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Final Exam Study Guide Example

The next example is a study guide. Students can use study guides not only as a resource to find out what is important for an exam, but they also serve as an easily accessible way to review class material.


Following are details concerning the three sections of the final exam, each with sample questions and varying responses with critical explanation.

I.  Quote Identification: Answer the questions that follow each passage. (80 pts)

This section will present 10-12 passages from the texts we’ve read throughout the semester and ask two questions concerning each one—a question that asks you to identify the writer, novel, and/or character being referenced, and another question asking for a more interpretive response that critically locates the passage within the novel or connects it to other ideas we discussed in class. Here follows an example:

     “Hopeless heart that thrives on paradox; that longs for the beloved and is secretly relieved when the beloved is not there. That gnaws away at the night-time hours desperate for a sign and appears at breakfast so self-composed. That longs for certainty, fidelity, compassion, and plays roulette with anything precious.
     “Gambling is not a vice, it is an expression of our humanness.”

1.  In which novel and in whose psyche do these thoughts appear?

This passage comes from Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion, and these thoughts are Villanelle’s.

2.  Describe one instance where “gambling” in this novel might be an expression of “humanness” and explain your answer.

The novel suggests that passion—desire for someone or something—is fundamental to the human experience, and that this passion demands people risk something precious to have a shot at fulfilling their passions. Villanelle and Henri’s passions—Villanelle’s for the woman and Henri’s for Villanelle—demand that they each put something on the line, Villanelle her heart and Henri his mind, and they both lose what they’ve risked. At the end of the novel, Henri’s lucid hallucinations, the heartbreak resulting from what he risked following Napoleon and then Villanelle, make him seem the most human of all.

The second answer here succeeds by addressing both the ideas of gambling and humanness referred to in the question, and discussing specific instances from the novel as support.


II.  Short Answer. (60 pts)

This section will present 6-10 terms we’ve discussed throughout the semester, asking you to define each one and then apply it to at least one text that we’ve read. An example:

3.  Present Kundera’s definition of comic and offer TWO examples from the texts that we have read so far, explaining how each corresponds to Kundera’s definition.

Kundera asserts that the “comic” in literature “brutally reveals the meaninglessness of everything.” The excerpt we read from The Trial is the most immediate example of this kind of meaninglessness; Kundera pointed out that whatever forces are at work deep in Josef K’s soul—his sexuality, his spirituality—can’t really matter when K is able to do little more than respond to the cryptic accusations made against him. Kerouac’s Ray Smith also struggles throughout The Dharma Bums with the comic quality of his own existence. His anxieties concerning the forces at work inside him—his sexuality, his alcoholism—peak several times throughout the novel, and each time he feels reassured when he realizes that all of these things are meaningless, though Smith’s understanding of this lack of meaning also seems to embrace Kundera’s definition of “tragedy,” since Smith feels a surge of grand purpose and sadness for all mankind when he is able to let go of the search for meaning.

Note how the two examples that follow the definition are both explicitly identified with examples and explanation. This response is particularly good where it even goes on to explain how the second example, from Kerouac’s novel, also partially represents the opposite of the definition we’ve been using to discuss the “comic” in literature.

III.  Essay: Choose one of the essay options listed below and respond, being sure to discuss specific characters, events, images, narrative and/or structural techniques, etc., to support the claim you make. (60 pts)


In both The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Passion, “compassion” acts as an important component of the narrative’s “existential code.” Kundera brings it up immediately in his novel as a way of introducing the tension in the relationship between Tomas and Tereza, and in Tomas as an individual character. This “emotional telepathy,” as Kundera describes it—to “feel” with another person instead of merely “suffering” with them—is often a great burden to Tomas throughout the novel, but this burden is presented as merely the price of admission in The Passion. Winterson’s novel suggests that to feel with another person is the highest state of human existence—and perhaps as a result, the most dangerous.

Despite all of his attempts to keep his life unburdened by the feelings of others—leaving his wife and son, his parents’ subsequent abandonment—Tomas is struck with the protectiveness with which he behaves toward Tereza and her feelings. He even follows Tereza back to occupied Prague after they had fled to the safety of Switzerland because he can’t bear the thought of her pain. Tereza makes sacrifices throughout their relationship as well, putting up with a great deal of Tomas’s adultery as she tries to understanding his feelings about sex and love. Ultimately, we see them together in the countryside, their clumsy human attempts to understand one another having translated into a happiness that is all the more brief because we know that soon after having achieved it they will die. But to achieve this happiness, they both had to make the sacrifices that came with feeling deeply with another person.

The idea of compassion and sacrifice operate similarly in The Passion. Throughout the novel is repeated the phrase “You play, you win, you play, you lose. You play,” which speaks to the risks all of the characters take in order to follow their passions. Villanelle risks her heart for her lover, and loses it; Henri risks his life to follow Napoleon and loses his heart, and finally loses his mind in pursuit of his love for Villanelle. Henri ultimately sacrifices everything to protect the love he feels for Villanelle, for it is inside the sanatorium where she cannot reject it. In sacrificing his mind, Henri appears to regain the heart he lost during the war.

Finally, it is the power of compassion that makes the characters in these novels change and evolve. Without the need to understand and relate to each other, without the need for love, none of these characters would take the risks that helped them define what was most important to them, and without this knowledge, people are unable to know themselves. This discovery of self and other is at the root of what Kundera called “the wisdom of the novel,” the authentic revelation whose beauty inspires us no matter what is revealed.

Note first how this student probably took some notes prior to beginning writing—there’s a structure that introduces the argument (para 1), and then discusses examples pertaining to each of the novels in separate paragraphs (2 and 3), and a joint interpretation in the final paragraph that makes a further point concerning the importance of compassion in these novels. These notes might have been fairly rudimentary, but also probably helped organize this student’s examples:

compassion = weight for Tomas                    
compassion =  dangerous for Henri

para 2
Tomas à returns to Prague for Tereza
Tereza à puts up with Tomas’s adultery
countryside à compassion changed them both, made them happy

para 3
Villanelle à loses heart but gets it back
Henri à risks life and loses heart (war), then loses mind (to regain heart?)

para 4
compassion forces all of these characters to make sacrifices
sacrifices = change, character development
change = revelation, beauty?

Making some notes helps you shape your argument and make sure that you’re working with some concrete examples—plan to cite specific scenes or events from any novel you discuss in this final section.