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The Mid-Term Exam

Purpose and Goals

Periodically throughout the semester we will step back from readings of individual works to a consideration of how they relate to each other. The mid-term exam is designed to promote such consideration, both in your preparation for the exam and during the exam itself. It tests your ability to recall, recognize, contextualize, analyze, and synthesize key moments and issues in the texts we've read thus far in the semester. It provides you with the opportunity to focus on the texts and problems that have interested you most in the semester; rather than identifying what you don't know, it is structured to give you a chance to show what you do know and have thought most carefully about.

The larger purpose of the exam is to help you become more conscious of what interpretive moves you make when you read a text, to practice and get feedback on moves that you may not normally make, and to give you an opportunity to add some interpretive skills to your critical repertoire. When you learn any activity, it helps to practice the things that you will do most often, so that they become so natural to you they become part of your "muscle memory"; think back to when you first learned to play a sport or learned to drive (particularly on a vehicle with manual transmission!). Learning to read actively and critically is exactly the same kind of process: it helps if you add some interpretive skills to your "mental muscle memory," so to speak. Sometimes, this can be as simple as becoming aware of what you already do when you read a text; other times, this can be as difficult as learning to make a lefty layup is for a righty, or learning to hit a golf ball out of a sand trap is for anyone who can stand to play the game. Throughout this course, you should be striving to become a more self-conscious reader, to become aware of what interpretive moves you make when you read, and to push yourself to move beyond reading comprehension and appreciation, toward a "critical literacy." This exam is one of the best ways of demonstrating the importance and the difficulty of doing this.


The exam consists of three sections:

By breaking up the complicated act of reading into a small set of discrete skills, Part II of the exam identifies and highlights a few of the things readers do when they try to make sense of an individual passage, the larger work, and its relation to other texts they have read. Preparing for this portion of the exam should give you the opportunity both to practice the skills being tested, and to consider how practicing them compares to what you usually do when reading.

Advice for Studying

In reviewing for this exam, you should be looking for significant connections and contrasts between the texts that we've read in the first section of the course. Another way to proceed while reviewing is to identify major issues or topics in an individual work, and, for each issue/topic, to consider one or more other works that also treat it.

Your goal while reviewing should be not only to brainstorm possible avenues of comparison and contrast, but also to consider the meaning and significance of the similarities and differences among the works we've read this semester to date. This will prepare you for the latter two sections of the exam. I can't recommend highly enough that you study in groups and use the listserv to pass along ideas and approaches, particularly when it comes to brainstorming possible axes of comparison and how to go about doing the different types of tasks that the test requires. I will be reading the listserv and chiming in when necessary.


Each section is weighted only "roughly" for several reasons. First, I want some discretion in assigning your letter grade, in part to reward exceptional performance on a given section of the exam, and in part to reward treatment of a wide range of texts and topics in the exam as a whole. Second, although the structure of the exam is relatively fixed, the relative importance of each section is open to negotiation. You may note on your exam how much time you put into each section and how each section should be weighted. You may also raise issues about the structure and weighting of the exam on the listserv.


In both the Thursday and Tuesday classes before the exam, we will spend a great deal of time reviewing for the exam. We will focus on such issues as how to recognize a given author's literary "signature," how to produce a close reading, how to compare and contrast texts, how to use texts as evidence in making a larger argument, and how to manage time during the exam. I will also be available during office hours on both Wednesdays to meet with groups of students to discuss specific issues.

Take advantage of the experience of writing a critical response essay and preparing for the exam to help integrate and reflect on the texts we've read thus far in the course. Good luck on the exam, and please don't hesitate to raise any and all issues and questions you may have before the exam.

The Exam Itself

Click here to view a precise virtual replica of the mid-term exam (minus, of course, the passages to be IDed in Part I).

Some Comments on Your Exams

Click here to read some comments on patterns in your answers on the various sections of the exam.

M A I N * N E W S * L I N K S * R E S E R V E S

EN 209: Novels and Tales, Fall 1998
Last modified: 10/31/98, 12:59 pm