Final Exam Review

The Final Exam, like its predecessor the Midterm, is a blackboard exam, which means that those of you who had difficulty with the interface should take steps to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. I was pleased to see that those who experienced problems during the essay exam were able to simply email me the word doc or google doc where he or she had been composing, and to a person that came to my inbox before the time had elapsed. This suggests that, should you get past the multiple choice section with no hiccups and agree to compose elsewhere and then copy and paste your responses to the Bb interface, you will do fine. I know it can be intensely nervewracking when you see an online interface tell you that you are no longer logged in, or when you cannot tell whether the thing you thought you’d just submitted was actually received by the server. In these instances, I think the thing to do is to send me an email and I will be sure to check up on the status of your exam and make arrangements with you in the unlikely event something has gone awry.

As the syllabus states, the final is a longer version of the midterm, with the same rationale I expressed in week 5:

The major premise of this course is that poetry can be off-putting to readers who might normally be drawn to the genre precisely because of the precise terminology that has arisen over the years to describe the literary effects that inhabit a genre fundamentally aware of itself and its rhetorical situation. So my main expectation is not that you will get the “right” interpretation of a poem, but that by the end of the term you will be able to explain yourself fully, exhibit comfort rather than anxiety with poetic devices, and support yourself amply with apt detail.

It is a great idea, if you have not already done so, to go back and reread my feedback to your midterm. In most cases, students in this class ran aground with their responses because of insufficient evidence rather than because they committed errors (either of judgment or terminology). I know it might seem, if you feel you are shaky on (say) metaphor, that the best course of action when interpreting a poem like Donne’s “The Flea,” which is pretty clearly using a metaphor to do… whatever it is it’s doing, is to remain silent about metaphor, even though the prompt may specifically require you to do so. But that’s not a working strategy for a situation where I’m asking you to attend to metaphor or other key course concepts. Let’s say your reluctance about metaphor is that you always mix up tenor and vehicle — better to make the attempt, defining your terms as you go, so that even if you do mix them up I still can understand what you’re trying to say. Again, I’m not suggesting that the longer your answer is, the better the grade it will receive. But at this point, if you can think of nothing smart to say about a poem you’ve read already, to back up a claim I’m willing to furnish you with, then you’re not doing much to demonstrate your mad skillz. So be sure that you’re on board with the following premises:

  1. the clarity of your writing is crucial if you want your audience to be persuaded by your argument.
  2. students who have practiced using analytical vocabulary over the course of the semester will be better at using terms to analyze poems than those who haven’t.
  3. analytical proof rests on a full set of specific evidence rather than vague assertion or suggestion
  4. a judicious representation of evidence that supports a claim will be more persuasive than a data-dump of inapt observations clustered around a central concept.

So: three parts to this final. Multichoice to start, with fewer questions than in the midterm, asking you about only weeks 6-8. Then the second part will be much like the essay question on the midterm: another close reading of a poem we read recently (and here I’ll copy what I said in week 5):

In the second section, I will provide you with a poem and even the claim, and then the prompt will direct you to support that claim via a number or techniques. But you won’t know any of the details until you see that question after finishing the multichoice section. I’ll be searching for signs that you can be thorough with your reading (within the constraints of the span of time I’ve allotted) and organized with your presentation. You might consider simply constructing one paragraph per technique or poetic element I suggest, and sticking to that element as you prove the claim. Or, you might think of two or three holistic ways in which the elements I suggest might be made to support that claim, and then take me through those reasons talking about all the suggested elements in each paragraph (this path is suaver, and I like it better, and I will prize the effort you expend more highly, but I admit it’s a harder path for the initiate)…I’m hoping that in order to prepare, you’ll go back and reread the poems from the first part of the class again, and do a bit of pre-work for yourself that matches the advice from week 3 (on how to start reading and arguing about poems, lingering especially on my post about how to write up a textual analysis): identify the voice, setting, and situation of each poem, then paraphrase what is being said and try to figure out the tone. After that, you might also mark up the poems to call your own attention to the places in the poems where important things are happening, or the forms of the poems are augmenting or detracting or redirecting from their content.

HOWEVA, there is also a part three, which is a longer essay that asks you to consider the entire course trajectory and come up some conclusions about where we were and how we got to where we wound up at the end. Here too I will give you a claim to argue, but unlike the close reading essays you’ll be able to pick your own favorite poems to work with. Figuring out what large question I’m going to ask is probably less difficult than you might imagine. I generally advise students to check out the course syllabus and the course description located there, because there are really only two or three questions I could ask that would allow anybody to use any of the poems we’d read for this course to illustrate your responses (I’ve purposefully painted myself into a corner). But, the question will require you to show your awareness of the whole course (the full eight weeks), which means you can bank on preparing at least one poem from before and at least one from after the midterm. You might also have noticed that as the weeks have gone by I’ve been giving you more and more information about chronology and period aesthetics (literary schools, movements, timeframes, etc., especially recent ones). So another great way to study would be to prep three or four poems from different centuries, emphasizing the recent past, and being prepared to note trajectories from remote to recent past.

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