Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How to write an identification question

You cannot write an effective question without first analyzing the material that you have been assigned to read.

Start by identifying the important themes in your reading assignment. If you had to distill the entire reading assignment into two or three concise sentences, what would they be?

Further distill the reading assignment into its main segments and repeat the previous exercise. Be able to reduce each section of the reading into its essentials.

Once you have a brief synopsis of the main segments, start looking at trends within the material. Is there a common thread shared by various topics discussed?

A “compare and contrast” format is often an effective approach for writing your test question. This is particularly so because your textbook takes a broadly comparative approach in its presentation of history.

For instance, Chapter 2 in Worlds Together, Worlds Apart focuses on the earliest cities that emerged along river valleys, but it does so by not only looking at riverine cultures but by comparing them to those who lived outside them.

You can formulate questions at varying degrees of detail. One that aims at a general overview might ask:

“In what way did the river geography differ between Egypt and Mesopotamia and how did this difference affect life in those societies?”

Or you might be more specific:
“Why do we know so much about Mesopotamian culture and so little about the riverine culture of the Indus Valley?”

You might compare within a section:
“How do scholars divide up the three main chronological periods of ancient Egyptian culture, and what is a key characteristic of each?”

We will spend some time in class discussing how to write these questions.