Tips and Suggestions: Preparing for and writing the final examination for English and Cultural Studies 1A03



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June 10, 2010


Tips and Suggestions:

Preparing for and writing the final examination

for English and Cultural Studies 1A03
1. General remarks and matters / What to bring to the examination / What to hand in at the end of the examination:
You’ve laboured diligently in this course, bringing imagination, intellectual courage, and rigour to the complex short fictions and poems with which we’ve wrestled. Now you get a good chance to show how hard you’ve worked!
The final examination for this course (and, indeed, for any course offered in this department) tests three closely related abilities:
a) Your knowledge of specific details associated with the lectures and assigned materials.

b) Your knowledge of broader questions, themes, and problems that quicken the assigned materials and that were addressed in different ways in lectures and tutorials.

c) Your ability to consider and to answer the particular questions being a asked of you in the examination.
It will help in your preparation for the examination to have a) and b) firmly in mind as study guides.
You are responsible for all poems and shorter fictions assigned or discussed in both lecture and tutorials.
The final examination is divided into two parts:
Part A (50%): Multiple choice questions

Part B (50%): Essay question in which you compare and contrast the work of a number of the authors on the course.


Remember to bring four essential things to the final examination:
1) Your McMaster University student ID

2) One or preferably two HB black lead pencils (to use on the machine-readable multiple choice exam answer sheet)

3) One or preferably two functioning ink or ballpoint pens (with which to write your essay answer)

4) A watch (to pace yourself in the exam–see below, 3.c)

This is a closed-book examination. During the examination, you are not allowed to have any other materials on your desk surface other than those items listed above. All other materials (books, knapsacks, purses, notes, computers, phones, etc.) must be stowed beneath your desk or along the walls on the sides of the classroom).
Cellphones must be turned off during the entire length of the examination.
When you finish your examination, ensure that you hand the following materials:

–your copy of the examination itself (i.e., you may not take the examination with you)

--your examination answer booklet(s)

--your machine-readable examination answer-sheet.



It is very important that you put your name, student number, and TA’s name on the examination answer booklet(s) and your name and student number on the machine-readable examination answer-sheet. In the case of your machine-readable answer sheet, don’t forget to write your student number in the assigned box, plus fill in your student number in the machine-readable section of the form.
Your TA’s will be present to return your essays to you after the conclusion of the examination and after the examinations have been collected.
2. Preparation for the final examination
a) Review the assigned materials with care, re-reading the short fictions and poems with your now detailed knowledge of them in mind.
b) Review your lecture and tutorial notes with care, linking points made by me and by your teaching assistants to particular examples, questions, and problems activating the assigned materials.
c) Review the Keywords list (final update should be posted on the Tuesday evening before the Thursday examination), using those keywords as prompts that guide you back to arguments made in the lectures. (Remember that the Keywords list does not summarize the lectures.)
d) Try your best to get some calories into yourself before the examination. Your hard-working brain will thank you for it!
3. Writing the final examination
a) Read the questions carefully. Whether you are answering the multiple choice questions or the essay question, it is important actually to answer the question at hand. I know this sounds obvious, but it does help to take a breath and read specifically what is being asked of you. So, it bears repeating: Answer the question.
b) Be specific. In your essay answer, remember to avoid resorting to broad, anecdotal, or un-argued generalizations about the assigned materials. Instead, move rapidly to a discussion that is consistently rooted in particular examples, claims, moves, turns, expressions, problems, and questions that activate and trouble the shorter fictions and poems that we have studied in lectures and tutorials. In other words, make an identifiable argument and make an identifiable argument that is rooted in a discussion of specific details in the assigned materials. Demonstrate that you are alive to the details of the poems and short fictions. Be accurate: know the names of the authors and the titles of the texts that they laboured to create. Know the definition and spelling of terms that we introduced into the course. Extra marks will be given to students who are not only able to discuss particular details but also able accurately to cite or quote words, phrases, verses, and sentences from the assigned materials.
c) Time yourself. The examination is two hours in length, one hour for Part A and one hour for Part B. Each part is weighted equally, i.e. worth 50% of the total examination grade. Ensure that you allocate your time accordingly. Spend no more than 60 minutes for each Part of the examination.
d) Give yourself plenty of time to getting to the examination, which begins in class at 7 pm sharp, Thursday 17 June, 2010. Coming late to the examination is tremendously disruptive to your classmates. Note that the examination concludes at 9 pm irregardless of when you arrive to write it. If you miss the examination, please note that only under the most extraordinary circumstances will you be allowed to write a make-up examination. In any case, permission to do so must be sought from the Faculty of Humanities office.
e) Take a deep breath. You’ve listened carefully to your TA’s and to me, you’ve kept up with the assigned materials and have read them with the rigour and imagination for which they passionately call, you’ve linked the Keywords to the lectures, using the keywords as a way to keep the lecture material detailed and in focus, and you’ve crafted your essays with care. So you are in very good shape, better perhaps than you realize. Take a deep breath. Read the questions. Answer the questions. Take a moment before you answer the essay question to think about the specific argument you want to make, the assigned materials you want to work with, and the particular examples and details from the assigned materials to which you want to refer. Take a moment to organize your thoughts and briefly to map out how you intend to unfold them. Remember: an essay answer is not quickly disgorging everything you know about a particular literary text. An essay answer involves making an argument and thus shaping an argument–an argument shaped by the question. Answer the question.
You’ve been an enormous pleasure to teach, and I thank you for being such an engaging and engaged class. Good luck! I very much look forward to reading your exams.
David L. Clark


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