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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Philosophy Writing Projects

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Philosophy Writing Projects: The Essay Exam

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If your "1C" instructor submits your class to exams, they will most likely be "essay" type. You can expect essay exams in "1C" classes taught by the Philosophy Department. In-class essay exams in Philosophy 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. Because Philosophy particularly values the construction of logical arguments, expect to be asked to establish position, make claims and counter-claims, and support your argument.

That evidence won't consist of quotes—you'll 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

Longer Essay questions:

  • Your "1C" Philosophy instructor will ask you to respond to a couple of long essay questions. In each case, you'll need to establish your position, state it as a thesis, and argue it, gathering your evidence from examples in the text and your own observation and experience.
  • 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.
  • Your essays will ask you to use logic and do analysis.

Types of Evidence

  • Textual evidence—the kinds of examples and details that come from your reading of readings and lectures and presentations made by "guest experts" in your classes.
  • Historical or social or scholarly information—your instructor may ask you to respond directly to information from an historical or social or contemporary piece of information, and ask you to incorporate it into your exam. In other cases, she may ask you to bring your own "personal" or experiential 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.

What's Valued in the Essay Exam...

  • Introduction to direct and focus a position on an issue in each essay question.
  • Organization—a pattern of development that systematically establishes "claims" in the position you're arguing and supports them with examples and descriptive details. It's likely that you'll need to present a position that runs counter to your own and show what's wrong with it.
  • 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

  • Evasion—not answering the question that you've been asked.
  • No introduction—starting with your first example or point.
  • Assertions without evidence—having to take your word for it.
  • No plan of development.
  • A list of examples without analysis of them.

Sample Essay Exams

Link to essay exams.

Sample Student Responses to Essay Exams

Link to student responses.

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