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Looking Back on the Mid-Term Exam

I want to note some patterns in your answers to the mid-term exam. Although overall people did extremely well grade-wise, I want to identify some aspects of literary interpretation and analysis that you might choose to focus on developing further. One of the purposes of an exam like this is to make you more conscious of what moves you tend to make when you go about making sense of and analyzing a literary text. By identifying some of the moves most readers make (often without realizing they are doing them) and forcing you to perform them, my goal was to have you consider which ones you prefer and which you need improvement on.

Part I

Most people did a very good job of identifying major passages from the works we read this semester and earned significant extra credit. Congratulations.

Part II

Many people ran into trouble on one or more of the tasks in this part of the exam. It was difficult to tell if this was because they were unclear what it would take to demonstrate competence in each of the three interpretive skills being tested, or if they knew what to do but were unable to do it within the pressure and time constraints of a test environment. It's probably a combination of the two--a little bit of test anxiety and timing problems exacerbated by some uncertainty as to what a "close reading" is or what one does when identifying how a given passage contributes to the meaning of the larger work or when comparing how another text deals with one of the issues raised in the passage in question. When you look over your short essays on Part II, consider how well you understood the directions and how much you practiced the interpretive skills being tested. I include some comments on each of the three interpretive skills so that you may see the common mistakes people made when doing each of the moves:

I suggest that you read over your answers to Part II in light of these comments and consider what you'd do differently if you had to take the exam over again. As we don't have a final exam, this will have to remain a thought experiment, but I think by the end of the semester you'll find that you would have approached the exam very differently in light of your reading experiences in the second half of the course. Thinking about this may help you as you prepare to write your final essay.

Part III

Most people chose the first essay question, but many wrote more on the things that ghosts do rather than on the uses to which writers put ghosts, which is what the question was really asking you to write about. Click here for some examples of how literary critics have talked about the roles and functions of ghosts in literature--I recommend that you compare what you wrote about with what these more experienced readers have argued.

On the other essay questions, the second most popular question was how to define a ghost story. Some people chose to defend a traditional definition of ghost stories and some chose to defend an expanded definition--but whatever topic they chose, people were not graded on what they argued, but in how they argued their case. The same criteria held for those who took on the third question, which asked to what degree a writer's identity shaped his or her uses of literary ghosts. Hardly anyone chose the question I found the most interesting, on the issue of whether literary ghosts primarily represent an individual's psyche or a social problem (or both). As with the other essay questions, it was less important what thesis you came up with (provided you did have one that made sense!) than how well you were able to put together a persuasive argument in support of it.

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: 11/30/98, 11:59 pm