9. Preparing for the Plato Exam 

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Instructions for Lesson 9

1. For today, complete your reading of Plato's "Phædo" and prepare for the Plato essay exam to be written in Lesson 10.


2. Read this page. Today's documents for the most part are designed to help you to prepare for the exam. We will also learn about cows, so listen up!


3. Optional reading for those who have prepared enough: young G meets a real philosopher


Module 1

1: Orientation  
2: Goals   

Module 2

  3: Euthyphro  
     4: The Library
 5: The Apology   
    6: Citation   
    7: Crito
    8: Phaedo  
    9: Exam Prep   
10: Plato Exam

Module 3

11: Research Project 
12: Research 101   
13: Books   
14: the Librarian   
15: the Web   
16: conferences  
17: Joy of Research 
18: Reasoning 

Module 4

19: Outlines 
20: Review the Plan:
21: Language 
22: Dr E's Grammar
23: Peer Review  
24: Hit Parade 

Module 5

25: About the Exam
26: Mock Final 
27: Exam Prep
28: Graduation 


1. What's Wrong with This Painting?

Above: two of Dr. G's best readers went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City
to see the famous painting entitled "The Death of Socrates," but they were surprised by what they saw.
Extra credit question: what's wrong with the painting?

2. Let's Ace the Plato Exam

Lesson 8 described Phædo as an impersonator of Socrates. Writing the Socratic dialogues, Plato was one, too. All of Socrates' students, and all Socratic philosophers and teachers of Plato also have been Socrates' impersonators. In this course, as I have said what Socrates thought, I have been such a pretender, and now on the Plato exam (in Lesson 10) it will be your turn. 

Welcome to the academic tradition of playing Socrates or imagining what he said. How will you bring off this bizarre performance? To help as much as I can, I attach three documents to this short lecture page. 

  • One is my essay exam score sheet, the calculator that I will use to grade your essay. 

  • Second, I provide two sample student essays that have some good points and not-so-good points. Let's call them student essay A and student essay B. How well would these students have scored?

  • Third, I present Dr. G's sample essay--not on the character of Socrates but on a somewhat narrower point about Socrates as a teacher. My sample essay demonstrates the five-step approach that I take to essay writing. It's a complete lesson in itself on writing, so please review it.

What examiners look for . . .
Dr G's essay exam score sheet
screens for COW. For the Plato exam, or any other academic essay exam, focus on three things:

content, organization, and writing.


Content: mention specific facts from the readings to show that you have done your homework. Include citations, lots of them. In general, the more facts that you mention in the essay, the higher your grade for content will be, so try to load up on facts. Socrates is a complex character, and if you mention only three or four details, your depiction of him is going to leave out most of him. Dr. G's sample essay (not to boast about it too much) contains no less than 37 citations! Not that many citations are expected in student writing, but the more the better, as long as they are accurate.

Organization: before writing, have a plan or strategy for organizing the essay, so that it will read coherently. Stringing together a bunch of unrelated content or citations is easy, but it doesn't demonstrate a grasp of the material. Review the content that you might use, and divide it into general categories or classifications that can be written up as paragraphs or sets of paragraphs within the essay. More on organization below.

Writing: using correct grammar, punctuation and spelling conveys an impression that you are literate. As a last step before handing in any paper, always proofread every sentence carefully to catch and fix errors. Far too many students turn in papers with obvious errors, such as repeated words or missing words, unfinished sentences, or sentences jammed together incorrectly as "run on sentences" (Hacker section 15). Online you have the luxury of using a spell-checker; in ordinary life it's not that easy.

Note that COW has three letters, and the letters occur in a specific order. Two stages occur before the writing begins. First, get the facts and, second, make a plan. Lots of students think only of writing an essay. This shortcut produces writing that is BULL because research and planning must come first. 

3. More on Organization

Writing can be organized according to a time sequence, a spatial sequence, or a logical sequence. In modern academic writing, unfortunately, time sequences and space sequences--the easy ones--normally are prohibited.

Plato is a story-teller, so he can get away with using a chronological organization in his writing. (A chronological form is organized according to chronology or time. The word comes from old king Kronos' name.)  First, Socrates bumps into Euthyphro; then he goes to trial; after that, he has a chance to get out of jail free; finally he lectures about the afterlife and drinks poison. Chronological writing isn't logical; it's not organized by ideas. Avoid it in academic writing. Don't try to describe Socrates as a character by telling his story. Assume that your readers know the story, and now they are looking for your analysis of it.

