Sunday, April 9, 2006

A Good Tool for Teaching Students to Make Analytical Steps Explicit in an Essay Answer

One of the most common weaknesses students exhibit on essay exams is the inability to lay out explicitly all of the logical steps in the analysis of an issue.  They often know the material and can even walk through the analytical steps accurately in their minds, but they fail to walk the reader through those same steps.  The result is often a clipped explanation that requires the reader (i.e., the grader) to infer the steps in the logic.  The grader, of course, will do no such thing and will never give points for what is not on the paper.

Explaining to students what it is they are missing can often be a challenge, but Professor Verneillia R. Randall of the University of Dayton School of Law provides a very helpful illustration of the problem in her "Distinguishing Analytical Sentence from a Conclusionary Sentence."  Her set of example sentences would form an excellent basis for a session highlighting the analytical pieces students often imply rather than express.  If students can learn to identify and include those same critical pieces in their analyses of issues, they can begin to correct the incomplete answers they often give on exams.  (dbw)

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