On the New PhD Exams

I can speak about how I grade exams, and I have some suggestions that I think are reasonably useful in a universal sense, but I must also note that the grading of PhD exams has not been normalized in the department and probably will never be. Thus, every person taking an exam should inquire of their writers what their standards are for evaluation.

Folklore studies has chosen to drop identifications and short essay questions in favor of three long essays. We did so in the belief that the concentration in folklore studies within the department’s generalist program best serves students and future scholars by expanding the framework within which they think and write. And so, we decided that the exam that served that purpose best was one where you required to do just that. There are, then, questions that ask you to write one of three kinds of essays:

1. an intellectual history/history of ideas that pertain to a given topic or term within the domain
2. a synthesis of an array of ideas, terms, or thinkers on a given topic
3. a list of n things having to do with a particular project with an introduction that offers a framework for understanding the list: e.g., an anthology, a museum exhibit, a course syllabus