Writing Essay Examinations
Perhaps an understanding of the nature of essay examinations will help you to write better essays. Examinations not only measure learning and thinking, but also stimulate them. Even so humble an examination as a short-answer quiz !hiefly a devi!e to oblige students to do the assigned reading is a

sort of push designed to move students forward. "f !ourse, internal motivation is far superior to external, but even su!h !rude external motivation as a quiz !an have a benefi!ial effe!t. #tudents know this$ indeed, they often will say that they have !hosen to take a parti!ular !ourse %be!ause & want to know something about . . . and & know that & won't do the reading on my own.( )*ea!hers often tea!h a new !ourse for the same reason$ we want to be!ome knowledgeable about, say, +sian-+meri!an literature, and we know that despite our lofty intentions we may not seriously !onfront the sub,e!t unless we are under the pressure of fa!ing a !lass.&n short, examinations help students to a!quire learning and then to !onvert learning into thinking. #ometimes it is not until preparing for the final examination that students !lassroom notes rereading the !hief texts and

per!eive what the !ourse was really about$ until this late stage, the trees obs!ure the

forest, but now, in the pro!ess of the reviewing and sorting things out, a pattern emerges. *he experien!e of reviewing and then of writing an examination, though fretful, !an be highly ex!iting as !onne!tions are made and ideas take on life.

*he night before the examination you will almost !ertainly feel that you don't know this, that, and the other thing, and you may feel that nothing short of reading all of the assignments an impossibility, of

!ourse !an get you through the test. &f indeed you have not done the reading, this feeling is warranted.

but you will also be getting more out of the !ourse more knowledge and more pleas u r e—t h a n if you come to class unpr e p a r e d . made summaries of the longer readings and of the !lassroom !omments. you will not only be preparing for the examination. 2. parti!ipate in !lass dis!ussion. /evertheless. &f you engage in these pra!ti!es. not half the allotted time. /ow you are fa!ing the examination sheet. "ften those harder questions will be!ome easier on!e you have gotten into the a!tivity of writing the examination. and to annotate the text while reading.ot down . &f the first question is worth 1:. 9efore you write anything on the examination booklet beyond your name. =.*he best preparation for an examination is not a pani!ky turning of hundreds of pages the night before the test$ rather. "n the other hand. #omething in the last question maybe even a passage that is quoted may give you an idea that will help you when you write your answer to the first question. you will want to do some intensive preparation shortly before the final examination. reviewed everything !arefully. 7ere are some suggestions8 4. and save harder questions for later.ob of writing essays about them.. 9udget your time. 2. . keep up with the reading throughout the term. marked the margins of your books. take a moment to . and . before writing furiously. #tart with the questions that you immediately know you !an handle effe!tively. 3 )all on fi!tion-. do not provide perfun!tory answers8 &f the question is worth 1:. from easiest to hardest. 1. the best preparation is to .. . and had a de!ent night's sleep. give it about one-fourth of your time. 14 )both on poetry-. <ank for yourself the degree of diffi!ulty of the questions. annotate the text during the !lass dis!ussions. +fter you have thought a little about the question. We suggest that you may want to reread 0hapters 1. however well prepared you are. make !onne!tions among the works you study from one week to the next. 42. WRITING ESSAY ANSWERS 6et's assume that before the examination you have read the assigned material. read the entire examination. your instru!tor expe!ts a fairly detailed response. be!ause these !hapters dis!uss not only the genres but also the . 15 and 22 )both on drama-.

%*ra!e the influen!e of Cuy de Daupassant on Eate 0hopin(2. by three key words will do turning %&n what ways does the poetry of 6ouise Erdri!h resemble her fi!tion( into %6ouise Erdri!h's poetry resembles her fi!tion in at least . either skip a page between essays or write only on the right-hand pages so that on rereading you !an add material at the appropriate pla!e on the left-hand pages. and quotations if possible. some quotations may the names of authors. titles. ?. 9y the time you have finished writing the last essay you have probably thought of some things have !ome to mind for instan!e.ust write two !hara!ter sket!hes. %0ompare Eliot's G*he 6ove #ong of I. + histori!al question )for example. 5. + wild question )su!h as %What would Flannery "'0onnor think of Eatherine Din's G0ourting a Donk'H($ %What would "thello do if he were in 7amlet's pla!eH(:. of !ourse. &f you are writing in an examination booklet. dates. summarize. *he instru!tor wants to see that you !an use your reading. and. A. and make last-minute revisions. &f you are asked to !ompare two !hara!ters. say. >ou often !an get a good start merely by turning the question into an affirmation for example. ways. .( 3. :. + !omparison )for example. not merely that you have done the reading. +lfred Prufro!k' with 9rowning's GDy 6ast @u!hess' as dramati! monologues(+ few remarks on ea!h of these types may be helpful. you want to make three points.few ideas that strike you. <eread what you have written. + passage to expli!ate 1. @on't waste time summarizing at length what you have read unless asked to do so but. 9eyond these general suggestions we !an best talk about essay examinations by looking at five !ommon types of questions8 4. define. and unless you . + !riti!al quotation to be evaluated =. evaluate. !ompare them$ don't . &llustrate your arguments with fa!ts details of plot. >ou may at the outset realize that. 6eave spa!e for last-minute additions. you may have to give a brief summary in order to support a point. espe!ially.ot these down you may spend all the allotted time on one point. . +nswer the question. . that might well add strength to some of the earlier essays. *ake seriously su!h words as !ompare. as a sort of outline or sour!e of further inspiration. 4B. !hara!ters. 9e !on!rete.

