What I am looking for in the exam
Analysis of a passage | Essay questions
- How effectively you set the context of the passage
- How well you understand the text
- How well you support your interpretation of it
- How well you "unpack" any figures of speech in the passage
- How well you understand the character(s) speaking, and the influence that character may have on the meaning
- I will look for a thesis.
In many exam questions you are asked to "discuss" a 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. In other kinds of questions you must equally find a point that you are arguing towards, as you would for an essay you were doing not specifically in an exam.
- 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 certainly 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 if the essay 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 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. Remember that in an exam I do not expect exact quotation, or reference to act, scene, line of a passage you refer to; the "open book" text is there to give you support, but you do not need to refer to it for quotations.
- 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.
This page last updated on 28 August 2006. © Michael Best, 2002.