Empathic tasks (sometimes known as ‘empathetic’ or ‘creative response’ tasks) address the same assessment objectives as the essay and passage-based questions. They are intended to test knowledge, understanding and response; but they give the candidate the opportunity to engage more imaginatively with the text, by the assumption of a suitable ‘voice’, i.e. manner of speaking, for the character concerned.
Empathic tasks are not set on poetry texts.
Empathic tasks carry the same weighting as the other tasks on the papers. There is no requirement that candidates must answer an empathic question. (In choosing questions for the paper as a whole, candidates should check that they are fulfilling the general rubric requirements as stated in the syllabus and on the front cover of the question paper.)
Candidates will be asked to explore a specific moment through the eyes of one particular character in the set novel/ play/ short story. As well as showing knowledge of the incident concerned, depending on the particular task it may be helpful if candidates demonstrate some awareness of what has led up to it. Their identification with the character might also be conditioned by their awareness of what happens to the character later in the novel/play (if that is appropriate to the task), though this will probably not be referred to specifically. Through their responses, candidates are expected to demonstrate detailed knowledge of the text and the character; but the tasks are not invitations merely to re-tell a story.
An empathic task is designed also to test the candidate’s understanding and interpretation of a character and that character’s usual responses, and will make inferences about what s/he might be thinking or feeling about a particular situation. Good answers will be conditioned by an overall understanding of the way the character behaves in the text as a whole.
Probably the most difficult aspect of the task to tackle, the degree of success in creation of a voice will demonstrate the degree to which the candidate has engaged with the character and responded to the literary qualities of the work. The style adopted must be suitable to the character. In a Shakespeare text, for example, it would be inappropriate for an aristocratic character to speak in over-colloquial language, or for one of the ‘lower’ characters to speak in a particularly refined way. (But candidates are never expected to try to reproduce ‘Shakespearian’ English, for example.) Though it is not generally appropriate to quote directly from the text in inverted commas in answering a task of this sort, answers are likely to be enhanced by the use of particular turns of phrase normally used by the character; for example, Piggy in Lord of the Flies might refer to his ‘assmar’ or to what his Auntie thinks. Occasionally candidates may steer away from writing as the character to speculating at a distance as to what the character might be thinking: for example, ‘If I were Romeo, I would be feeling...’ Such an approach may be rewarded for knowledge and understanding but, if it does not engage directly with the character, it will not fully meet the demands of the question.
To summarise, a successful answer to an empathic task will have the following key features: * it will be written in the first person
* it will show a comprehensive knowledge of the text and of the particular * character’s role in it, but will not merely tell the story * it will convincingly interpret the character’s likely reactions to a specified event * it will be written in a suitable and convincing style.
Phrasing of empathic tasks
An empathic task will usually be written to a formula as follows: * You are [character x] looking...