Typically, descriptive writing isn't logical, either. A descriptive organization, usually, is arranged according to spatial or physical relationships. For example, we might describe Socrates by scanning camera-like from his hair (except that we know hardly anything about it), to his eyes (except that we know hardly anything about them), then to his body (only a few clues here), and then to his clothes (not much to talk about). Plato gives us little information to describe Socrates physically; he seems to have been interested almost exclusively in Socrates' words and interactions with other speakers.

In modern academic writing, we almost always use logical organization, not chronological or descriptive organization. Logical form is ordered by ideas or thoughts, not by time or spatial relationships. For example, we might categorize Socrates in terms of his (1) intellectual, (2) emotional, and then (3) physical traits. Or we might focus on one aspect of his personality, such as his social skills in dealing with other people, perhaps (1) friends, (2) enemies, (3) students, and (4) family. Or we might zero in on one central, complex theme, such as Socrates' piety, which seems to vary from (1) unbeliever to (2) skeptic to (3) mystic. Finding a set of ideas or categories to organize the content of your essay is the biggest challenge of most college writing assignments. (For tips on technique, see Dr. G's sample essay on Socrates as a teacher.)

      A standard, logical arrangement of paragraphs can look something like the conventional five-paragraph essay that you should have been taught to write in high school. Maybe you remember it. 

Introductory paragraph: include a topic sentence that clearly summarizes the whole essay. (Hacker #28a calls it a "thesis" and tells how to find it.) The main job of the opening paragraph is to show the reader that you have a plan. Describe very briefly what's coming in the essay. If you can't think of a good overview to boil everything down neatly in a single sentence, just say: "In today's essay I'm going to discuss W, X and Y, all of which interest me because of Z."  Simply fill in for the variables W, X, Y and Z. Know what the body paragraphs will say before trying to write the introductory paragraph. If you have not planned the entire essay clearly before the time of the exam, then a good strategy at the exam is to skip the first half page or full page on your answer sheet, write the rest of the essay, and then come back and write your introduction last, after you know all about what's in your essay.

Body paragraphs: a short essay should contain at least three or four well developed body paragraphs (more are better, as long as they contain real content), each paragraph discussing a coherent unit of content of some kind. Try for at least 3-5 sentences per paragraph, each sentence adding some new fact or detail or idea not previously brought out. Although "padding" for its own sake is never a good idea, skimpy paragraphs of only a few short sentences are often taken as clues that not much thought lies behind the words. (Conversely, paragraphs with ten or thirty sentences imply that a lot of thought activity is going on, but not orderly thinking.)

Concluding paragraph: summarize the whole paper in a few sentences. Don't overdo the conclusions. A lot of students like to finish off with the full orchestra playing: "Socrates was the wisest man who ever lived." Bull! No five- paragraph essay can possibly have demonstrated such a point! Instead of going for grandeur and pomposity, keep your conclusions limited to the proof that you have shown. Think also what you have not shown. Include "for further study" type language that indicates what's been left out of the essay, or what further examination should be made. Honesty counts. We're not making TV docudramas here; we're searching for truth. If the essay has been argumentative it is well to anticipate objections to the argument: "I have concluded x, but not y and z. The conclusions y and z seem false because..."    

Obviously, this structure is repetitive, with the intro saying what will be said, the body saying it, and the conclusion saying what was said. Repetition helps the reader remember what the essay is all about; without it, the reader could become lost. However, a word-for-word repetition is outlawed. Refrains work well in songs, because hearers might miss the words if they don't hear them several times, but they're seldom a good idea in writing, because readers read at their own speed, and they can reread the same sentence several times if necessary. To avoid repetition, differentiate the concluding paragraph from the introductory one. The conclusion can be more complex and specific than the intro, since the reader of the conclusion already knows the body paragraphs.

An academic sentence is a thought; an academic paragraph is a thought-cluster or argument; an academic essay is a super-cluster or proof. The whole galaxy, however, is simply made of thoughts arranged in logical order.

Assignment for Lesson 10:
study for the Plato exam






the hero Socrates
slide show
























The latest Drydenite fashion!


















































Left:  Foolish Europa fell in love with the bull. Obviously you want to avoid this problem.

gutchess@englishare.net                    Academic writing home page                    Gary Gutchess © 2003, 2005