July 18, 2024


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Preparing for the UGC NET in English Literature

The UGC conducts National Eligibility Test (NET) in various subjects of Humanities, including English, and Social Sciences, for the award of Junior Research Fellowship (as well as Lectureship) for pursuing Ph. D. level research. The test comprises three session papers. The first paper is of general nature, intended to assess the research (or teaching) aptitude, without excluding reasoning ability, comprehension, and general awareness of the candidates. The second paper consists of short-answer questions based on the subject opted by the candidates.

The third paper contains only descriptive questions. It has four sections. Section I requires candidates to write a critique of a given passage. The questions in section II are definitional or seek particular information in short answer form. Section III relates to analytical or evaluative questions on the candidate’s major specialization / elective , as preferred. Section IV is based on essay types questions on general themes and contemporary , theoretical , or of disciplinary relevance to test the candidates ‘ ability to expound critically a subject with discrimination.

Seen in this light, the two books under review seek to help aspiring candidates prepare for answering objective- type questions in English literature. Manoj Kumar’s book is composed to serve as a practice book for the UGC’ s NET and postgraduate students in English, providing “subjective material as well as objective questions” necessary for good preparation (Preface).

The author has divided the ‘textbook’ into ten units, providing the basic information about British literature from the Age of Chaucer to the Contemporary period , American Literature, Indian English literature, Literatures in translation, Literary theory and Criticism, and Rhetoric and Prosody.

Each unit begins with a brief mention of the author’s names and major works that make them notable, followed by objective-type questions (with four options). There is no subjective elaboration, nor is there a uniform pattern in the number of items (which vary between 101 to 138 from Unit I to IX) or their contents. It is at best haphazard.

In Unit I , for example, Geoffrey Chaucer’s name (in bold type), does not show his years of birth and death, but the entry on William Langland shows this. The years of birth and death are not l shown for John Gower, John Barbour, Sir John Mandeville, John Wycliff, Sir Thomas Malory and James I on page 1. Similarly, the publication date for some books are given but for others, it is missing. A uniform pattern should have been followed for each author, from the beginning to the end.

One also expects to find a short write-up on the general traits or characteristics about each of the ages/ periods alongside the major contributors that form the bulk of the objective-type questions. There should have been a proper ‘match’ between what Manoj Kumar calls “subjective knowledge ” of literature and objective questions for adequate practice from Unit I to VII.

However, he does write a readable introductory commentary in Unit VIII (on American Literature and Indian English writers) and Unit IX (an Literary Theory and Criticism). The last Unit (on Rhetoric and Prosody), which has only 52 objective items for practising 31 terms is not as well developed as the two preceding units.

The list of Booker (from 1969 to 2007) and Nobel (from 1901 to 2007) Prize winners at the end is informative but Manoj Kumar should have also provided the names of the prize-winning books in the last three pages.

The second book, A Key to Literary Forms and Terms, should make up for the short falls in Unit X of Manoj Kumar’s textbook. In fact, Sudhir K. Arora claims to have included most of the important literary forms and terms “in capsule form” and provided plenty of multiple-choice practice exercises that should help aspiring candidates perform better in the competitive exams for fellowship and / or Lectureship in English literature.

In the first 29 pages, Arora has alphabetically arranged 117 literary forms and terms with useful references, but no examples. In the section on ‘Figures of Speech’, Arora has abandoned this arrangement and included terms of rhetoric and prosody in the order it is generally available in most books. The examples, however, are helpful.

In both the books the authors have provided a key to all the objective items to self-help candidates in their preparation. However, Manoj Kumar has also added some 250 ‘Unsolved’ items to ensure that serious candidates really prepare well.

Given the present state of English Literature teaching in the country, books like A Textbook for Objective Questions in English Literature and A Key to Literary Forms and Terms are helpful to aspiring candidates in developing awareness though it is doubtful these help in developing any critical sense and research or reasoning ability.


Professor (Dr) R.K.SINGH, Head Dept of Humanities & Social Sciences,.

Indian School of Mines University, DHANBAD 826004, Jharkhand.