::FINAL EXAM SUGGESTIONS FOR E491 TRADITIONS OF LITERARY CRITICISM (UPDATED 8/22/07)
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Frequently Asked Questions
It doesn't matter whether you use a bluebook.
You can use your books and written notes during the exam.
The exam is cumulative.
You may not use a computer unless it involves some documented need.
The best way to prepare for an exam is to find out what kind it will be, but also -- and more importantly -- to keep it from becoming the center 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 upon them. Determine what you like most (or least) about the authors, insights, and styles you come across, and try to figure out why they strike you as they do. When I was an undergraduate, I concentrated on the course readings and did not worry a great deal about exams. If you are willing to ask questions and to do more than skim the pages for test-likely material, that method works best.
Here is a guide to my expectations for the final, along with suggestions for review. There will be three sections to address: identification of substantive passages (author and text where appropriate); a mix-and-match answer section, and one or two short responses of a few paragraphs in length each. All parts of the essay will be cumulative, open book, and open note.
I design exams to see how well students have done in two areas: the first is simple recognition (the identification part and the mix-and-match section), and the second is degree of engagement with the assigned texts and ability to make insightful, appropriate connections among them (the short-response section). Respectively, the "id" part is 25% of the exam grade, the mix-and-match part is 25%, and the short response part is 50%. See the syllabus for the exam's value as a percentage of the course grade.
Things to keep in mind while studying throughout the semester:
1. Half of the exam grade comes from your performance on the second section, so it's best not to allow the id passages and mix-and-match section to take so much of your time that you can't do well on the short response section. If you find that you aren't getting through the first two parts well, come back to them after you've done the third section to your satisfaction.
2. The final exam will be cumulative; that is, all sections will cover authors from the beginning of our syllabus onwards. Students will also have some choice of response -- there will be more id passages, mix-and-match choices, and short-response questions than need be chosen.
3. Even in a response of a few paragraphs, include specific references to the texts you cover -- quotations and paraphrases where that would be appropriate. Don't respond with "truisms" (vaguely general remarks or merely appreciative statements like "Virgil's Aeneid is a timeless work of art," etc.) to exam questions. You don't have to demonstrate absolute knowledge of the work, but you must show that you have understood the specific parts of it that you discuss.
4. Write as simply and clearly as possible. Give any teacher a stack of exams, and the better grades will go to the ones that offer good content and sound style. A relatively brief, coherent, well-written and well-proofread response that addresses the text's specifics is better than a rambling and vague one.