Writing Essay Exams for Professor Hauptli
Copyright © 2013 Bruce W. Hauptli
My examinations are in-class objective essay exams. They are designed to assess students’ understanding of the philosophical theories, positions, topics, and methodologies studied in the course. Sample questions are distributed a week before each exam—they are designed to indicate what students are expected to have mastered, and they provide examples of the kinds of questions I will ask. They are distributed in advance of the exam so that students have an opportunity to organize their thoughts and integrate the readings and lectures. The list of sample questions is far longer than a reasonable examination could cover, and are designed to facilitate review and preparation.
While there is no “length requirement” for my examination, the questions and exam will be designed so that the average student in this class should need to spend most of the allowed time actively writing. Short answers are unlikely to be sufficiently detailed to earn high grades, and mere outlines or lists (of terms, principles, theories, etc.) do not provide sufficient explanation—they will not convince me that a student really understands the relevant material.
All exams are closed-book, closed-notes exam, and students are not allowed to consult dictionaries or other reference texts.
Types of Exam Answers:
The lowest form of answer consists of a minor re-write of the question. Such answers are not considered an improvement on the complete absence of an answer. Since the grade for either of these is generally a zero, it is not worth the effort that goes into writing such.
Only slightly above such answers are those which amount to “answer tweets”—responses which are so condensed that they might as well be tweeted. Note that the exam is worth 20% of the course grade, and if it has three questions, this means that each question is worth about 7% of the course grade. If you want to “tweet” it in, then you should be prepared to receive very low grade. Since I distribute study questions a week before the exams, allow time for review in class, and am questioning you on material you are to have spent significant time reading (and I have lectured on extensively), it is reasonable that you should be able to find enough to say to significantly eclipse all the tweeting you do in more than a single day! Moreover, since all my questions provide significant guidance regarding what the answer should cover, you already have an outline of what you need to discuss.
An adequate answer discusses each of the points mentioned in the question. It clearly demonstrates that you have absorbed the reading and lectures, and understand these elements of the philosopher’s thought and theories which the question asks students about. It doesn’t simply list points, but, instead, elaborates upon and integrates the points in a manner which demonstrates that the student understands the material. Such an answer is sufficient to convince the skeptical instructor that the student doesn’t simply appear to understand the material, but actually does so.
Better answers elaborate upon each of the points, sometimes turning each of them into significant paragraphs; and the best answers fully demonstrate the student’s mastery of the philosopher’s views as covered in the course.
My Expectations for Exam Answers:
Students’ exam answers should:
respond to the question in a manner that clearly and fully addresses each of the items indicated in the question, demonstrating the student’s understanding of the material;
clarify the relevant elements of the philosopher’s theory so that they could be understood by other students taking such philosophy courses—they don’t simply suggest understanding to someone who is already familiar with the material, instead they transmit such understanding;
be organized clearly and logically, and
show knowledge of conventions of standard written English.
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File revised on 12/18/2012.