be sure to give !on!rete details. the thesis will be supported by !on!rete details )names. sin!e most expli!ations begin with the first line and go on to the last. "n expli!ation. don't pani!. see pages =1J=? and page A1=. and see whether a pattern of imagery is evident.( you will have to write about poetry and fi!tion$ it will not be enough to talk only about one form or the other. and audien! a se!ular love poem may pre!isely define the nature of the lover and of the beloved. 1. if you glan!e at the poem or passage and feel worried that it is too diffi!ult or obs!ure. &f. saint. and then fo!us on how the next line or senten!e is related to what has !ome . for the most part. <emember.4. an expli!ation is not a paraphrase )a putting into other words. &f you are asked to relate a writer or a body of work to an earlier writer or period. 2. + good essay on a histori!al question will offer a ni!e !ombination of argument and eviden!e$ that is. &f you are asked to evaluate a !riti!al quotation. religious language )adore. look !arefully at the tone )speaker's attitude toward self. . and in your answer take a!!ount of all the quotation. or lines from the works. %6ouise Erdri!h in her fi!tion always . dates. your reader will feel that you really know the works themselves. sub. . 0uriously. supporting your argument with eviden!e. Wat!h espe!ially for words like always.but an attempt to show the relations of the parts by !alling attention to impli!ations. +s a short rule. Expli!ate that. phrases. *ake a breath.e!t. a wild question. unless. pie!e by pie!e. . perhaps. yielding assent only so far and no further. &ndeed. and as you do so you will develop a sense of the whole whi!h is where your expli!ation !an !on!lude. and then show spe!ifi!ally how the material you are dis!ussing is related to these !hara!teristi!s.and at the impli!ations of the words )their !onnotations and asso!iations-. you may feel that some important qualifi!ations are needed. but in her poetry rarely . + dis!ussion of 0hopin's debt to Daupassant !annot be !onvin!ing if it does not spe!ify !ertain works and !ertain !hara!teristi!s. even brief quotations-. Pro!eed step by step. =. the instru!tions on the examination ask you to take only as mu!h of the quotation as you wish. of !ourse. +nd )again. although the passage may on the whole approa!h the truth. list the !hief !hara!teristi!s of the earlier writer or period. "rganization of su!h an essay is rarely a problem. the quoted !riti! has said.ust before. for example. *his is not being pi!ky$ true thinking involves making subtle distin!tions. never$ that is. and begin with the first line or the first senten!e. &f you remember and !an quote some relevant terms. read it !arefully. . For example. su!h as %What would #hakespeare think of @eath of a #alesmanH( or %What would @esdemona do in +ntigone's pla!eH( usually produ!es rather tame answers8 + !ouple of .

>ou !an guard against this weakness in three ways8 +nnoun!ing at the outset that you will treat one author first. then the other$ reminding your reader during your treatment of the first author that you will pi!k up !ertain points when you get to the se!ond author$ and briefly reminding your reader during the treatment of the se!ond author of !ertain points you already made in your treatment of the first.ot down a sort of outline so that you know where you will be going. be sure to take a few moments to . *he interest in su!h a question and in the answer to it may be largely in the degree to whi!h superfi!ially different figures resemble ea!h other in some important ways. :. your essay may break into two parts. or a simple !hara!terization of @esdemona is applied to the situation set forth in +ntigone. or you might first treat one author's poem and then turn to the other's. 9ut as the previous paragraph suggests.are me!hani!ally applied to +rthur Diller. &n a !omparison of 9rowning's and Eliot's monologues. &f time permits. and he usually in!luded some !omedy in his tragedies. devoting alternate paragraphs to one author. + frequent weakness in %!omparisons( is that they are too general. and the pre!ise similarities and the differen!es. #hakespeare !hiefly wrote poetry. <emember that the wildness of the question does not mean that all answers are equally a!!eptable$ as usual. When you review your answer. la!king the details that indi!ate subtle differen!es. see pages =?J=3.standard ideas about #hakespeare )for instan!e. 9ut if you adopt this se!ond strategy. ask yourself if you have been suffi!iently pre!ise. <emember to make your points as !lear and spe!ifi! as you !an. "n !omparisons. 9ut !onsider too how you !ould strengthen this answer by taking note as well of how +ntigone might have a!ted in @esdemona's pla!e. First. &f you say that two authors are both %pessimisti! about whether love !an endure. 9e!ause !omparisons are espe!ially diffi!ult to write. you !an often enri!h your answer by refle!ting a bit on the other way of looking at the issue. and some gross in!ompatibilities are revealed. the reasons in ea!h !ase for this view. any good answer will be supported by !on!rete detail. it may be ne!essary to do more than set up bold oppositions. explain how @esdemona would have a!ted in +ntigone's pla!e this is what the question asks for. you might treat one poem by ea!h.( you'll want to explain the nature of this pessimism. to be sure. Writing Essay +nswers +ppendix E K Writing Essay Examinations Writing Essay +nswers .