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The Mid-Term Exam

I include an outline of what to expect on the mid-term exam, as well as links to older versions of the test, so that there will be no surprises come mid-term time this semester. Also, this page should give you a sense of what reading strategies are prioritized in this course, so it should be useful well before the time comes to study for this 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, abstract from, 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 will consist 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. Another way to proceed is to try to identify "major" passages in each work and practice the interpretive skills being tested on those passages so you learn by experience and maybe even predict what passages I'll include in the exam.

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 strategies for doing the different types of tasks that the test requires. I will be reading the listserv and chiming in when necessary.

Remember that when studying for any exam, you should figure out precisely what skills are being tested and practice those specific skills. You should also make sure you understand what is required of you in each part of the exam and what criteria you'll be judged on well before taking the test, so that you don't have to waste time during the exam figuring out what you're supposed to be doing.

Here's some specific advice on preparing for each part of the exam. See also THIS semester's frequently asked questions page and, for a sense of common pitfalls and ways of excelling on the test, my comments on my former students' performance on last semester's and last year's mid-term exams. Please refer back to these pages as you are preparing for the exam; the more carefully you study, the more useful this page and its links will be to you.


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 you think each section should be weighted. You may also raise issues about the structure and weighting of the exam on the listserv or with me personally before the exam.


We will spend some time reviewing for the exam during the week before it will be given. 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 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 for a preview of THIS semester's mid-term exam, including the four take-home essay options.

Comments on the Exam

Click here for some comments on patterns I saw in your exams.

M A I N * N E W S * T O P I C S * L I N K S * R E S E R V E S

EN 209: Novels and Tales, Fall 1999
Created: 8/21/99, 3:40 pm
Last modified: 10/15/99, 10:32 am