Students in the MA program are required to take the comprehensive exam.  During this exam, 25 slides are shown and students must identify each slide as fully as possible and indicate their knowledge of the historical significance.  The exam includes works in various media—painting, sculpture, architecture, prints, and photography—and Non-Western art as well as Western art.  This exam is given in the Fall and Spring semesters and a passing grade of at least 80% is necessary.  Typically, students take this exam in the first or second semester of enrollment.

Guide to the Comprehensive Exam

The Comprehensive Examination in Art History is given near the beginning of every semester.  Its purpose is to determine whether the student has sufficiently wide knowledge of art history to comprehend, contribute to and benefit from advanced courses.  We therefore urge that it be taken as soon after matriculation as possible. The exam must be passed by the time of the mid-program evaluation. The examination is comprehensive in that it requires some historical knowledge of all the major artistic periods, cultures and media, including architecture and photography.  Non-Western and prehistoric are often included as well.

Most students set aside time to prepare for this examination.  We recommend a thorough study of standard survey textbooks.  For Hunter’s own undergraduate “Introduction to the History of Art”, we require Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, 12th Edition.

Other recommended surveys:
Janson, H.W.  History of Art 3rd Edition Rev.  Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1986
Honour, Hugh and John Feming The Visual Arts: A History Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall c. 1983
Elsen, Albert Purposes of Art: An Introduction to the History and Appreciation of Art 4th Edition New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston
Stokstad, Marilyn, and Michael Watt Cothren. Art History. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2018.

To facilitate your study, a list of monuments has been prepared from which the exam selections will be taken. This list can be viewed on ArtStor by following the instructions below.  The ARTstor images are not complemented with analysis and explanation, only basic information is given; therefore, you will still need to read one of the recommended survey books.

The minimum passing grade is 80%.  When you pass the examination, this fact is recorded on your transcript.

Format for the MA Comprehensive Exam

You will be shown 25 slides, for five minutes each.  You should identify the works as follows:

  • Artist or architect (or Anonymous where appropriate)
  • Title or subject of image, or name of building
  • Geographic origin of work if it is relevant
  • Art-historical period, movement or culture (use conventional terms, i.e., Classical Greek; Aztec; Impressionist)
  • Date
  • Medium
  • Location, if the work is in-situ

You should then briefly discuss the work to illuminate its historical significance.  You can consider such issues as the prevalence, function, and meaningfulness of the work within its culture; the kind and degree of impact this work made upon other artists; or other important issues.  Try to be as precise as possible. Remember you have only five minutes.

Grading Rationale

Passing grade is 80%.

There are 25 questions, each worth 4 points:

ID counts 2.5; essay counts 1.5; each item in ID counts 0.5.

Instructions for accessing Art History MA Comprehensive Exam study images in ARTstor:

Remote access to HC Libraries’ e-resources requires a NetID login (this applies to all non-campus use regardless of distance):

Using Artstor to find Hunter College’s MA Comprehensive Exam Image Study Groups:

  1. Select Artstor from Hunter College Libraries’ databases lists:  (tip–do not Google “Artstor”)
  2. Click on “ENTER Artstor Digital Library” (upper right)  then select “Image Groups” from “Browse” menu list
  3. Select “MA Comprehensive Exam” Select “Study Images (Set –)” of your choice
  4. Select “Print Image Group” from “Share” menu list to print Image Groups to make useful flashcards for study purposes (Artstor user account is not required to print images or image groups)

An Artstor user account is required to download Image Groups or individual images.

Registering for Artstor user account: (using any email address and password of your choice).