Passing the Summary Exercise: Fidelity
Communication and Literacy Skills Test
On the MTEL Communication and Literacy Skills Test, candidates are asked to complete a summary exercise. In this article, I will share the most common errors I see and tips for making a solid score on the fidelity performance characteristic.
A summary with fidelity gives a fair picture of the original. Common synonyms of fidelity are trustworthiness, dependability, and faithfulness. Your ability to give a representation that is loyal to the original will be evaluated in this trait. How can you do that?
You succinctly restate the main ideas and supporting details in your own words, omitting less relevant material so that your summary is considerably shorter than the original.
Steps to follow:
- Understand the task. This summary is a “true” summary. Your task is to recap the original, preserving the content, tone, order, relationships, emphasis, and point of view. You accurately retell the article in your own words. Summarizing is a skill we practice from childhood. We use summary techniques to answer questions such as “What did you do at school today?” and “What’s that book about?” We don’t retell every event or every detail; we tell the most important ideas in our own words.
- Read the original. Read with understanding, highlighting the main ideas and supporting points and formulating in your mind the overarching message.
- Retell the original. In your words, retell the article, omitting the support and examples that may add interest but are not critical to the main idea. The power of your summary rests in your ability to discern what to include, what to leave out, and how to package the key details and ideas.
- Check word choice, grammar, and mechanics. More about that in a later blog, but clean writing using precise vocabulary is always an asset.
Errors to avoid
- Avoid starting with an author/title/main idea statement. This is not your seventh-grade book report. Instead, begin your summary with your rewording of the first main idea from the original. The original does not begin with a statement such as, “Ryan Heimbach’s article, ‘Deception,’ emphasizes…” When you give an accurate representation of the original, you should not begin with this type statement.
- Avoid tagging the author. Tagging the author is a common strategy for a summary. I would caution you to use this strategy sparingly if at all. A “true” summary reflects only the content of the original. The original does not say, “In his article, Heimbach stated…” Statements like this burn words without adding content.
- Avoid spinning. It is not your job to argue, interpret, analyze, or “give your spin” on the text. You merely give a concise picture. That’s why the test evaluators use the term, fidelity—be fair to the intent of the original.
- Avoid mismatching relationships. If the original article says, “Parental involvement was shown to improve student productivity,” you cannot distort the relationship between ideas by saying, “Student productivity was shown to improve parental involvement.” Using words and ideas from the original is not enough. The relationship between the ideas has to be accurate. Ideas have to stay in context.
- Avoid considering your audience. Your responsibility is to preserve the message. It’s not your responsibility to communicate in a way that appeals to a particular audience.
- Avoid shifting verb tenses unnecessarily. Note the tense of the original. You will most likely write in present tense, or what is sometimes called “historic present.” Think about describing a piece of art. For example, “In American Gothic, a farmer is standing beside a woman who is thought to be his daughter or wife.” We describe art using present tense verbs; do the same for your summary. If the article you are assigned to summarize is written in past or future tense, your summary would follow suit.
- Avoid introducing new ideas. No points for original ideas; in fact, you’ll lose fidelity points if you distort the original with your ideas.
On the MTEL CLST, a summary with fidelity gives a true picture of the original. It doesn’t talk at length about a minor point and then rush over a major point. It gives a brief accurate representation which reflects your ability to discern and synthesize.