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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

English Writing Projects

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English Writing Projects: Essay Exam

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If your "1C" instructor submits your class to exams, they will most likely be "essay" type. If your "1C" class is taught by the English Department, you can count on it. Essay exams (particularly in-class exams) will test more than your knowledge of the information you'll be examined on. They will test your ability to manage your time, organize your responses under pressure, and support your responses with textual evidence.

In this case, that evidence won't consist of quotes—you'll most likely be asked to use examples and details from the texts you'll be examined on and show how they support the position you're arguing. With some direction from your instructor, you can learn to prepare by predicting types of questions—to evaluate the material you've learned from texts and class notes to identify the kinds of questions you'll be asked—and to use in-class essay exams to "think on your feet."

Expectations for the Essay Exam

  • Identification questions:
    • You may be asked to write paragraph-long identification questions on specific items. You'll need to identify each item and place it in a context.
    • Then reach an understanding of how and why it's significant. That last item is analysis.
  • Longer essay questions:
    • You may be asked to respond to a long essay question that is more global in nature. You'll need to establish your position, state it as a thesis, and argue it, gathering your evidence from examples in the text.
    • And you'll need to read the question closely to pick up cues on how you should organize your argument—by comparison/contrast; by definition; by cause and effect; by dividing your subject into categories. Look at the verb in the question—describe, analyze, compare etc.

Types of Evidence

  • Textual evidence—the kinds of examples and details that come from your reading of texts in your classes.
  • Historical or social or scholarly information—In cases where you'll be responding to take-home exams, your instructor may ask you to respond directly to a piece of historical or social or scholarly information, and ask you to incorporate it into your exam. In other cases, she or he may ask you to bring your own evidence to bear on the question.

Methods of Citation

  • For all in-class exams—you won't need to do any textual citing beyond establishing the context in which the examples you're using as support are located.
  • MLA citation—for take-home exams, you'll need to cite the sources you're using in-text as you would if you were writing a research paper. Your instructor may ask for a Works Cited list as well.

What's Valued in the Essay Exam...

  • Introduction to directive and focus each essay question.
  • Organization—a pattern of development that systematically takes up points in the position you're arguing and supports them with examples and descriptive details.
  • Analysis that shows how those examples you use support your claims.
  • Conclusion that moves beyond mere summary to what you've learned from addressing the essay question.

...and What's NOT

  • Not answering the question that is asked.
  • No introduction—starting with your first example or point.
  • Assertions without evidence—having to take your word for it.
  • Lack of a development plan.
  • A list of examples without analysis of them.

Sample Actual Essay Exams

link to exams

Sample Student Responses to Essay Exams

link to exams

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