, etc.

This is where the MALAS Comprehensive Exam comes in. To put it simply, at the end of the semester of your choosing (at which time you enroll in the above-mentioned MALAS 795 class), you take an exam based on three areas of emphasis of your choosing (which is great for eclectic MALAS students). These areas can be independent of each other or interrelated.

The MALAS Comprehensive Exam uses a
Distinction/Pass/Fail standard and is administered all on the same day over six hours; each exam is an hour and fifty minutes long, with a break between each question.

Here are the specifics of how the Comprehensive Exam works:

You (the MALAS student) meet with the director to discuss your choice between the Comprehensive Exam, the Thesis or the Project. Ideally, at this point, you will know the three areas that you want to focus on for your
Comprehensive Exam. Youíll be informed that you need three Faculty supervisors that are willing to oversee one of each of the three areas of emphasis, for a total of three advisors. The Area of Emphasis advisor is the one who authorizes your final list of selected texts for one of your three test subject areas and authors the questions you will have on the exam and evaluates your written responses. Note that your area supervisors do not need to be tenured or tenure-track Assistant, Associate, or Full Professors at SDSU, but it is preferable that they are and especially important that they are scholarly experts in the area of emphasis you have designated them to supervise. Lecturers at SDSU are welcome to serve as area of emphasis supervisors but please let the MALAS Director know about this via email as soon as possible.

Once you have your subject area supervisors, you will come up with a reading list of 7-12 books, critical articles, anthologies, movies, etc, that your professor/area supervisor agrees constitutes a Masters-level bibiliography for the selected area.
nota bene: you must have 7 to 12 works for EACH AREA OF EMPHASIS--note that, in the end, you are agreeing to carefully prepare, read, and research anywhere from 21 to 36 book books, critical essays, creative works (film/documentaries), so be sure you have enough time in the semester you elect to complete the exam to do all your preparation. Some of these 21 to 36 titles may be drawn from your graduate work in MALAS seminars, but it is also important for you to supplement what you have experienced in seminars with your own selection of books, critical essays, and creative works. In NO CASE should more than two works for a given reading list mirror works from a seminar syllabus you have taken for credit as a graduate student--the idea behind the exam is to show your growth as a researcher and independent scholar, not just to repeat what you have already studied and written about before the exam.

Over the course of the semester, you will be expected to carefully read and research the agreed upon items from your three areas of emphasis--it is up to you and your supervising professor for each subject area whether you meet to discuss your progress on the reading list during the term. About two weeks before the exam, it is recommended you break contact with your supervising professor in your three selected areas of emphasis--at that point, the MALAS director will directly communicate with your supervising scholars.  The director will direct your supervisors to come up with 2-3 questions for the Comprehensive Exam based on your approved reading lists (although you will respond to only ONE of these provided choices per area of emphasis. NOTE: you do NOT get to know what the questions are beforehand.

The Comprehensive Exam is not an easier choice than the Thesis and, in general, it does not have less value than the thesis if you are considering going on for a Ph.D. You must demonstrate mastery of the material to the point of being able to pull specific examples from as many of the works as you can to support your case without having them in front of you as reference. The best part of selecting the MALAS Comprehensive Exam over the thesis or the project? It is over in one day, and the task of chasing down your three thesis committee member professors (sometimes an onerous chore) to agree on your final thesis draft is not part of things-to-do list!

Sample Case Histories:

Example #1: Richard Grant Muir

Richard Grant Muir had been taking courses on Social Justice through MALAS and the Womenís Studies Department. After discussing his areas of expertise with Dr. Nericcio, Richard decides on the following areas to be tested on:

1.    Cultural Studies
2.    Gender Studies
3.    Sexuality Studies

This is an actual case history, and appears here with Mr. Muir's permission. The MALAS Comprehensive Exam was a better choice for Mr. Muir than the Thesis because, as he was completing the MALAS program in only one year, said circumstances did not give him enough time to write a Thesis--so he opted for the Exam.

Example #2: Janille "La Xochi" SŠnchez

Janille started the MALAS program to pursue a wide variety of study options; she had completed her Dual B.A. in Music Education and Biology at her previous university, and she wanted a way of focusing on each in her Masterís Program. Janille decided on the following areas of focus for her Exam:

1.    Academic benefits of Music Programs in inner city middle schools
2.    Auditory stimuli and the effect on brain functions
3.    Matching Musical Instruments to kids of varying personality types

While some of the areas could easily have some overlap, this option enabled her to focus on the areas of her academics that she was the most passionate about. Indeed, the fact that the questions were so different made writing the Exams easier, as she was not confusing sources!

Example #3: Jerome Tran

Jerome had spent his undergraduate degree getting a general education in Liberal Arts, with a Minor in German. The MALAS program seemed like a fantastic choice, as it enabled him to pick from many different classes and fields of study that peaked his interest. Because of his varying interests in many different things, Jerome felt that the Exam option enabled him to be as diverse as he could, while still showing off his knowledge skills. After deliberating with the MALAS Director/Graduate Advisor, he decided on the following areas:

1.    How Transcendentalism impacted immigrants in the 1800ís
2.    The Surreal art movement of South Korea in the 1990ís
3.    Evolution of the Germanic language in propaganda from World War I through World War II.

Really, none of these questions had overlap, but that is exactly what Jerome wanted! The Exam truly enabled him to be able to highlight specific areas of competency, while also illuminating his being a relative Jack of all Trades.

Five actual past MALAS Comprehensive Exams appear below as reference; do NOT feel the need to directly mirror the examples provided--every MALAS graduate student is different and so expect the comprehensive exams to vary widely.

William A. Nericcio
Director/Graduate Advisor | MALAS

Sample MALAS Comprehensive Exam & Instructions and Questions

1. MALAS Graduate Students whose graduate emphases included Communications and Mass Media, Film Rhetoric, and the Urban Environment

2. MALAS Graduate Students whose graduate emphases focused upon Neurobiology/Psychopaths, Sex & Gender Studies, The Insane in 21st Century Film and Television

3. MALAS Graduate Students whose graduate emphases featured works in the area of Feminist Art, Theories/Practices of Museum Curation, and Chicana Sexualities

4. MALAS Graduate Students whose three area of emphases focused on Title IX Public Policy, Contemporary Film, Literature & Art, and Cities, Economies, Futures.

5. MALAS Graduate Students whose graduate emphases looked at Neoliberlism in Theory and Practice, African American Culture, and Multicultural Trends in Education

Fall 2019
Exam date: Friday, November 22, 2019, 8am-2pm

Note! The deadline to send the MALAS Graduate Director
( your three area of emphasis
along with the names of the three Professors supervising

your three areas of emphasis: September 11, 2019

Spring 2020
Exam date: Friday, April 24, 2020, 8am-2pm

Note! The deadline to send the MALAS Graduate Director
( your three area of emphasis
along with the names of the three Professors supervising

your three areas of emphasis:
February 5, 2020

Summer 2020
Exam date: Friday, July 31, 2020, 8am-2pm

Note! The deadline to send the MALAS Graduate Director
( your three area of emphasis
along with the names of the three Professors supervising

your three areas of emphasis:
June 10, 2020

This page revised with the assistance of ace MALAS alum, Richard Muir.

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