Inspired by one of my professors, I decided to let my juniors write their own American Lit final. They each wrote questions and selected quotations, then they took turns lecturing to the class on what they had written, then they turned them in to me. I selected one or two from each student and made the test.

Sound like an easy A?

You bet.

But I just graded them. My class pulled 6 Fs, 5 Ds, 6 Cs, 4 Bs and 0 As.


Now, I love this class and I love American Lit. But zero As?

That's not very many....


(If you would like to take the test, it follows. If you find any of the questions unbelievable, remember: they wrote the test. I just edited it from the raw material I was given.)

American Literature
First Semester Final

Dec. 12, 2005

1. The belief that human beings can arrive at truth by using reason rather than by relying on the authority of the past, on religious faith, or on intuition is what?

a. Rationalism b. Reasonality
c. Reality d. None of these

2. ___________ is a broad term referring to a number of Protestant groups.

a. Catholic b. Puritan
c. Government d. Literature

3. What is “Thanatopsis” about?

a. life b. death
c. birth d. childhood

4. What does Emerson think about “foolish consistency”?

a. If you do the same thing every day your life will be meaningless.
b. If you do something one day and nothing other days your life will be fulfilled.
c. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
d. A good example of why the British are dull.

5. Who wrote “Concord Hymn” during the Civil War?

a. Walt Whitman b. Ralph Waldo Emerson
c. Henry David Thoreau d. Emily Dickinson

6. When did Jonathon Edwards enter Yale?

a. when he was seventeen b. when he was forty-five
c. when he was twenty d. when he was thirteen

7. Who was the author that was kidnapped from his home country Nigeria?

a. Whitman b. Equiano
c. Jefferson d. Dickinson

8. Which one of these titles did Whitman use for one of his poems?

a. “I know why the caged bird sings”
b. “I hear America singing”
c. “If you were coming in the fall”
d. “Summer’s temptations”

9. Which poet was gay and wrote about farts?

a. Douglass b. Poe
c. Whitman d. Dickinson

10. In general, _______________ is the name given to those schools of thought that value feeling and intuition over reason.

a. Realism b. Romanticism
c. Deism d. Republicanism

11. To the romantic writers who came after Franklin, the city was far from the seat of ____________; it was often a place of shifting morals and, worse, corruption and death.

a. happiness b. death
c. chaos d. civilization

12. A great novel of the Civil War was not written until long after the war had ended because…

a. …the form of the realistic novel had not been fully developed.
b. …no one wanted to read a novel about the Civil War.
c. …none of the American writers were willing to go to the battlefront.
d. …the writers who saw the fighting firsthand were not willing to write about it.

13. Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?

a. George Washington b. Martin Luther King
c. Thomas Jefferson d. Abraham Lincoln

14. When was most of the literature of the American colonies written?

a. Today b. Age of Writing
c. Age of Reason c. Age of War

15. Where did Romanticism first develop as a reaction against rationalism?

a. United States b. Canada
c. Europe d. China

16. What did Romanticism have an influence on?

a. literature b. art
c. music d. all of these

17. Emily Dickinson as a person was…

a. …social. b. …always happy.
c. …not social d. …not a poet.

18. Which are the missing lines?

Because I could not stop for Death—

The Carriage held but just Ourselves—

a. He kindly stopped for me … And I had put away
b. On his civility … We passed the setting sun
c. He kindly stopped for me— … And Immortality.
d. For his Civility— … And I put away

19. Which of the following are not Romantic writers?

a. Thomas Jefferson b. Olaudah Equiano
c. Benjamin Franklin d. all of these

20. In what city did the young Ben Franklin arrive in order to make his fortune?

a. Philidelphia b. San Francisco
c. New Orleans d. New York City

21. Which Romantic believed that self-reliance—doing what is right for yourself—was of ultimate importance?

a. Poe b. Hawthorne
c. Emerson c. Bryant

22. To give his theory credence in “The Lowest Animal,” Mark Twain claims what?

a. That he heard about it from a famous scientist.
b. That he read about it in scientific books and studies.
c. That he drew his conclusions from his own experiments.
d. That it was created by Charles Darwin.

23. In “Because I could not stop for Death,” the speaker…

a. …does not take time to mourn a relative’s death.
b. …resists dying.
c. …accompanies Death to a tomb.
d. …observes Death taking a friend.

Enter the letter of the correct author and title on the line next to the passage:

_____________2. If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.

_____________The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over a fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; His wrath toward you burns like fire; He looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire; He is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in His sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in His eyes than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.

_____________When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

_____________Thus at the very moment I dreamed of the greatest happiness, I found myself most miserable, and it seemed as if fortune wished to give me this taste of joy only to render the reverse more poignant. The change I now experienced was as painful as it was sudden and unexpected. It was a change indeed from a state of bliss to a scene which is inexpressible by me, as it discovered to me an element I had never before beheld and till then had no idea of, and wherein such instances of hardship and cruelty continually occurred as I can never reflect on but with horror.

A. Olaudah Equiano: “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Oloudah Equiano”
B. Benjamin Franklin: “Poor Richard’s Almanack”
C. Jonathon Edwards: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”
D. Thomas Jefferson: “The Declaration of Independence”

Enter the letter of the correct author and title on the line next to the passage:

_____________ “Deacon Peabody be d—d,” said the stranger, “as I flatter myself he will be, if he does not look more to his own sins and less to those of his neighbors. Look yonder, and see how Deacon Peabody is faring.”

_____________Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said today—“Ah, so you shall be misunderstood”—Is it so bad to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

_____________It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined.

A. Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Self-Reliance”
B. Benjamin Franklin: “The Autobiography”
C. Washington Irving: “The Devil and Tom Walker”

Enter the letter of the correct author and title on the line next to the passage:

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—

Since then—‘tis Centuries—and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity—

I saw the marriage of the trapper in the open air in the far west, the bride was a red girl,
Her father and his friends sat near cross-legged and dumbly smoking, they had moccasins to
their feet and large thick blankets hanging from their shoulders,
On a bank lounged the trapper, he was drest mostly in skins, his luxuriant beard and curls
protected his neck, he held his bride by the hand,
She had long eyelashes, her head was bare, her coarse straight locks descended upon her
voluptuous limbs and reach’d to her feet.

So thou shalt rest, and what if thou withdraw
In silence from the living, and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny.

A. William Cullen Bryant: “Thanatopsis”
B. Emily Dickinson: “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant”
C. Walt Whitman: “Song of Myself”
D. Emily Dickinson: “Because I could not stop for Death”


  1. I can relate; I went to UVSC...

  2. I am laughing so hard at this moment. Just thought you should know. And Stupid just made it better.

    I REALLY want to read that fart poem by Dickinson...

  3. You mean the fart poem by Dickinson after she was kidnapped from her home country of Nigeria? That's my favorite.

  4. .

    Because I could not stop to fart --
    The slavers stopped for me --
    There was no one in the ship
    Save one thousand seventy-three

  5. It WAS Martin Luther King, jr. who wrote the Declaration of Independence, wasn't it?

  6. Thank you for posting the Nigerian fart poem. You are now, officially, my hero.

    Well, maybe. Master Fob is quite competitive in the I'm Your Hero contest.

  7. .

    Master Fob. Pfaw. I made Master Fob.

  8. I think it's funny that you said pfaw because my word verification is pfqsh.

  9. .

    That's no coincidence, my friend.

  10. I love the way you twist Emily Dickinson's poems. It's hilarious!

  11. .

    I only do it because Emily and I are such good friends. She knows I'm just kidding and will love her to the end.

    If only she would come out and play....