But if you ask my professors, apparently I don't know anything. In my Memoir class we learned that we put ourselves out there with our stories. And... Now I'm going to put my big girl panties on and put myself out there...
So last semester when I took comps but didn't pass, the professor sent on the comments from the graders. It's a pass/fail system. Here were the comments.
British Core Exam
- Passage 1 (Macbeth): Fail. A good understanding of the passage, but the writer doesn’t match the passage up to a clear theme in Macbeth. And the writer says Macbeth wants to be King of Denmark instead of King of Scotland.
- Passage 2 (Fielding): Pass. Language a little awkward, but makes a good argument.
- Essay (Wuthering Heights): Fail. Doesn’t define the term “gothic” well, and most of the characteristics the writer described (like a required death) aren’t necessarily part of a gothic genre.
- Passage 1 (Macbeth): Fail. The answers do not demonstrate a strong grasp of the passage or their role in the works. The Macbeth passage sidesteps the issue of theme in the question and the explication reflects the same muddy thinking as Macbeth rather than a clear explication of Macbeth’s quandary.
- Passage 2 (Fielding): Fail. The vanity/hypocrisy distinction and examples are not well presented in the Joseph Andrews passage.
- Essay (Wuthering Heights): Fail. The student does not demonstrate even a fundamental grasp of the tenets of a gothic novel in this essay.
- Passage 1 (Macbeth): Fail. The prompt asks the student to consider the passage’s relation to theme, and this task doesn’t get done. Moreover, the facts here are sometimes confused. Macbeth isn’t angling for the throne of Denmark, but Scotland. (And it’s not the thrown, whatever the country.)
- Passage 2 (Fielding): Fail. The prose here is pretty rugged, and it makes following the argument difficult. The student doesn’t really define vanity or hypocrisy or illustrate these with well-chosen examples. For instance, Mrs. Slipslop isn’t vain because she’s physically short and unattractive; Adams foolishly outwalking the carriage doesn’t demonstrate his hypocrisy, but his mistimed, heedless playfulness.
- Essay (Wuthering Heights): Fail. The student seems to know the novel, but doesn’t do a very good job of laying out the tell-tale characteristics of the gothic.
- Passage 1 (Macbeth): Passed response without comment.
- Passage 2 (Fielding): Passed response without comment.
- Essay (Wuthering Heights): Fail. The essay fails to define the key traits of the gothic.
- Passage 1 (Macbeth): Fail. The answer is far from adequate. It misses the intention of the passage, and what is written is inaccurate. Macbeth is current Thane of Glamis. The witches called him also Thane of Cawdor and he is by proclamation of King Duncan, something he has just learned from a messenger, and who "shalt be king hereafter." The candidate could have focused on the themes of ambition, fate vs. free will, the deceptivity of appearances ("nothing is but what is not"). By the way, the play is set in Scotland, not in Denmark.
- Passage 2 (Fielding): Fail. Character (Mrs. Slipslop) has nothing to do with physical appearance! Therefore it is entirely inaccurate to say "Mrs. Slipslop’s character is immediate described as being short and very unattractive. This is a sign of vanity." NO! Regardless, I find this answer to be poorly focused.
- Essay (Wuthering Heights): Fail. What? In paragraph 2 the candidate states: "The first element of a Romantic Gothic novel should have is fiction. While this story could be based off of events that happened, it is not a non-fiction story?" I am sooo confused! And what does the fact or non-fact of ghosts existing have to do with what makes Wuthering Heights novel. A solid, well-focused thesis for this essay would have greatly helped the candidate (perhaps) write an acceptable response to the question.
American Core Exam
- Passage 2 (Twain): Pass.
- Passage 1 (Franklin): Fail. Neither passages response offers much analysis of the details of the passage, but the one on Twain answers the question more thoroughly than the one on Franklin. In discussing passage 1, the student ignores the latter part of the passage (dealing with the improvement of tradesmen, farmers, etc.) and instead includes a reference to belief in God, which seems entirely out of place, given that Franklin doesn’t refer to God in the passage. Several typos, most noticeably the use of the word colonialist instead of the standard term colonist.
- Essay (Franklin & Bradstreet): Fail. Often the essay is too simplistic, such as in the first paragraph where the student writes that Bradstreet and Franklin have both similarities and differences (which could probably be said of any two authors) and the statement, two sentences in a row, that Bradstreet was a woman. The essay could be a lot stronger if it answered the question more directly. Statements like this would help: “Bradstreet saw the role of an author in relation to the public as X….Franklin believed that an author’s role in relation to the public was Y.” It would also be helpful to refer to the titles of the works being discussed. Without the titles, the discussion often feels too vague.
