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Exam Prep for E222 American Literature, CSU Fullerton Spring 2012
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EXAM PREP FOR E222 AMERICAN LITERATURE, CSU FULLERTON SPRING 2012 (01/23/12)

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DO'S AND DON'TS DURING THE EXAM

You may use your books and written notes (journal entries, lecture notes, blog entries) during all sections of the exam. But keep in mind that having books and notes on hand is no substitute for careful reading and review.

You will not need a bluebook or any extra paper for the exam. You can use either pen or pencil. No scantrons -- I will bring in a sheet containing the exam's three sections; write your responses for them directly on the exam.

You may not SHARE books or notes with others or converse with them during the exam. You can use your own books and notes, but not those of others.

You may not use a laptop during the exam. Students should not have unfair access to powerful search features available even without an Internet connection. You must print out any notes you want to use.

You may not do things that distract others. Taking an exam is like being in a library -- one doesn't chomp on bubble gum or chips in a library, and it isn't acceptable during an exam either.

EXAM GOALS AND PREP STRATEGIES: LEARNING BEYOND TESTS, TAKING NOTES

Why are exams worthwhile? Exams are valuable because they encourage an organized study approach and close attention to assigned material. If you have ever tried to learn a foreign language on your own, for example, you know how much difference orienting yourself towards an exam and other classroom evaluation procedures (quizzes, drills, etc.) can make. Without the accountability factor, we just don't learn as much as we should. Exams aren't worth much in themselves, but because you want to do well on them, you may approach the material in a way that helps you learn more in the short term and enjoy subsequent literary encounters later on.

What's the best way to prepare for an exam? The first thing is to find out what kind it will be and work out a learning strategy to suit that kind of exam, but even more important is not to make "doing well on the exam" the sole purpose of your efforts. Read the texts for what they have to offer -- do your best to understand them and bring your own experience to bear. Write down -- preferably in a running file -- what you like most (or least) about authors, ideas, periods, and styles. Try to figure out why they strike you as they do, to the extent possible. Attending to an author's style, forms, and ideas as well as to period-related concerns ought to complement the genuine interest that makes studying literature worthwhile. It should not become a mechanical exercise that replaces such interest.

What's the best way to take notes? Develop a strategy. The The Cornell System builds reflection into the process, but perhaps your own will work better. Socrates says that a teacher is a midwife who helps others give birth to their own ideas, so experienced instructors offer their ideas as starting points and foundations for further thinking -- not as final prescriptions. Strong students learn from others without giving up the right to determine what matters most to them. I suggest that you take notes particularly on what is unfamiliar to you, on what is new or not immediately comprehensible, and on what seems insightful or worth remembering for its own sake, not just on what is already familiar, easily comprehensible, or test-likely. The point of getting an education is to encounter things you don't already know but that you find worth the effort of learning.

HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE EXAM'S THREE SECTIONS FROM DAY ONE

There will be three sections to address: identification of substantive passages; a mix-and-match answer section, and, lastly, a third section similar in principle to the second one but more robust and based on some of the main points I and others will have made in class about the material we study. All parts of the exam will be cumulative (they will cover authors/texts from the first week onwards), open book, and open hard-copy notes. Students will also have some choice of response -- there will be at least a few more id passages, mix-and-match choices, and third-section conceptual/textual matchups than need be chosen. Here is a breakdown of the exam sections' respective purposes along with advice about how to do well on them:

