English 366E: The Final Examination

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Introduction

Date:
To be scheduled by the Records Office.
Weight:
35%.
Length:
The final exam for this course will be three hours in duration, with an additional ten minutes at the start for you to read the paper over and decide which questions you will answer.

The final examination will be scheduled through Records Services like other University exams, so you will find out when it is scheduled at the same time as you find out about your other courses. You will have three hours to write the examination; in addition, at the start of the exam you will be given ten minutes (not included in the three hours) in which to read through the exam and think about which questions you will choose to answer.

It is an "open book" exam. You will be allowed to bring your text and one page of notes into the exam room as "memory triggers"--no exentsive notes and no Course Guide. The intention is to reduce the tension of the exam experience by giving you a sense of being able to refer to the text if you have to. I do not expect you to refer to it in any detail in the exam itself, nor will I ask that you quote extensively or give act, scene, line references.

The exam will consist of four questions, all of the same value, so you should budget 45 minutes for each answer. The exam will be divided into four sections, each designed to give you an opportunity to show a different critical skill. You will be asked to answer at least one question from each section; thus you will have to answer two from one section to make up four answers.

  1. Section A: Short answers. From a total of four questions you will be asked to answer three questions about the background reading for the plays. Each answer will be a single short paragraph in length, and should take no more than ten minutes, since each is worth ten marks.
    Example: Give a brief account of the concept of an "open" work, indicating two plays on the reading list for the term that vary in the completeness of their closure.
  2. An Explication. As in first term there will be a choice of three passages from the plays on the course for you to write an explication on. Look back at the description of the explication assignment above, especially the list of items under the heading "What I will Look for in This Assignment."
  3. An essay on a single play, relating the play to one of the critical issues you have studied in the course. Again you will have a choice of three questions.
    Example: "Because of the men's vanity, competitiveness, and concern for honor and reputation, when they do act, they try to exonerate themselves, persistently placing blame for their actions outside themselves" (Neely). How accurate do you consider this evaluation of the men in Othello? Be sure to refer both to the approach Neely takes and to the text of the play in supporting your answer.
  4. An essay that requires a comparison between two plays. There will be a choice of three questions, each inviting you to compare two plays in some fashion. To prepare for this section, you should look at A Writer's Guide where the techniques for writing comparative essays are discussed (see pages 5 and 17).
    Example: "How far that little candle throws his beams! / So shines a good deed in a naughty world." (Portia, The Merchant of Venice, 5.1.90-1). Was Shakespeare's dramatic vision ultimately comic or tragic? Discuss TWO plays studied this term in your answer.

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What I Will Look for in Your Exam Essays

I will look for a thesis.

You may have noticed that in both the example exam questions I have given above you are asked to "discuss" the quotation. The intention is to invite you to think critically about it, and to respond accordingly. You may on the whole agree with the opinion expressed in the quotation, you may thoroughly disagree, or you may feel that it is partly right, partly wrong. Your response to the quotation becomes the thesis for your answer.

I will look for signs of "active thought."

By "active thought" I mean that you will be thinking as you write, not regurgitating something you have read or specifically prepared before the exam. Don't go into the exam room hoping to write about a detailed topic on a given play--you will probably not be asked the precise question you have prepared, and the result is usually that you will answer the question you wish you had been asked, not the one you have been.

I will look for essays that are well constructed.

There is no requirement that you produce exactly a formulaic three (or four or five) paragraph essay, but your essay should be clearly planned, with paragraphs that make sense, and a conclusion that you are leading to. It is always a good strategy to return to some form of the wording of the original question in your conclusion. Especially in the essay that requires comparison between two plays, the structure of the answer and the effectiveness of the conclusion will be important.

I will look for support from the text for all your opinions.

Since there will be no "right" answer to the questions, and since different students will either agree or disagree with the quotations, the important thing to communicate is why you reach the conclusion you do. An opinion (even if I happen to share it) is without value unless it is supported from the text. This means that you must know the plays well if you are to be able to go beyond a vague sense of the subject to an effective citation of passages or incidents that support your position.

I will be looking for quality not quantity; strength not length.

Above all avoid giving answers that are garrulous; answers that gush or gabble; answers that try to convince by word count or by the number of books used.

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Some Gentle Advice

The rhetoric of exams.

A symptom of active thought is that you may think of something you should have said earlier. Go back and say it. That's why you are asked to write on one side of the page only, and to double space--there is room for revision and re-thinking. Exams are never as tidy as take-home essays, and as I mark I will be less concerned about minor errors of expression (note that this comment does not amount to blanket permission to fracture sentences, however).

The use of open books.

You are permitted to bring your book to the exam room, but I recommend that you treat it more as a security blanket than as a resource. You will not have time to consult it extensively, and you should not try to quote extensive passages. It is there mainly to give you the sense that if you have forgotten a name or a detail you can locate it quickly. When you are under stress, a name like Old Siward may escape you.

The importance of sleep.

Part of the student culture is to stay up all night cramming for exams, and flaunting the unshaven cheeks or sockets under the eyes the next day. By all means go unshaven, or put extra eye shadow under your eyes to make yourself look exhausted, but get good sleep the night before the exam. And be awake enough to be capable of active thought.

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How the Exams Will Be Graded

Marking an exam is less structured than a take-home assignment, because the answer is the result of 50 minutes' rapid thought rather than several days. (You may of course find the distinction I have made hilariously inaccurate so far as your regular assignments are concerned.) In general I will look for two main criteria: Marks will be deducted for egregious or repeated errors of expression and for undue wordiness.

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This page last updated on 1 December 2003.

Send queries to Michael Best, English Department, University of Victoria, Victoria B.C. V8W 3W1, Canada.

mbest1@uvic.ca