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Dr. David Stevens

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Literary Criticism

Elements of the Contest

The UIL Literary Criticism Contest is a 90-minute test in which the student's familiarity with the concepts associated with literary analysis, authors, and works that represent English-language literary history, as well as some of its classical and international influences, is assessed.

Three sections constitute the scored part of the test; a required tie-breaking essay that invites the student to exercise his or her skill in literary analysis completes the test.

  • Part 1: Knowledge of Literary Terms and Literary History (30 one-point items)
  • Part 2: The UIL Reading List - differs year to year (20 two-point items)
  • Part 3: Ability in Literary Criticism (15 two-point items)
  • Part 4: The Tie-Breaking Essay

Literary Criticism Overview Video

Additional Information

Part 1: Knowledge of Literary Terms and Literary History

The first part of the test, thirty multiple-choice items, is drawn from the Harmon-Holman Handbook to Literature 11e. While the Handbook is fairly exhaustive in its coverage of literary terms and literary history fundamental to the study of the western literary canon, this section's thirty items cover the terms, movements, genres, and events most likely encountered in a serious approach to the wide range of literary concepts, literary works, and critical approaches that characterize western, especially though not exclusively, British and American literary history.

The main part of the Handbook is an alphabetically listed set of definitions and descriptors; from these definitions and descriptors are drawn roughly ten to twelve items.

Among the Handbook's appendices are lists of the recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; from these lists are pulled upwards of eight items. Knowledge of these authors' contributions as referenced in the Handbook's alphabetized discussions can prove productive.  See the Handbook's Index of Proper Names.

The remainder of the items constituting the first section, numbering usually ten to twelve, test the student's knowledge of literary history. These items assess the student's familiarity with the chronologies of both the British and the American literary canons as offered by the Handbook, both in its multipage chronology and in its brief discussions of literary movements, literary groups, and critical approaches to the study of literature.

Part 2: The UIL Reading List (differs year to year)

The reading list has traditionally consisted of a novel, a drama, and a selection of poems, though from time to time a set of representative short stories has replaced the novel on the list.

Twenty items, fairly evenly divided, test the student's familiarity with the events, the major thematic concerns, the characterization, and, in the case of the poetry, the technique for which the works are noted. Interpretation as a testable consideration is minimized, if for no other reason than to forestall any ambiguity that could be especially problematic in a multiple-choice test. Historical context as dictated by the themes and the plotlines should be considered eligible: topical allusions are an important aspect of an author's intellectual exchange with his or her audience. Literary biography, unless it is immediately concerned with the literature under investigation, while important, will not be tested.

Part 3: Ability in Literary Criticism

The final fifteen items assess the student's ability in literary criticism. Upwards of six selections, in toto or excerpted, are provided for analysis. Three to four items, usually, per selection or excerpt ask the student to recognize or understand the literature; the analytical tools represented by the concepts that are covered in the Handbook and that are often exercised in analysis and discussion of literature to a depth often accomplished in the review of the literature listed on the UIL Reading List (see Part 2) are thus applied.

Part 4: The Tie-Breaking Essay

The directions provided for the tie-breaking essay suffice:
Contestants who do not write an essay will be disqualified even if they are not involved in any tie.

Essays that do not demonstrate a sincere effort to discuss the assigned topic will be disqualified. The judge(s) should note carefully this criterion when breaking ties: ranking of essays for tie-breaking purposes should be based primarily on how well the topic has been addressed.

Three pages of blank paper have been provided for this essay; however, it is not expected that the essay will be longer than 150 words; however, the essay should reflect the Handbook's notion that an essay is a "moderately brief discussion of a restricted topic": something more than a few sentences.

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