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How Well Do Most Students Do in the Practice Essay?

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1. How well do most students do in the practice essay?

Summary: Students generally receive scores in the Pass/Credit range, and improve with the second assignment.

In the first-year English Literature, the quality of the first assignment (the practice essay) is often disappointing. The most common problems are lack of unity, inadequate argumentation, and informal presentation. Marks higher than 14 out of 20 are rare, and many students score 10.5 or 11.

Students clearly learn useful tips from this, however, and the second assignment (the first full-length essay) usually indicates a marked improvement, with more succinct and directed writing, in a style more appropriate to tertiary-level work. Many students move up a grade, from pass to credit, or from credit to distinction.

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2. Why do we do a practice essay anyway?

Summary: To give you practice in writing a line of argument that clearly sets out your response to the text, but that also takes into account differing viewpoints.

I hope that students will use their research to develop a focus for their own response to the literary text, and that they'll discover that more than one response is possible and legitimate. I hope that during the writing of the essay students improve their ability to argue a case, and that, in doing so, will take account of conflicting opinions.

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3. How can I avoid "just describing"?

Summary: Don't just talk about what happens, give an analysis of why it happens.

Perhaps the most frequent problem students have is a tendency to just describe what happens in a text, when they should be attempting an analysis of why it happens. An example of "just description" is when you tell the story in your own words, or you provide a summary of the nature of the characters, but you neglect to indicate what the theme of the story is and how the various elements in the story contribute to making the theme more evident.

The theme of the story is not usually encapsulated in some direct statement. The theme of a story emerges through your interpretation of the various elements in the story. These elements can include, for example, metaphors that are used, and particularly symbolic moments, actions, or objects in the text.

So what a student's analysis should be aiming to produce is the crucial ideas that lie at the centre of the story. If you simply tell the reader of your essay what happens in the story you've not assisted the reader in any way to understand the story better, because the reader could have done that himself or herself.

One way of indicating why something happens in a text is to look at the arrangement of the plot, but also to look at the psychology of the characters and the traits of a character that push or predispose that character to act in a certain way. Through that you're getting close to indicating why something happens in the story rather than just telling us what happened.

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4. How do I relate to the world of the text?




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