Preparing for the English Composition

Preparing for the English Composition Final Exams: Notes from the Learning Center

I. The Readers

  • The two faculty readers of your exam are tired, tired, tired. They want you to do well. They want to read good writing. Please give them your best.

II. Preparation

  • Read and REREAD the readings listed on the library website under “Course Readings” for your section
  • Print them out. Highlight key points and dazzling quotations.
  • Talk with others who have read the articles about what they have in common.
  • Predict test questions. Think about how you might answer them.
  • Be prepared for questions related to the content of the readings as well as for questions about how strong the arguments are in terms of support, getting the attention of the reader, etc. In other words, consider what makes a well-written article or essay.
  • Be prepared for a “multiple prompt.” That means you might have to answer something that looks like a series of questions and statements, not just a single question that you can easily (and without thinking) turn into a thesis. Examples of multiple prompts are available in the Learning Center.
  • Know the difference between “essay,” “article,” and “story.” Use the correct term when referring to a specific reading.
  • Work out works cited ahead of time. If you encounter something unusual, such as a blog or twitter, check carefully for how to cite those sources.
  • You may use the citations offered by the website you are accessing; however, those citations often need to be revised in accordance with MLA style outlined in Everyday Writer.
  • Be familiar with the scoring rubric. Check things you are least sure of, and ask for help from an instructor or LAC tutor.
  • Bring blue books, erasable pen, essays or articles, dictionary, and handbooks (Everyday Writer with Works cited pages tagged).

III. The Essay

  • If you have brought two blue books, you might choose to map or even write a rough draft in one book and then write the final, revised draft in the other.
  • Be sure you have a title.
  • Choose the prompt that elicits your best writing. This prompt might or might not be the one you are most interested in.
  • Avoid an extended narrative. The question will not ask you for a story.
  • Answer the question. Remember that a thesis is the topic plus the point you want to make. Sometimes figuring out the topic is a challenge.
  • For extra hints on cause/effect or comparison/contrast essay, see files in The Learning Center.
  • The thesis is an assertion about your topic. The best theses indicate something about the structure of the paper as well. To indicate structure you might use “because” before summarizing the reasons you will develop in the middle of the essay. The thesis should not be “obvious.”
  • Some students find it helpful to write the thesis on the back of the blue book cover, so they can keep checking it to be sure the writing stays on topic.
  • You might want to use clustering, concept mapping, outlining, or just writing fragments of ideas down before beginning to write whole sentences.
  • Introduction: What some folks call the “yada yada.” The introduction sets the stage or provides general background information. The introduction smoothly carries the reader to the thesis. Do not babble inanely.
  • Middle: Here is where you support the thesis. Students often ask about “flow.” Yes, each sentence should clearly follow the previous one and lead to the next. A paragraph is not a group of disjointed thoughts on a single topic. Many students have found the templates in the book They Say, I Say helpful. Copies of the book are available in The Learning Center.
  • If you choose to acknowledge opposing viewpoints, do so with “although” or “some might think,” rather than “I can also see the other side of this issue.”
  • Ask yourself: Is what I am saying true? Is this sense or nonsense?
  • Remember that transitions occur within and between paragraphs.  For more information on transitions, check Purdue OWL or your handbook. Be sure the transitions make sense. Don’t just plug them in randomly.
  • Often the most important point is saved for last.
  • Conclusion: Several instructors advise against using “In conclusion” for the last paragraph. A strong conclusion does three things: Restates the main idea, answers the question who cares or who should care, and answers the question So what?.  Be sure you do not change the topic or contradict what you have previously said at this point.
  • Check the Purdue OWL for how to write an argument essay  

IV. Style and Mechanics

  • You’ve been working on these all semester. Use what you’ve learned.
  • If you’re unsure about fragments and comma splices, check with a Learning Center tutor for more assistance.
  • If you want to be dazzling, check out Dale Yerpe’s Red Flags, available in The Learning Center.
  • Take time to proofread. (That’s why you brought an erasable pen.)

V. Documentation

  • English 1510 students need only internal documentation.
  • English 1530 students need both parenthetical documentation and Works Cited.
  • Carefully review the rubric for final exams.  Note especially any references to "automatic failing. . .by repeating substantial errors in information on the Works Cited list." 

VI. Additional hints

  • Do not panic. Take your time. Although two hours might not seem like a lot of time, the questions are such that most students can write a clear, correct essay in that time frame if the students have prepared well all semester and have read the articles carefully ahead of time.
  • Avoid “In today’s fast-paced society” and “today’s fast-paced ever-changing world.”
  • Avoid switching to “you” when you mean “I’ or “people”
  • Avoid unsupportable generalizations
  • Remember you are working with “articles” or “essays,” not “stories”
  • Know how to spell “a lot,””your” and “you’re,” “supposed to,” “used to,” “then,” “than,” “ effect”  and “affect”
  • Avoid “really” and ”very”
  • Pay attention to minimum word count if there is one.
  • The title of the Works Cited page is centered and NOT underlined
  • Be sure the entries on your Works Cited page are in alphabetical order
  • Be sure all the internal citations match those on the Works Cited page.
  • Take control of the process. The final exam is not a magical mystery tour.
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