Final Exam

BENEATHA: Then why read books? Why go to school?
GEORGE: It's simple. You read books to learn facts -- to get grades -- to pass the course -- to get a degree. That's all. It's got nothing to do with thoughts.
Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun (1959)

I really like Beneatha's question, and I really hate George's answer. The final exam you'll take for this course will focus on thoughts.

All the questions will be essay questions, but the exam will have two parts, each with a different kind of question. In the first part, I'll give you four or five questions, and you'll pick any two to answer. These questions will involve specific comparisons (I'll specify two texts in each question), focused on specific issues. I'll try to come up with a good mix of issues, from the thematic (what the books we read are about) to the aesthetic (how they work as texts), and a good mix of the familiar (stuff we've talked about in class) and the new.

In the second part, there will be only one question -- but you'll get to choose any three of the texts we've read to answer it. You can choose freely -- i.e. no matter which works you've written about in the two Part I questions, you can write about any three works in the Part II question.

Throughout the exam I'll expect you to cite evidence, to use examples, to develop your ideas, but mere "facts" aren't what I'll be looking for. What I really want to see in the answers is, first, your ability to address the specific question, and second, your ideas about what the texts we've read mean -- in other words, your "thoughts," and third, your ability to cite examples and details from the texts to support and develop those ideas -- in other words, to move back and forth between the works and your interpretation.

If you've been doing the reading thoughtfully all semester, you are probably already prepared for the exam. But if you want a couple tips about studying for an essay exam like this one, I'd say:

1. Go through each book & remind yourself of the major characters, the major scenes, the major themes.
2. Sit down with the syllabus -- the list of texts we've read -- & think about how you could link them together. If you had to design the final (as you did the "midterm") what questions would you ask? what pairings would you come up with? what issues would you want to ask your students to discuss?
3. A last suggestion -- if you want to get together with any other students in the class between now & next Friday, to study together, to compare the issues you've identified with theirs, to go over the things we've been talking about, you can. In fact, you should! Despite what the Honor Pledge says about "neither giving nor receiving help," I think helping each other is a great way to get ready for the exam.
See you Friday, December 14, at about 8:50. I hate having to "be somebody" before 9 o'clock in the morning . . .