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Literary Criticism

Elements of the Contest

The rules for all UIL Academic contests are found in the UIL Constitution and Contest Rules (C&CR), which can be found online. Students and coaches new to Literary Criticism should become familiar with the rules found in Section 940 of the C&CR online.  The UIL Literary Criticism Contest is a ninety-minute contest in which the competitor's familiarity with the concepts associated with literary analysis and the authors and works that represent English-language literary history is assessed.

Three sets of items comprise the scored part of the test; a required tie-breaking essay that invites the competitor 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 Tiebreaking Prompt

Additional Information

Part 1: Knowledge of Literary Terms and Literary History

The first part of the test, a bank of thirty multiple-choice items, is drawn from the Harmon-Holman Handbook to Literature 12e. While the Handbook is fairly exhaustive in its coverage of literary terms and literary history fundamental to the study of the western literary canon, the thirty items cover the terms etc. most likely encountered in a serious approach to the wide range of literary concepts, liter-ary works, and critical approaches that characterize western, especially 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 Pulit-zer Prize for Poetry, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; from these lists are pulled upwards of eight items. Please note that the Nobel and Pulitzer literature eligibility includes recipients up to and including 2021, which means that the Nobel and Pulitzer websites become the authorities for years 2011-2021. Please see the Literary Criticism Reading List for web addresses.

The remainder of the items constituting the first section, numbering eight to ten items, test the competitor's knowledge of literary his-tory. These items assess the competitor's familiarity with the chronologies of both the British and the American literary canons as of-fered by the Handbook in both 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 (located on the sidbar of this webpage) has traditionally consisted of a novel, a drama, and a selection of poems—though from time to time a set of represen-tative short stories has replaced the novel on the list.

Twenty items, fairly evenly divided, test the competitor's familiarity with the events, the major thematic concerns, the characteriza-tion, and, in the case of the poetry, the poetic technique for which the works are noted. Interpretation as a testable consideration is minimized, if for no other reason than to forestall any ambiguity---the items are multiple choice. Historical context as dictated by the themes and the plotlines should be considered eligible. Literary biography, unless it is thematic to the literature under investigation, while important, will not be tested.

Part 3: Ability in Literary Criticism

The final fifteen items assess the competitor's ability in literary criticism. Upwards of five selections, in toto or excerpted, are provided for analysis. Three to four items, usually, ask the competitor to recognize or understand the literature, using the analytical tools repre-sented by the concepts that are covered in the Handbook and that are often exercised in analysis and discussion of literature to depth often accomplished in the review of the literature listed on the UIL Reading List (see part 2).

Part 4: The Tiebreaking Prompt

The directions provided for the tiebreaking prompt 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 tiebreaking purposes should be based primarily on how well the topic has been addressed.
Three pages of lined paper are provided for this essay.