- Passage 2 (Twain): Fail, although the summary of the passage at the top of this response is accurate, the student has chosen the student chose to draw on biographical and historical information to consider Twain’s position on slavery rather than using the text of the passage to frame a response to the question posed. This response doesn’t demonstrate analytical close reading skills and assumes that the discursive construction of the first-person narrative will always, necessarily, reveal authorial intention, which is a fallacy that limits full understanding of the nuances of Realist novels in particular.
- Passage 1 (Franklin): Fail. Here the assumption that the writer agrees with the perspective of the direct discourse is entirely appropriate, as Franklin’s work is memoir rather than fiction. However, the student hasn’t analyzed the form or content of the passage given in sufficient depth. More commentary on how Franklin’s writing reveals the ideology described in this specific section of The Autobiography is necessary. What kinds of diction used here indicate that the facts presented about Franklin are theoretically grounded in the text of The Autobiography? How might, for instance, Franklin’s espousal of a belief in the importance of libraries as a resource for the tradesmen prove the student’s claims about self-reliance? More explanation that links the passage to the arguments in this response is needed.
- Essay (Franklin & Bradstreet): Fail. I’d like to commend the student on remembering specific details from both texts, which is an important part of this exercise. However, I find that the central concern of the essay prompt—how the two pieces of writing explore “the role authors play as public figures”—is only implicitly addressed in this essay, making it difficult to pass the essay, which seems to describe, rather than analyze, works by Bradstreet and Franklin.
- Passage 2 (Twain): Fail. The essay talks about this passage from Huck Finn in general but doesn’t analyze the passage itself. Spending time on Twain as a racist because of the "N" word is a distraction. That word isn’t even in the passage.
- Passage 1 (Franklin): Fail. Again this is not an analysis of the Franklin passage but a generalization about the Autobiography. The comment about God is incorrect for Franklin, who was a Deist. For the future, the student needs to learn how to do a close reading of a passage.
- Essay (Franklin & Bradstreet): Fail. The essay shows knowledge of Bradstreet’s poetry and Franklin’s Autobiography but it doesn’t answer the question about the authors’ public role.
- Passage 2 (Twain): Fail. The student shows a good grasp of the details of this scene in the novel, but in the second half of this response, the argument for the passage’s significance becomes muddled as it doesn’t comment on how this passage supports the claim that Twain was taking an anti-racist position in this scene.
- Passage 1 (Franklin): Fail. This response has a clear idea about Franklin and his belief in self-improvement, but it doesn’t connect that idea to this particular passage except in passing at the very end of the essay.
- Essay (Franklin & Bradstreet): Fail. This response shows an awareness of the biographical details of Franklin and Bradstreet’s lives, but it doesn’t make very many references to their writing. As a result, it doesn’t make an argument about their works differ in response to the assigned question.
- Passage 2 (Twain): Fail. Answer is scatter-shot Twain rather than careful analysis of passage.
- Passage 1 (Franklin): Fail. Again, strays too far from passage and question. This student has serious troubles with close reading.
- Essay (Franklin & Bradstreet): Fail. Very strange word choice in para 1. Makes faulty assumptions about Bradstreet. Strays from question. Needs to refer to work. Problems with style.
I was ready to crawl in a hole and die. It was not a good day when I received these comments. Ugh! And if you put it all together... I failed. I felt like a retard, not going to lie.
So I went into this round of comps hoping for better results. I'd like to say for the Core exam I did get better results but not what I was looking for... I passed the British passages portion but that was it. Dang it, what's wrong with me? And worst of all my writing was criticized to the point of them saying I don't write like a M.A. (Master's of Arts) student. So what do I write like? A 6th grader? I have no clue...
British Core Exam
- Passage (Milton): Passed without comment.
- Passage (Wordsworth): Pass. Weak, but should still pass.
- Essay (Bronte & Woolf): Fail. Wuthering Heights is from the Victorian, not Romantic Period. Good details on the gothic elements, but no detailed description of the construction of characters like Catherine and Heathcliff, and no discussion of stream-of-consciousness, for example, when discussing the Modernist construction of a character like Mrs. Ramsey.
- Passage (Milton): Pass. While the answer is not particularly strong, seeming to search for the heart of the question (contradictions), it does fulfill the requirements of the question and so it passes.
