Thoughts about the Final Exam

Let me be clear from the outset: I really, really, really don’t like assigning final exams in English literature courses. They don’t work in relation to the type of learning I want from my students because I’m more interested in what students get out of a course than whether or not they can show me that they have read and understood the assigned course readings. I don’t want to test you. I don’t want you to master any of the material in this course. I don’t even want you to memorize key concepts and ideas.

I want you to think, be confused, feel a little lost at times, and generally wonder at the strange mix of sophistication and weirdness of the major works of the early Victorian period. Also, I want your blog entries and final research papers to express enthusiasm for collaborative thinking, sharing of ideas, and arguing with other scholars (in a nice way, of course). I also want you to come to terms with the fact that you don’t know everything there is to know about Victorian literature. This is not a bad thing.

However, I completely understand the rationale for making final exams mandatory in English courses where students are expected to cover a range of literary texts from a period such as the Victorian era. I just have a different pedagogical way of thinking about learning in the classroom. Because a final exam is mandatory in ENGL 352, we will have to find some way to satisfy the course’s stated learning outcomes while also ensuring that the final exam does not run counter to the learning I want from each of you this semester.

Basically, I want you to find something amazing and profound from SOMETHING in this class, even if it’s just a small feature of a text. Sure, I want you to receive a broad coverage of the major literary works in the early Victorian period, but certainly we can do this while also pursuing the weird, the strange, and the bizarre little references that stick with us, the references that you might actually write about in your research essays and your blog assignments, the references that you might actually remember years from now.

So, here’s what I’m asking: what kind of final exam do you want from this class? We can talk about this. We can figure this out together so that the exam is collaborative and reflects a spirit of engagement that does not flow down from the Instructor’s usual position of power. If you have any suggestions, please comment below. We’ll talk about this in class, for sure, but why not make this conversation public here in our course blog?

See you in class on Friday!


2 thoughts on “Thoughts about the Final Exam

  1. I recall a MacEwan instructor, possibly Dr. Buchanan, offering a creative option for his “Augustan Prose and Poetry” final exam one year: he mentioned in class how a student once wrote their entire “essay” for the exam in rhyming couplets. To offer something a little different on the final exam, perhaps you could offer students the option of writing about a Victorian issue in the genre, style or format of a Victorian writer: the option would not only serve as a demonstration of knowledge acquired throughout the term and a wrestling with some of the themes and ideas of the period, but also would be an exercise in which students could imitate Victorian rhetoric and thereby hopefully improve their own rhetoric. Alternatively, you could offer the option for students to write an “adaptation” of Victorian notions and ideals in a genre and style characteristic of the period but set in the present day: the option would be an effective demonstration of thought about the recurring discussion of how the Victorian period compares and contrasts to our current time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kristina, this is a great suggestion, so we’ll mention this as an option in an upcoming class discussion about the final exam. I do have two reservations about your idea for a creative option, though. First, it would have to be just an option because many students in the class will not be comfortable with creative writing (and actually might find this more difficult than a traditional final exam). This means that we would still have to discuss a second option for the non-creative writers in the class. Second, I’m not a creative writer myself, so I have little expertise in assessing student creative writing. I’m certain I could do it, but it would be out of my comfort zone as an instructor.

    Still, this is a suggestion that I’ve been considering, so we’ll bring up your idea in a future class discussion.


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