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The Mid-Term Exam: Frequently Asked Questions

Thanks for your questions on the exam. Keep 'em coming!

Q:If a student does not finish with the in-class part will they be able to stay longer or will you just take off for things being incomplete?
A:I will be there a few minutes early and you can stay until 55 after, but once that time is done, the in-class part of the test is done for you, and you will be penalized for incompleteness.

Q:Will you take into consideration that some people, like myself crack under pressure when taking tests? Especially essay tests. WRITERS BLOCK!
A:Yes on Part II, no on Part III (b/c it's a take-home). Writer's block will still get you a bad grade on Part II, but last semester when this happened I gave one or two people another chance to do the Part II skills in a slightly more open time situation. Remember that the way to conquer (or at least survive!) test anxiety is to be clear on what you are being asked to do and and how it will be evaluated.

Q:Does the material that we need to know for the test include all of the short stories that weve read?
A:You got it.

Q:For each passage, what do we have to identify for each?
A:Just the author and title. See the next two for elaboration.

Q:Explain what will be considered extra credit on the exam. Is there going to be any other extra credit other than in part I?
A:In Part I, you only have to identify 10 of the 15 passages. Any above that # that you identify correctly, you'll get some extra credit. Also, if you say what chapter in The Woman Warrior a passage came from, you'll get extra credit (since it's really a unified book, you only have to get the book title right to get regular credit). No other extra credit than this on the exam.

Q:Is "Chautauqua Ghosts" the only book in which we have to give the specific stories when doing Part I?
A:Yup. Wouldn't be fair to ask you what chapter something came from in The Turn of the Screw! See above for The Woman Warrior.

Q:How much will spelling count on the mid-term?
A:It can only hurt you on Part I, where you get partial credit taken off for misspellings. Since Part III is a take-home and not under the time pressures of Part II, I will be less forgiving of spelling errors on Part III than Part II (where anything goes). Just don't have so many that it looks like you rushed it out Monday morning before class, in other words!

Q:About how long will the passages be that we have to identify?
A:Anywhere between a sentence and a paragraph (more likely closer to the latter than the former).

Q:Could you give us some clues how to recognize a given author's "signature"?
A:I think I address this on the web page, but such things as length and complexity of sentences, vocabulary, typical imagery, tendency to rely on dialogue or description.... Think about it: would you really have any difficulty distinguishing Charles Chesnutt's style from Henry James's? Think about what you notice that makes each distinctive and use that process to do the same for the other writers we've read thus far.

Q:How many points are part two and part three each worth? Is there more weight on the in-class than the take home essay or is it 50/50? How many points are each section of the exam worth?
A:Go back to the mid-term page or the virtual exam page for the answers to these questions!

Q:Are the subjects that we write about for part two taken from the excerpts from part one?
A:Yup!

Q:Could you please describe how exactly to do a good close reading?
A:See advice elsewhere on this site, too, but Jake Proper's recent reading response is a very good example. He looked at page 143 of The Woman Warrior and wrote:

I believe that this passage is important for many reasons. First, it contains a great many metaphors. Moon Orchid is the Empress of the East, and the husband is the Earth's Emperor. His new wife is the Empress of the West. These are also symbols. Moon Orchid, the Empress of the East, represents China and all its traditions and values. Brave Orchid belives China to be a better culture than America, so the Empress of the East is represented as good. The new wife resprests America, all that is bad and goes against Chinese values. She has imprisioned the husband in American culture, and Brave Orchid belives that Moon Orchid must rescue the husband and turn him from his American ways and back to his Chinese values.
Jake identified the allegory that Brave Orchid was telling Moon Orchid in order to psych her up to confront her husband. To make it an even better close reading, he could have focused on what this passage reveals about Brave Orchid (how she uses Chinese myths and legends and talk-stories from her own life to motivate her family and to help them put their lives in context; how all her stories always have a moral to them ["You must..."]; how she tends to see life as calling for heroic action....). That's another part of the "making explicit what is implicit in the passage" aspect of a close reading--not only figuring out what the figurative language stands for, but figuring out what the use of it reveals about the speaker (which could be a character or the narrator).

Q:I don't understand relating a passage to a whole, for part 2.
A:Let's take the above example and continue with it. To relate Jake's passage to the text as a whole, a good answer would be to begin from what the passage reveals about Maxine's mother and would then move on to what's distinctive about this view of her as opposed to the other views we get of her in the rest of the book--focusing on how this passage contributes to our understanding of Maxine's mother, in other words. Another tack to take would be to discuss the role of storytelling in this passage and in the work as a whole--say, eventually getting around to the similarities and differences between her mother's style of storytelling and Kingston's style of storytelling. A truly excellent answer would talk about more than one way of relating this passage to The Woman Warrior as a whole; without being simply a list, it would explore different ways of relating the "part" to the "whole." But given the time pressures, better to do one in detail and just mention another than to try to do more than one and do neither well.

Q:Is it all right for us to mention a close-reading aspect of the passage in relating a part to the whole?
A:Yes, as long as the focus is on the latter. After you finish Part I (or as you're doing it if it's really easy for you), be thinking about which passages would be easiest to write on and note which passages match up best with which skills. It might be in your best interest to do all three skills on one passage or to mix and match--a lot will depend on which passages strike you as most easily interpretable. For some people, that might mean doing all three interpretive skills on one passage, while for others it could mean something else, like doing the close reading and part-whole analysis on one passage, and the comparison-contrast on another. The possibilities are finite, but not insignificant.

Q:Is there any specific length on the part III take-home part or is it just right until you get your point across? Are essays graded mostly on content or is the quality of the paper just as important (or more important)?
A:As with any essay, the point is to get your point across as well as possible. Your point should, of course, make sense, but it's less important to focus so on getting the "right answer" than to focus on justifying, explaining, and persuading your readers of the plausibility of that answer. So in general the length is dependent on how complicated your point is. For an exam essay as opposed to a regular essay, you may use the 5-paragraph model for organizing your answer (even though it will most probably be longer than 5 paragraphs!); it often helps to restate your main point in the conclusion on essay exams, b/c sometimes the main point has changed in the course of the essay and it's good to show that you're aware of that. Just be aware that the 5-paragraph format can be as much an obstacle to thinking as an aid to organizing your thoughts. So think of the minimum for Part III as a thoughtful extended five-paragraph essay, and use your own judgment in deciding when you've come up with a point worth writing on and when you've made as strong a case for that point as you can in the time you have.
As for the content/quality distinction, I'm not quite sure what that means, but let me answer it as best as I can. If by content you mean "how well you justify/explain/persuade your point," then yes, content will count over the essay's quality (which I take to mean how beautifully written and organized it is, with proper grammar and no typos or spelling errors). But do you see how quality is already wrapped up in this notion of content? ("how well..."). So don't think of my grading this essay as going through it to extract the nuggets of ideas; think of it as grading both for the coherence and validity of your main point and for how well you are able to back it up. Grammar and spelling will count much less than your having an argument and organizing it well, so that it's easy to focus on your justification and explanation of your main point. OK?


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EN 209: Novels and Tales, Spring 1999
Created: 3/3/99, 9:08 pm
Last modified: 3/3/99, 9:14 pm