Answering Short Essay Questions on Exams



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Answering Short Essay Questions on Exams

  • The Good
  • The Bad
  • The Ugly

One Point Answer

  • Sample Short Essay Question: Discuss briefly the significance of the fallen scarlet ibis. One-point answer (too brief; doesn’t discuss significance; not a complete sentence; author not identified):
  • A bird that dies in “The Scarlet Ibis”

Two Point Answer

  • Two-point answer (brief identification, but nothing on significance):
  • The bird is in James Hurst’s “The Scarlet Ibis.” This bird appears outside the narrator’s home, and Doodle gives it a funeral. Then Doodle dies, too.

Three Point Answer

  • Three-point answer (good on significance of item, but nothing precise on how the item relates to main characters, plot, or theme. The key word “fallen" has not been explained.) The scarlet ibis in Hurst’s story symbolizes rarity and beauty. It represents the inability to adapt to one’s environment and what happens when people are forced to be something they are not.

Four-Five Point Answer

  • Four-five point answer (too much plot summary and not precise enough on thematic significance; title and author are not mentioned in the topic sentence):
  • The scarlet ibis in is a beautiful and rare bird indigenous to South America. Therefore, when it appears at the narrator’s home, the family is surprised and excited. Doodle, however, is the character most enthralled and saddened to see this fallen bird. Doodle, who was born with a physical handicap, has always been forced by his brother to become a more normal person. His brother teaches him to walk and run so that he will fit in at school. However, Doodle is perfectly content being who he is. Feeling upset about the fallen bird, Doodle gives it a funeral. Doodle also ends up dying at the end of the story.

Six Point Answer

  • Six-point answer (gets right to the point about the significance of the fallen ibis): In James Hurst’s “The Scarlet Ibis,” the fallen ibis represents Doodle’s rarity and inner beauty. Similar to the ibis, which is out of place in North Carolina, Doodle does not fit in with his environment. This is revealed when his brother, out of shame, attempts to make Doodle “normal” by teaching him to walk, run, and swim like the other boys at school. However, like the ibis that falls after its long journey, Doodle is pushed too far by his brother and also dies. At this point, the narrator finally sees the beauty of his own fallen ibis. He realizes that similar to the fallen bird, when people try to make others something they are not, suffering will ensue.

Other Tips

  • You can briefly discuss the significance of an important character, place, quotation, or object from a piece of literature in many ways
  • Give a short discussion of how the item identified relates to the development of the main character, contributes to the main plot, functions symbolically, reflects the main theme of the story
  • You don't need to cover every way it functions
  • Do not spend too much time summarizing the work- I know what the stories are about and who is in them
  • Be sure you are not just paraphrasing the content of a quotation or restating the information or idea given in the question.
  • As long as you give a precise, brief statement of the item's significance, without ignoring any key words in the question or any obvious, overwhelmingly important point about its role in the work, you will receive full credit for your answer.

POV

  • Use the 3rd person:
    • his, her, hers, it, its, himself, herself, itself (singular) they, them, their, theirs, themselves (plural)
  • Do not use 1st person:
    • I, me, my, mine, myself (singular) our, ours, us, we, ourselves (plural)
    • Therefore, DO NOT WRITE, “I THINK” “I BELIEVE” “I FEEL”
    • You do not have to say, “I think the scarlet ibis represents Doodle’s uniqueness.”
    • Just say, “The scarlet ibis represents Doodle’s uniqueness.”
  • Do not use 2nd person
    • you your and yours (both singular and plural) yourself (singular) yourselves (plural)
    • Replace 2nd person with “the reader” or “one”

More Rules

  • No contractions
  • Maintain the present tense- literature is alive!
    • When the ibis fell…
    • When the ibis falls…
  • Avoid meaningless words such as very, pretty, thing, a lot
  • Do not refer to your writing
    • This essay will prove…
    • As stated earlier…

Topic Sentence

  • Expresses the central idea of a paragraph
  • Tells the reader what the paragraph is about
  • You can often rewrite the essay prompt in order to form your topic sentence
    • Prompt: Briefly explain the significance of the fallen scarlet ibis
    • Topic sentence: Include the title and the author
    • Topic sentence: In James Hurst’s “The Scarlet Ibis,” the fallen ibis represents Doodle’s rarity and inner beauty.

Support

  • Once you have written a topic sentence, you must support it with specific and related information
  • Avoid vague statements, generalizations, and weak opinions
  • Remove any sentences not closely related to your topic sentence
    • Support: Similar to the ibis, which is out of place in North Carolina, Doodle does not fit in with his environment. This is revealed when his brother, out of shame, attempts to make Doodle “normal” by teaching him to walk, run, and swim like the other boys at school. However, like the fallen ibis that falls after its long journey, Doodle is pushed too far by his brother and also dies. At this point, the narrator finally sees the beauty of his own fallen ibis.

Clincher

  • The clincher sentence concludes the paragraph either by restating the main idea presented in the topic sentence (though using different words), or it provides a final comment about that main idea ("one step beyond"). 
  • Like the topic sentence, the clincher sentence must have its own key idea word or word combination.
    • Clincher- He realizes that similar to the fallen bird, when people try to make others something they are not, suffering will ensue.
    • DO NOT WRITE: That is why the fallen scarlet ibis is significant in the story.


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