Common Works

The Common Exam is a new way of thinking about the purpose, process, and practice of the English Department’s culminating exercises in the spring of the senior year. It is based on ten Common Works—a mix of novels, drama, poetry, nonfiction, film, and theory—particular to each class of English majors. These works are each class’s reading in common, works the faculty in the English Department value and teach and want students to know. The list of ten is supplemented, at the end of the junior year, with one chosen by members of the class. All are provided to students by the department free of charge.

As important as the list, and as important as the exam itself, are all the ways students will encounter these works over two years studying in the department. They will be taught in classes, and students are advised to seek them out—it is not necessary to study every one (the exam, as you can see from the sample on this site, will not ask you to write about all eleven), but all are well integrated into the curriculum and distribution requirements. There are also two or three events each semester outside of coursework that gather students and faculty to open a work in a new way. Finally, in the weeks between the submission of the senior thesis and the exam, the department sponsors study groups and other events to help seniors prepare.

And then there is this website, which gathers a wide variety of resources for encountering the Common Works, including recommended secondary readings and records of the events that the department has organized to explore them together. Here too you will be able to find advice on studying and news of events as the exam approaches in the spring of 2022. All of it, however, points back to those eleven works, our works in common.