- Passage (Wordsworth): Fail. The reading of Wordsworth does not show any understanding of the poem’s overall theme or aim (other than to use more common language).
- Essay (Bronte & Woolf): Fail. The essay answer uses a “buzz word” approach that again does not productively answer the question about methods of characterization. There is no mention of stream of consciousness or why there are differences in characterization methods in the compare/contrast answer provided.
- Passage (Milton): Pass. A bit scattershot, but acceptable.
- Passage (Wordsworth): Pass. But this is the very low end of what is acceptable.
- Essay (Bronte & Woolf): Fail. The discussion here strikes me as thin (plot description, and not a lot of attention to the problem/topic of characterization), and the writing could and should be much stronger.
- Passage (Milton): Fail.
- Passage (Wordsworth): Fail.
- Essay (Bronte & Woolf): Fail.
- Overall: None of the answers really or fully address the questions that the exam poses. They mostly become a rehashing of plot.
- Passage (Milton): PASS. I believe this well-packed paragraph addresses the question effectively.
- Passage (Wordsworth): PASS. I believe this well-packed paragraph responds effectively to the question in representing Wordsworth’s theory of poetry.
- Essay (Bronte & Woolf): PASS. This is a fluent and exceptionally well-developed response. It offers a solid comparison and contrast and it is apparent that the candidate knows both Wuthering Heights and To the Lighthouse well as the details presented are specific.
Student 1 (Nicole Willoughby)
American Core Exam
- Passage (Hawthorne): Fail. The student sums up broad aspects of Hester’s character without much analysis of the details of the passage. In this part of the exam, the student should comment not only on what the passage suggests, but how the passage does so. For strong analysis, quote and comment on how specific details in the passage relate to the questions about Hester and her society.
- Passage (O’Connor): Fail. The student doesn’t say anything directly about third-person limited point of view, which is the basis for the question. It would be useful to comment much more directly about the point of view, and how the limited point of view relates to how we see Julian’s thoughts and the revelation he has. I’d also like to see more attention to details of the passage. For example, why does Julian “get a sense of her innocence” before transitioning to laughter? What can we say about Julian’s personality given that he wants to see his mother punished and taught a “permanent lesson”? What the student writes isn’t incorrect, but he or she tends to summarize the passage a bit too much, rather than commenting on its details in a way that clearly answers the question.
- Essay (Hughes & Brooks): The student mentions the titles of a couple of Hughes poems, but doesn’t discuss the content of those poems. No Brooks poems are mentioned at all—just a very brief reference to some of her basic subject matter. In a closed-book exam, I don’t expect exact quotations from texts, but I do want to see that the student remembers and can comment on specific works, hopefully through discussion of images, phrases, settings, events, people, or other details that appear in the texts.
- Passage (Hawthorne): Pass; this response is perhaps too concerned with summarizing the content and context of the quoted portions of the novel, but the clarity and complexity of the argument posited in the final section—The Scarlet letter juxtaposes the legality of Hester’s actions versus the ethics of her actions—is sufficient to satisfy the requirements for critical analysis and close reading.
- Passage (O’Connor): Pass; this response provides an astute analysis of tone and purpose in the short the specialty exam, work on reading the prompts more carefully when constructing the answer. This prompt specifically asks about O’Connor’s narrative strategies, and that’s one issue this response doesn’t fully explore. Since the rest of the analysis is of such a high quality, that oversight only mitigates the student’s success in analyzing the passage, but other readers (or, in the case of the upcoming specialty exam, future readers) may determine that this sort of oversight justifies a failing assessment.
- Essay (Hughes & Brooks): Fail; this is, perhaps, a reflection of the student’s time management skills rather than an inability to generate an appropriate answer. The setup of this essay has promise. The student situates Hughes as a representative of American Modernism (which certainly overlaps and the Harlem Renaissance) and Brooks as an emergent poet associated with Postmodernism (which is arguably reflected in her role as one of few well-recognized female voices of the Black Arts Movement). There are a few missteps in generating historical context—for instance, the student writes, “Hughes was one of the first African American writers who was willing to address the issue of race in written literature,” which is patently untrue, as the legacy of African American writers considering race began in 1773 (well before the Harlem Renaissance, which is, after all, a re-birth) and Hughes is indebted to many generations of African American writers and intellectuals who came before him. That, coupled with the lack of development due to time constraints, means that this essay doesn’t meet the standards set for M.A. candidates in these exams.
