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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 for a few minutes later, 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, not 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 before stepping into the test situation about what you are supposed to do and and how it will be evaluated, as well as to practice doing the skills that are going to be tested ahead of time. A test that requires you to think on your feet is intrinsically more difficult than one that requires you to regurgitate information, and you have to study for them differently. You can't cram the night before for this test. The better you plan your strategy for getting ready for the exam and better you execute it, the better your chances of acing the exam are.
Now, in the event that you don't do as well as you'd like on the exam or as well as you're capable of doing (like me shooting 11 shots worse the day of the golf tournament than the day before it), you're going to have to live with the consequences, draw some lessons from the experience of preparing for and taking the exam, and do better in other aspects of the course, particularly in your papers (each of which counts about as much to your final grade as the exam). But I'm not going to make the assumption that what you do on the mid-term exam is going to be your best work, or that how well you do on the exam is any indication of your potential. This is not that kind of exam. It's more a wake-up call for those who need it and a way of rewarding those who have been reading steadily and thinking about what they've read and what we've discussed in class. It's a way for you to see as clearly as possible what some of the interpretive strategies I want you to be trying out are, for you to see what the central questions of this opening unit of the course have been, and for you to experience how difficult but also how productive some of them can be. You'll get many chances after the exam--in your reading responses, discussion questions, and essays--to go back to these things and develop your skills further, and your final grade in part will be based on how much you improve in the second half of the course.
So take the test seriously and start studying early, but don't freak out about it or turn it into something more difficult than it really is. Good preparation should give you the confidence to deal with whatever test anxiety ghosts try to haunt you during the exam!

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

Q: For each passage [in Part I], what do we have to identify for each?
A: Just the author and title. See the following two questions 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 12 of the 15 passages. Any above that # that you identify correctly, you'll get some extra credit. Also, if you say what story in One More Story a passage came from, you'll get extra credit. No other extra credit than this on the exam.

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 night!

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 DuWayne Bowen's style from James Joyce's? Well, think about what you notice about each writer's style that makes each distinctive and go through a similar process 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 a reading response from last semester's version of this course is a very good example. He looked at page 143 of The Woman Warrior (a text we're not using this year) 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.

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 effectively and persuasively as possible. Your point should, of course, make sense, but it's less important to focus 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. Each of the first three essay options asks you to compare and contrast two or three texts and draw some conclusions from your consideration of similarities and differences. The fourth asks you to "test" a critic's claim against
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, Fall 1999
Created: 9/30/99, 5:05 pm
Last modified: 9/30/99, 5:05 pm