How I write a test

I take considerable care and time in writing the tests for this course. Perhaps my telling you how I go about it will help you prepare better for the tests this semester.

There are three levels of knowledge that I test in this course. I put together exams that challenge you to achieve each level of knowledge. The levels are hierarchically more complex. Some students will master only level 1 and have a lower grade. Others will know the material so thoroughly that they do well right up to level 3 and will have high grades. The point is that I am testing you not just on the percentage of material from the course you know but on how thoroughly and complexly you know the material.

Level 1: Memorization of facts.

There are certain facts -- characteristics of the rhetoric, of public life, and of the speeches we study -- that you should master. Although I try to emphasize the facts about the rhetoric rather than about life in those times and places, I don't want to make too much of this distinction because they overlap considerably and I don't want you to be misled about what I will ask. This first level of question -- recall of information -- is tested in multiple choice, fill in the blanks, and short answer questions.

You may notice I did not mention matching questions here. If you have to rely on memorizing speeches to answer those questions you will have trouble. No substitute for old-fashioned studying here. Mmemorizing the important rhetorical characteristics of the speeches (not the words). But the whole course is designed to help you in this task by developing levels 2 and 3 knowledge in discussion. The individual facts involved will be better assimilated if you do so by seeking to understand how they fit together in the cycle of experiencing situations that demand rhetoric in response, and motivating response in that rhetoric. In short, don't consider them isolated facts; understand them in their relationship to the role of rhetoric in public life. Notes are available online for studying, but there is no substitute for lectures and discussion to move you to this more integrative level of understanding. Notes on the page cannot accomplish that.

By the way, there is a type of memorization of speeches that will help you. Because I think that being able to recite the most important eloquence of American speakers is both cool and productive of understanding how we arrived at our current moment, each test will contain an opportunity for extra credit for your memorizing key sections of one of the speeches we study.

Level 2: Comparative and tracking questions.

Some people mistakenly believe that testing is just about how much you memorize. It is not. Recall is just the first step to thoroughly knowing the material. A higher level of question tests whether you know the material you have studied well enough to work it in relationship to other material you have mastered. For example, I might ask you to compare characteristics of the rhetoric of the Progressives with FDR's rhetoric in the New Deal. In the process of comparison and contrast you should demonstrate your knowledge of the different situations and how the speaking of leaders varies across time and situation. Ultimately this type of question develops late in the course into a tracking question where I ask you to take some rhetorical characteristics -- say American exceptionalism -- and track its evolution across the times we have studied.

I test this level in comparative multiple choice questions and comparative short answer questions and, of course, in the essay exams. As you move through the century, actively pursue this comparative dimension. It will help you retain the level 1 knowledge if you see it coming and going from one time to the next. And, tracking questions will give you the comprehensive knowledge of American speaking that will pay off in the final examination.

Level 3: Application of your knowledge of themes and strategies of rhetoric to specific speeches.

At the next more sophisticated level I will ask you to take the general knowledge of the themes and strategies of rhetoric at work responding to the leadership challenges of historical moments and apply it to actual discourse of leaders in those moments. For example, I might ask you to find the adaptations of our knowledge of the general rhetorical characteristics that presidents call upon when motivating war to a specific Presidential speech taking the nation to war.

The material for this type of question consumes most of our discussion time in class. I primarily test this knowledge in the essay exams. I test your familiarity with the themes and strategies of rhetoric and the analytic vocabulary for capturing them in the matching questions, in application multiple choice questions, and in short answer questions. Your abstracts are the absolute best way to achieve this level of knowledge. You cannot do them properly without getting to this level. There is a tension between the generalizations we make about the strategies with which leaders craft rhetoric to meet the challenge of public situations and the individual manifestations of that rhetoric in particular moments. So, you will see some of those characteristics clearly present in the speeches you study, and others not there. Realizing this tension will deepen your appreciation for the character of public life, but will also heighten your appreciation for the adaptation to situation that constitutes leadership.

There it is. The three levels of knowledge I test. Good luck on preparing for the exam.

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