Masterpieces Exams 101
Part I. 3 out of 6 short essay questions (each worth 10 pts) (I'd say your answers should
be maybe half a page or more in a blue book)
Part 2. 1 out of 3 medium long essay questions (20 pts) (approx. 2-3 blue book pages)
Part 3. One long essay question (50 pts). – Prof. Mellor will give you the long essay
question before the exam (see below).
Studying for the Exam
Make short summaries of each text. This will not only help you to review each story
individually, but will also serve as “Cliff’s Notes” for you during your study time. In
your summaries (which should be only a paragraph long), identify the main characters,
themes, symbols, and whether this story is a good example of one particular concept; for
example, when thinking about “The Lay of Thrym” and “The Lay of Skirnir” I think
about fertility, agriculture, masculinity, prophecy, and marriage in the medieval world.
When thinking about Eirik’s Saga, I think about references to mythology, women’s roles
in the sagas, and the Christian vs. pagan conflict.
Review key concepts. Think about the main things we’ve talked about so far – fertility,
Shamanism, women in the saga world, feud and conflict in the sagas, Christianity and the
conversion, etc. Think about our lectures in terms of themes – what are the main things
we’ve been talking about? Anticipate potential questions based on these things.
Identify key issues and think about what’s most important. Knowing what the stories
are about, the context in which the texts were written, the values of the society that
produced the text, and being familiar with religious issues (paganism vs. Christianity) is
clearly more important than knowing the exact dates each country converted to
Christianity or memorizing the etymology of the word for fish. Keep in mind what is
contextual information and what is key to understanding a work of literature.
Prepare your long essay. You will get the long essay question ahead of time, so you
should prepare an answer. Make sure that it's not too long so that you can write it down
and still answer the short and medium long questions. Having the long essay question
before hand is a great opportunity for you, but because you have it beforehand, we will
grade it a bit more strictly since we expect students to have prepared their ideas.
Make practice questions for the short essays. Go over your notes from lecture and
look at the sample exam/review sheet from Comm-B to think about what kinds of short
questions might be on the exam, then practice answering them. It can't hurt.
Don’t cram!!! Study over the course of a few days – you’ll retain the information much
better than if you stay up until 3:00 a.m. the night before.
Answering an Essay Exam Question
Read through the entire exam to plan an overall strategy.
As you go through the exam, note which sections call for short answers, and which
sections call for longer responses.
Pay special attention to the items that give you choices (for example, answer two of
Plan to answer the heavily weighted questions first so that you have the most time to
spend on those responses.
If you blank out on what you know about a question, plan to tackle that one late in the
test session because answering other questions may help you remember the material.
Look at each exam question to identify key words
You can't respond appropriately if you don't take the time to see what the question
asks you to do, and key words typically tell you what to focus on. Some of the most
common key words in exam questions include “describe,” “analyze,” “compare,”
“evaluate,” “argue,” “explain,” “define,” “reflect,” and “discuss.”
Make notes to yourself of the points you want to cover in the response.
Especially for long responses, jot down an outline or a quick list of key points you
need to cover. It's easy when writing a paragraph or two under time pressure to forget
key ideas as you get involved in writing out your response. The list or notes will help
you remember to include items, and you can use your notes as a checklist for
completeness as you review your response at the end of the test period.
Begin your response by echoing the question.
If you echo the question, you are more likely to write a response that answers the
question because the question will usually spark your thinking along the right lines.
Much of the success on an essay test comes not during the test time but in the
preparation time. If you know the material, you'll be able to generate your lists and
notes quickly to help you write complete answers. If you understand the specialized
terminology being covered on a test, you will not only understand the questions more
quickly, but you'll be able to use the jargon appropriately to write professional
responses. We’ll know if you are padding responses to avoid answering a question, so
writing skills can't carry you through a testing situation if you don't know the content.