- Passage (Hawthorne): Fail. This essay fails because it doesn’t “analyze” the paragraph. Instead it gives a general thought on Hester’s non-Puritan views. The student doesn’t deal with Hester being “reckless” and “desperate” or with her being “transfigured.” The line “taking herself out of the ordinary relations with humanity” needs discussion.
- Passage (O’Connor): Fail. The student reads the passage as if we were to agree with Julian’s assessment of his mother. But the question asks what we learn about Julian: his smugness and lack of compassion for his mother. His own racism shows in his willingness to use the black woman as a “lesson” and a “principle.” His immaturity shows in his “loud chuckle” without sensitivity toward either woman.
- Essay (Hughes & Brooks): Fail. The student doesn’t look at any Brooks poems specifically, and the overall thought that she wants blacks to “stay where they were” isn’t true. For Hughes, the references to the poems are too general.
- Passage (Hawthorne): Fail. This response makes an interesting claim near its conclusion, but it doesn’t use much evidence from the passage to support that claim. The ethical argument that the writer suggests the scarlet letter provokes in this scene needs more explanation to be persuasive.
- Passage (O’Connor): Fail. The question here asks the writer to consider the effect of third person narration and to address what we learn about Julian from that perspective. I don’t see much reference to narration in this response, unfortunately. This response doesn’t seem to have a well-defined grasp on Julian’s character since little attention is given to his condescending attitude toward his mother and the woman on the bus.
- Essay (Hughes & Brooks): Fail. This response is substantially incomplete, so I must give a failing grade.
- Passage (Hawthorne): Fail. The student needs to spend more time close reading the passage and what is shown of character and spirit and less interpreting the entire novel. I’m not convinced of their reading. Cite textual evidence from the passage and don’t leave out what doesn’t fit.
- Passage (O’Connor): Fail. The student doesn’t answer the question, especially re: interpreting the story and his revelation and point of view. He’s no hero in this passage, but rather mean.
- Essay (Hughes & Brooks): Fail. Paragraph one does not convince with its contrast. Is that really a contrast? Stick to form and content. Wow. That was abrupt. The student doesn’t know the authors’ works.
So if you can't tell, this is extremely subjective grading. One person says I have astute knowledge while the next says I don't know how to interpret a story. Oh boy I don't understand. How do you use this to revise answers?
Now my American Essay, I ran out of time. I told the professors that I ran out of time. There's a reason for that, but at least I passed the British Passages part so my wasted time wasn't totally a waste... but I wrote them a note that I ran out of time. The comments I got are a little harsh and I don't believe that these are constructive criticism responses. sigh.
So moving to my Specialty exam... I passed half of it. I was at a loss for the theory portion because I didn't get to take Comp Rhet Theory, instead I had to take Lit theory which while it is the same, it's different too. Comp Rhet is scholarly type writing, and that's what the Comp Rhet and the Tech Writers were supposed to take for theory class... well I came in and had all my issues with classes and therefore didn't get to take that. Then late last semester when I asked what to study for this set of comps I got chewed out because I didn't take it even though it wasn't offered.
So here were those comments....
Technical & Professional Writing Specialty Exam
- Theory: Fail. In this response, I saw the writer summarize design principles from each reading effectively. However, I didn’t see the writer connect those principles to a larger argument about instructional design. This response needed a much stronger thesis that would connect its different pieces of evidence.
- Practice: Pass. This question asks the writer to create a class focused on genre, and I don’t see much attention to that topic in the response. However, the writer gives a detailed explanation of the material that he/she would cover in this course and the reasons for choosing those topics.
- Theory: Fail.
- Practice: Fail.
Overall: Both essays are well written and demonstrate that the student has read most of the texts on the list. However, neither essay actually answers the questions posed. The second essay never mentions genre, and the first essay only briefly mentions instructional design. Also, the first essay discusses texts that have little to do with the material in the question. What does global English have to do with the relationship between instructional and document design?
- Theory: Pass.
- Practice: Pass.
- Overall: The student certainly deserves a pass on the content although the quality of the writing itself was disappointing for a M.A. level student even though writing under time constraints.
The "pass" on the theory portion I have no clue why I passed but whatever I passed. From there... the over all comment was disappointing for a M.A. level student. that's just a slap in the face!
I don't know what comes next. I have to go talk to the professor. I'm so stressed and just hoping that I can make it to graduation day and actually graduate. I should quit now though because I'm about to start crying. I already cried on Friday and while crying didn't fix the problem at hand, it felt good to get it out. Although I did have mascara under my chin, so comic relief I guess.
So that's my life... how's yours?