The four types of essays you will be asked to write for the CAPT Response to Literature Test are as follows:
A. The question on the test: "What are your thoughts and questions about the story? What did you notice? You might reflect on the characters, their problems, the author's use of symbolism, the title or other ideas in the story."
B. Assessment: The judges are looking for growth in reflection in relation to you making sense of the story. In other words, they're looking for how you revise your original thoughts and questions about the text as you proceed through the reading process. Remember: Reading is recursive. That means when we read, we continue to revise our thoughts as we go along. It is natural to draw certain conclusions, then reverse them, then rule them out completely, then adjust them as we arrive at a more clear understanding of the story. We may even need to go back and reread certain sections before becoming satisfied with our interpretation.
C. How to do it: The idea here is to take a question you have about the text and follow your thought process through in answering your own question. In other words, don't just ask a question about the text (even though technically that is what the question literally asks you to do). Instead, raise the question and then answer it as you figure out the meaning as you read. Then model the way you arrived at your interpretation of the question. A typical response might include phrases like "I first noticed..." then, "I then saw...", and finally, "My question was answered when I understood ___________ because ______________." Please note: I do not mean to script you. I'm just showing you a model for how you could demonstrate reflection; I am not telling you what you should write. Remember: the best answers come from your imagination, intelligence, reading and writing skills, and creativity, not from some canned formula that you memorize and regurgitate.
D. Strategies for Success: Think about our metacognition strategies we practice everyday in your homework, class discussion, and in close reading activities. Look for repetition of a word, a symbol, or motif, the significance of the title, the significance of a character's name, etc. Predictions, visualizations, rereading, outlining, underlining or highlighting, graphic organizing, and mnemonic devices are all metacognitive strategies that will help you with the CAPT.
A. The question on the test: How does the main character change from the beginning of the story to the end? What do you think causes this change?" The questions also appears in this form: "Choose a key quote from the three listed below and explain how this quote impacts your understanding of the story as a whole or the development of a main character?"
B. Assessment: The judges are looking for clear, logical development in terms of analysis. They are also evaluating how well you understand symbolism, character development, and theme. They are interested in "deep understanding," which is why I'm always encouraging you to read closely and use metacognition for a less literal reading of the text.
C. How to do it: Analysis means breaking things down and explaining them in smaller sections and then linking them to other elements in the story. You can break down a quote (called "parsing") and link it to another quote to unlock a theme. You can break down a symbol and relate it to another symbol and explain its significance. You can trace a motif through the story and explain why it's important. All of these practices build skill in analysis. They also result in excellent Analytical essays.
D. Strategies for Success
1. Be on the lookout for repetition. If an author repeats a word, phrase, or symbol, he/she wants you to notice it for a reason. You need to figure out the reason. A key strategy to unlock meaning is to think about how the repetition is used each time. There are probably slight differences in each repetition. Chart those differences and see how they develop.
2. Underline or highlight quotes and/or diction that you think are important as you read the story. Then you don't have to hunt for them later. This saves time.
3. Relation to Life
A. The question on the test: "What does this story say about people in general? In what ways does it remind you of people you have known or experiences you have had? You may also write about stories or books you have read, or movies, works of art, music lyrics, or television shows you have seen. Use examples from the story to explain your thinking."
B. Assessment: The judges are looking for how well you can connect your experiences in the world to the story. They are looking for real life connections that are original and well supported. There is probably a bias for the connection to be text-to-text, as Response to Literature is an English assessment.
C. How to do it: Don't be too literal. If it's a story that takes place in Chinatown, don't say you can relate because you've been to Chinatown (especially if you haven't). Look deeper. What's a theme in the story? Can you relate the theme to your life? To a movie, television show, or play you've seen? To a piece of art or song lyrics? If you can't figure out a theme, try character motivation. Why does the character act the way they do? Can you relate to the emotions of the character? If so, how? Be specific. How about the conflict? Have you ever experienced a similar conflict? How and when?
D. Strategies for Success
1. Again, don't be too literal. This is the biggest way to lose points on your essay grade. If the story is about two brothers, don't write about you and your brother. Write about conflict or rivalry in another arena instead (sports, cliques, politics, contemporary world events). If the story is about chess, don't write about Bobby Fisher. What is the game of chess a metaphor for? Connect to that instead.
2. Don't get too personal. Your personal life is your own, especially intimate details. The judges aren't looking for intimacy. They are looking for imaginative, high level connections. Also, don't lie about your personal life to make the connection "easier." Easy rarely equals "original or surprising." This means don't kill off your poor grandmother who is alive and well and living n Boca Raton if the story is about the death of a grandparent. Just think about the nature of grief instead. Grief over an aging pet, lost love, betrayed friendship, or disappointment in school can still be powerful grief. Leave poor grandma alone!
3. Don't make things up unless you are a brilliant liar--chances are, you aren't yet.
A. The question: "How successful was the author in creating a piece of good literature? Use examples from the story to explain your thinking."
B. Assessment: It sounds here like the judges are asking if you liked the story or not. It's a trick. They're not; they don't care. Instead, the judges are looking for your judgment (or evaluation) of an aspect of the story that you deem vital to "good literature." They are looking for perceptive proof about the literary quality of the text and support that proves what you say.
C. How to do it:
1. Start your essay with a thesis that says "Good literature is________" or "Good literature has _________________" That is your thesis statement. You must refer back to it throughout the essay's body. Here, repetition = success.
2. Say you choose "universal theme" as a quality of good literature. Next, define universal theme, and then analyze the universal theme in the specific CAPT story.
3. Back up your interpretation of this theme via a short quote from the story.
4. Parse the quote in relation to what you're trying to prove. In this case, the universal theme that you think is depicted by the story. Parsing without any connection to your thesis is useless. Many of you forget that. Parse to prove that universal theme (or whatever your thesis is).
5. Explain why a universal theme would create "good literature." Be specific. Try to use another example/quote from the text in this explanation. Keep referring back to your thesis. Everything you say must go with "Why" the story is good literature.
D. Strategies for Success: Take a look HERE at a few exemplars to give you a model.
1. Don't say the story is "magnificent" or "the best story ever." It sounds really lame. And frankly, nobody trusts a suck-up (Forgive the vulgarity: it's just the perfect word.)
2. Be specific. Provide quotes and/or specific details to show how you evaluated what you evaluated.
3. Don't write about too many qualities. It's a one-page essay. The judges don't read or grade anything beyond the page limit. Be concise, and don't repeat what you've already said within the other three questions.
4. Since our data on student performance shows this to be the most difficult question for our students to answer, think about working on it first while your mind is fresh. Then time management won't prevent you from doing your best on this question.
5. If you don't think the story is "good literature," you can certainly say that, but be sure that your argument for why it isn't still involves all the steps above. You will also need to be more persuasive since the state picked the story. It is unlikely that the state picked a story that it didn't deem "good literature." Good luck!
Still don't know what to write about? Here is yet another link to help you brainstorm essay ideas: CAPT Prompts for Thinking ABout Essays.