Abolish the Timed Essay

Mr. McMaster’s feedback on my Unit 1 final essay had two points; firstly, my use of quotations to illustrate the use of language was strong, and secondly, I need to better distinguish tone from theme. Mr. McMaster’s comment asked, “How is tone created and what affect does it have on the reader?”. 

I understand that theme is essentially the message of the piece, and tone reflects how the author articulates that attitude. Exploring tone, my essay focussed mainly on the authors’ word choice, and the imagery used to communicate their feelings about war. From what I understand, this relates to diction in literature. I learned that I need to use specific key terms (like diction) and be very explicit in my explanations. While I wrote about what details the authors choose to emphasize and to omit (to produce a particular tone), I did not address how this makes the reader feel. 

I learned that understanding exactly what the essay directions are asking you to do is essential. Underlining important words in the directions is helpful. In a four paragraph essay, I thought it would be better to examine two literally techniques (word choice and imagery), rather than superficially touch on several techniques (sound effects, structure, register). I considered depth over breadth, and am kind of conflicted about what to do next time. Is it better to hit all the key terms a teacher mentions in the directions of a timed essay, or to focus on a couple, but explore them thoroughly?

I also learned that 70 minutes can fly by extremely quickly! It is nerve-wracking. I can see a difference in quality in my introduction and thesis statement, compared to my conclusion (which feels rushed). When I write, I tend to take time to critically think about what I want to say. I like getting all my ideas down, and then edit to make my work succinct. For me, timed essays are a challenge. I do not think they are an accurate reflection of a person’s writing ability. They are contrary to what we learn about revision being key. No scholars publish literary analysis ‘speed’ papers. So why are English students assessed this way? Maybe because it is how testing has always been done? Perhaps we should reevaluate this practice.

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