History 1301 and 1302 (Haney)
Suggestions for Studying for and Taking the First Exam
Below are some suggestions that I hope will prove helpful as the exam draws near.
The exam will consist of four parts: identification (worth 15% of the total score): one or two maps (worth 10%) an "historical literacy" portion (worth 15%), and an essay topic (worth 50%). (The remaining 10% will come from the quizzes on the textbook readings within the unit covered in the exam.)
PART I: For the identification portion, students must have a solid command of the terms I have written on the board or projected onto the screen during lectures, as well as the terms that appear in boldface type in the study questions for the textbook (posted on-line). In this section, you will be presented with key terms and a range of different definitions, and the test will involve choosing the correct definition for each particular term. (The format for this section will be matching and/or multiple-choice.)
The identification questions will require students to make connections between terms and definitions that aren't always immediately obvious. Rather than pairing terms with straight definitions, I like to pair them with phrases and sentences that identify the significance of the terms. For example (in HIST 1301), if the term is Arawaks, the definition won't be something like "The native peoples of the Caribbean." Instead, it might be something like, "Their fate reflected the greed and ruthless opportunism of the Spanish explorers." Similarly (in HIST 1302), a term like the White City would not be paired with something as obvious as "The central architectural achievement of the Columbian Exposition." Instead, it would be matched with something like, "Illustrated the Gilded Age tendency to disguise the nation's many problems and conflicts beneath an impressive exterior."Many of the definitions in this section will include contextual information (like the "Spanish explorers" and "Gilded Age" above), which is typically very useful in narrowing down the answer choices. A key approach for this section is to always keep in my when and where particular key terms have come up in class. Therefore, in your studying of a given term, ask, "Which lecture outline included this term? In which Roman numeral of the outline did it appear?"
PART II: For the map(s), students must be know the key map locations that have figured significantly in the major events and developments in the unit of the course being tested. (These locations will be listed in the review sheet distributed in class and posted in Blackboard.) On the test, a map marked with only letters or numbers will be provided, and those letters or numbers must be matched with particular place names.
Keep in mind that it is important to use historical maps to prepare for this section. Many map locations change shape or name due to historical forces, and some disappear altogether. Therefore, rely heavily upon the maps in the textbook in preparing for this section, because each of them represents names and contours of world geography during the periods presented in the text (and tested on the exam). The textbook's index can make the process of finding a particular location easier -- if a major location is covered on a particular page, there is often a map illustration nearby.
PART III: The "historical literacy" portion will consist of multiple-choice questions on the textbook readings and lectures, with an emphasis on subjects related to the larger themes, events, and structures we've covered (no trivia).
PART IV: The essay portion will consist of two topics, and at exam time I will choose one of them for you to write about.
Writing in a history course is different from writing in other disciplines, like journalism, English, or psychology, and thus the following suggestions address the matter of preparing for and writing essays on historical subjects.
Suggestion 1: Do not allow my essay topics to intimidate you. Instead, take full advantage of the information contained within them.
I like to write somewhat wordy essay topics, but I do that so that there will be less confusion about the kinds of essays I'm asking for. There are a couple of important things to do right away with my essay topics:
First, notice that a given topic's initial paragraph will not ask you to do anything -- it simply identifies the topic's main theme, which will be one of the themes we have been emphasizing in class. (In other words, you'll recognize it readily, if you've been attending regularly.) Use that first paragraph to create an introductory paragraph for your essay. This paragraph doesn't have to be highly original, though I prefer that it be a paraphrasing of the topic's first paragraph, rather than a word-for-word transcription of it.
Next, my topics will follow a similar pattern: Each will ask you to take a series of issues and/or subjects (listed in bullet-point format), and apply them to the main theme outlined in the first paragraph. These issues and/or subjects can often be found in the lecture outlines projected on the screen in class, and often in the headings for the different sections of the textbook. They will not surprise you as unfamiliar material; rather, they will be instantly recognizable, and thus it is simply a matter or recalling which of their elements are most relevant to the essay topic's main theme and incorporating those elements into the essay.
Suggestion 2: When you receive the exam, the issues and subjects to write about will be presented in the form of bullet points. Use the bullet-point list to organize your essay into paragraphs.
Each of the bullet points will contain a subject that is related to the topic. Simply devote an entire paragraph to that subject, and write an analysis that connects it directly to the topic's main theme.
Be sure to note how much time you will have in order to write each paragraph under the exam's time limit. Inevitably, some students will be better prepared than others for this kind of writing, just as some students are better prepared to solve differential calculus equations or balance chemical equations under a time limit. If you do not write frequently for your other courses (or in general), be sure to read Suggestion 3 below, on topic sentences, very carefully.
Suggestion 3: Avoid narrative descriptions of the course material. Use topic sentences consistently in order to prevent them from happening.
You should do everything possible to avoid simply reciting sequences of events, story plots (if any), or extended sequences of developments from the lectures. Instead, start every paragraph with a topic sentence that is related to the topic's main theme, and then carefully select from your available factual evidence that which best supports that topic sentence.
We've all experienced conversations in which someone embarked on an extended description of an event or experience without giving any indication of how it fits into the conversation as a whole, or how it is related to any issue raised in the conversation. We then feel like stopping the person speaking and asking, "What is the point of all this you're saying?" In every paragraph of your essay, you will avoid this situation by stating the main point of your paragraph at the beginning of the paragraph. That is, you will explain how the paragraph will address the topic's main theme.
Suggestion 4: Decide how much detailed information you should use in your essays by keeping the main theme of the topic in the front of your mind at all times.
Students often try to dump everything they know about Haney's history courses into the topic they're writing about. That is a bad idea. Your goal should be to show how well you can use the course material that is relevant to that particular topic. If you do that well, you have shown that you are prepared to use any and all material in the course to support your ideas. (Does a chemistry professor ask you to balance every known chemical equation on an exam? Of course not. But if you do a good job of balancing the equations he or she has included on the exam, it is likely that you have proven your overall ability to balance chemical equations.)
Obviously, this part of the course contains far more detail than you could fit into a timed essay. Your goal is therefore to choose useful details to support your essay. A good guide here is to convey your points the way you would to a roommate or a friend, someone who isn't in the class and who therefore needs enough specific examples to understand (and accept as valid) what you're communicating, but who would not need to know every last detail in order to get the point.
Suggestion 5 (very important): There is no objectively "correct" set of answers to these topics. Instead, the grading will depend upon how effectively you combine arguments with evidence. (Of course, some arguments will be better than others, so make sensible use of the evidence available, rather than going out on a limb with it.)
Thorough usage of evidence involves elaborating on how it applies to your argument. It is insufficient so simply allow the evidence to stand by itself, disconnected from the points you are trying to make.
In many cases, you will have the opportunity to select from several pieces of evidence for a given issue, and you would probably want to include more than one example of evidence in order to reinforce your argument (two or three is sufficient in most cases). Also, the fact that there are several examples of this sort means that you can choose the ones you believe are the most persuasive.