SECTION 1: PASSAGE IDENTIFICATION. Identifying author (where relevant) and title for substantive passages. The purpose of this section is to test for simple recall: you just have to know which author wrote the passage and in which assigned reading. If this is a single-author course, I will ask for identification of the speaker and text rather than the author. This section calls for you to be familiar with an authors' stylistic habits and preferred forms (blank verse, heroic couplets, etc.), turns of thought, mannerisms, general orientation or outlook, and other distinguishing features; you must know the main events and characters of a novel or short story, the central subject/s and/or actions of a given poem, the key tenets held and concerns set forth in a given prose piece. I try to choose passages that are neither too easily identifiable (i.e. that serve up the names of main characters or contain the title) nor lacking in significance with regard to the author or work in question. Examples: if I want to see whether you've read Joyce's A Portrait closely, I might choose a passage of several lines from the fiery sermon that convinces young Stephen temporarily to give up his sinful ways. This is an important part of the novel, and the sermon is hard to forget. If I want to check your recall of Hopkins, I might choose high-impact lines that show off some features of that poet's style -- difficult, unusual words, references to theology (Hopkins was a Jesuit priest), and frequent alliteration and internal rhyme. If I want to test your recall of Wordsworth's poetical theory in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, I might set down a passage that contains one of his noteworthy observations about the purpose of poetry and/or about how poetry is created. Wordsworth may write in a flowing eighteenth-century style, but he knows how to drive home a point with a memorable phrase. With regard to a Shakespeare play, say Macbeth, I might include a passage spoken by the witches when Macbeth returns to them a second time for further insight, or perhaps something memorable by Lady Macbeth when she convinces her husband to kill his unsuspecting guest King Duncan. The bottom line is that while "simple recall" is all that's required for this section, only reading texts with an eye for style and significance will lead to correct responses: "reading for information" or mere scanning without interest won't help much. A semester-long habit of underlining or HIGHLIGHTING KEY PASSAGES will help greatly, as will making concise margin-notes at important points in the texts.

SECTION 2: MIX AND MATCH. Matching key phrases and ideas (sometimes in brief quotation form) in one column with corresponding descriptions of their significance in another column. The purpose of this section is to test for conceptual recall/recognition: can you match a phrase encapsulating some characteristic attitude or idea with the appropriate author and text as described in the other column? As an example, with reference to Matthew Arnold's melancholy poetry, I might write in a line of Column A, "like the folds of a bright girdle furled," and in one of Column B's lines, "how an Arnold speaker describes Europe's old Christian faith." If you've read "Dover Beach" and have noted the speaker's deeply felt loss of religious certainty, you won't find it hard to connect the quotation with the description. Again, if I were to write in a line of Column A, "to burn with that hard, gemlike flame" and in a line of Column B, "Walter Pater describes this as the aim of a successful life," a student who has reflected on that author's praise for a life filled with high-intensity encounters with art will respond correctly. So the relevant, completed part of the answer table would look like this:

1. C. "like the folds of a bright girdle furled" A. Pater describes this as the aim of a successful life
2. D. "some other phrase here" B. some other description here
3. A. "to burn with that hard, gemlike flame" C. how an Arnold speaker describes Europe's old Christian faith
4. B. "some other phrase here" D. some other description here

In a course on earlier British literature, I might write in Column A, "What though the field be lost?" in the expectation that a careful reader of Milton's Paradise Lost would recognize this quotation's harmony with Column B's "Satan's specious logic in Paradise Lost leads him to say such things." Satan is always vainly supposing that God is a limited being who can be defeated on a battlefield, or frustrated by wiles.

SECTION 3: KEY POINTS FROM CLASS SESSIONS. Matching key points made during class sessions (by me or others -- whether your fellow students or literary critics I may have mentioned) with quotations from the assigned works that illustrate or evoke those points. In a Shakespeare course, for example, I might write a sentence or two reminding you about Samuel Taylor Coleridge's view of Hamlet as a quasi-romantic figure, a man whose tragedy is at least partly that his superior mind and emotional sensitivity render him incapable of taking revenge. (This reading is somewhat flawed, but it is worth considering and is something I would surely bring up in class.) You would then need to match the criticism-based statement with a passage that I have chosen to place in the right-hand column, or, depending on how I format this section, among other passages from the plays. Or in a modern British literature survey, I might write a sentence or two evoking an in-class discussion of the Decadent movement's rejection of mimetic representation (i.e. the sort of artistic representation that tries to reproduce or imitate the sights, sounds, and behavior on display in real life), which you would then need to pair with the appropriate passage from an assigned reading -- most likely something from Oscar Wilde or another late-nineteenth-century author. This section is perhaps best understood as a more detailed and sophisticated version of the exam's second section, and as such it asks you to recall key concepts we discussed in class and connect them to passages from the texts we will have read. In sum, this section rewards students who have taken good notes, reviewed them, and reflected upon them over the course of the semester.


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