When you paraphrase, read the poem several times to make sure you understand what the poem is saying. A well done paraphrase restates the author's ideas, but instead of using his words, you use your own words and sentences to describe his meaning accurately. Be careful that you don't change the author's meaning or emphasis. You don't have to paraphrase each line either, but make clear that you understand the meaning of the whole. IF you use anything directly taken from the poem, you are not paraphrasing but quoting which requires quotation marks. Remember, paraphrasing is to restate in your own words.
Make sure you get the main idea. Take care not to accidentally distort the meaning of the poem. The problem with poems is that they are really open to interpretation. When writing a summary, it'll be difficult to keep your personal biases out of it.
- (kind of a given but worthy of repeating anyway) Make sure you cover all the main points - Main actors in the poem, topic changes, extended metaphors, tone shifts. These major elements help define the poem and are critical in analyzing the poem. Make sure you don't miss out on any of these otherwise your analysis will be glaringly short of something.
- Go through the poem several times - Doing so will first help you cover the first tip because you might see things the second time reading through that you missed the first time. Additionally, though, it will increase familiarity with the poem so that you can feel more comfortable leaving out the details from your paraphrase since you'll remember them anyway.
- Once you are done, step away from the poem, any notes you took, and a paraphrased version you may have come up with and come up with a theme - By forcing yourself to step back and look at the big picture, you'll be able to keep the goal of the poem in perspective. Sometimes, we get so caught up analyzing each simile/metaphor/alliteration that we lose sight of the main idea of the poem. Keeping this in the back of your mind will be very helpful during your exam.
When paraphrasing a poem, it is best to use literary terms/devices. I usually have a packet on literary terms w/definitions that I can flip through to help me analyze my poem. Make flashcards and study up on a few before your exam. In addition to this, I also try to see if there is a deeper meaning to the poem by looking through the author's history and significant events during the time it was written. Try your best to explain the poem with an overall theme & stick with that theme throughout.
If you paraphrase well you will be able to understand the main concept, not just what the words are. Don't completely change the author's words though, but make sure you grasp what the author is saying instead of a summary of the words, that would mean nothing.