January 2012- How to answer Section A and B
The odd numbered questions
The questions in this section have a very specific focus. They are about how stories are told and they require students to write about the methods authors use in their story telling. The questions are fundamentally different from traditional critical analysis type questions and often when students do not perform as well as schools and colleges expect, it is because they do not see the story that is being told in the poem or the section of the prose text that is specified. In some cases students simply produced commentaries on poems pointing out poetic features and perhaps offering some interpretation. The best answers were produced by students who wrote confidently about method in relation to the overarching story of the prescribed section of text, and most of these were able to pin down the story in the opening paragraph. When this happened, students were able to give their writing shape and purpose. When it did not happen the writing was often disconnected, and often just a discussion of some features. Examiners reported seeing some tightly focused answers on Questions 3, 25 and 29 especially. When students did not perform well, they often catalogued aspects of method with little sense of the story and such answers were rather wooden and disjointed. Although some credit was given for points made, students who produced answers like this very rarely received marks in the top bands. Answers which began with such tropes as pathetic fallacy, an example of alliteration, some writing about themes, ideas or characters lacked sharp focus. Some schools and colleges still seem to be teaching themes and characters for this section which is unhelpful. There also needs to be some caution when figurative language, rhyme and rhythm are being taught as many students find it very hard to write about those features in ways that meaningfully connect to, or illuminate, the stories. The story always needs to be in a central position in the answer. There was no discernible difference in performance between those students who responded to the poetry tasks and those who responded to the prose tasks, but clearly there are different ways of approaching poetry and prose narrative. Very good answers were seen on all questions but some students struggled to unravel the rather odd story being told in Auden’s ‘O Where Are You Going’ and the slightly complicated story of Hardy’s ‘The Voice’. Once the story of the poem, chapter, short story or section of text has been established, it is best for students to focus on the larger features of narrative like voice or structure rather than discussing the effects of individual words. When lexical features are discussed more needs to be done than simply analysing what those words might mean. All comments need to be tailored to the story itself. The even numbered questions
Answers in this section require argument, a key strand of AO1. All questions set up debates and the students who write the best answers have clear independent voices and are not just trying to remember what has been said in class or trying to reshape the question that was set in their mock exams. This question requires candidates to think. Students really need to engage with ‘how far’, ‘to what extent’ and ‘significance’. The best answers were seen by students who clearly were thinking Report on the Examination – General Certificate of Education (A-level) English Literature B – LITB1 – January 2012 5 about the text in relation to the question and often challenged the premises set up. When students are invited to discuss whether a particular idea is the most interesting feature of the writer’s work, as was the case in the Tennyson question, students should not rapidly move away from the task and write about whatever they like. There is an expectation that the topic set up in the question is debated for at least half of the answer. There is also an expectation that since...
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