Literature Exam Task

AQA has a separate syllabus that is an English Literature syllabus. One of the things you have to do if taking this course is sit a Literature exam [which is why the 4700 syllabus is so much easier].

Here is a question from last year, from the Higher tier paper…you usually get a choice of two questions where you have to write as much as possible on only one of them [do not try to do both].

Question: How does Hill create tension and suspense in the second chapter, A London Particular? (30 marks with 4 extra marks for SPG – spelling, punctuation and grammar]


Question: How does Hill present children in The Woman in Black? How do you think the children add to the sense of horror in the novel? (30 marks plus 4 marks for SPG]

Looking at it, which would you take? Which do you think is the easier to answer, or write about?

This is how I would choose to answer from this choice, albeit not a good one.

The first question asks ‘How does Hill create tension and suspense in the second chapter, A London Particular?’ It is based on one chapter, so you can if you so choose, write about the single chapter and every now and again, you would add bits in from elsewhere in the novella. It asks you to think of the creation of suspense and terror, which means writing about the use of foreshadowing and pathetic fallacy. In essence, it is not that bad when it comes to an exam question. This is what would make me choose it, because it is centred on one single chapter.

The second question asks ‘How does Hill present children in The Woman in Black? How do you think the children add to the sense of horror in the novel?’ This is an interesting question and one that means you could write quite a lot, especially about how the children are fascinated by this mysterious woman dressed in black, but the answer needs to come from the entire book, which would make this answer the harder of the two. By using the entire novella, you need to know by heart where the sections are that detail the children. The obvious place to start would be the children at the funeral and how they fit into the Gothic nature of the novella and the horror element.

But be careful. If you mention the young boy called Nathaniel appearing from out of the marshes, you are mentioning something that happens in the more recent of the two films. This will get you zero marks. The task is about the written word, not the filmic depiction of the same. It is so easy to drop into that mistake, to use bits from films, because we use films in class to show you the plot line. Your revision for this task [and I type this the day before one of mine takes his Y11 mocks] has to include nothing but the text.

Have you decided which one you would take?

For me it would be the first one as I find writing about one chapter easier than a whole text. Plus, the children question is more difficult to locate and use appropriate quotations in the correct manner [as shown on this blog earlier].

But there is one thing that can happen; you may get half way through the exam answer and then think this is rubbish, I need to do the other task and begin that. Don’t do it! When you have made your choice, stick to it.

So, if I think of that first exam task, which I would choose, how would I set it out to give it structure? In answer to this, I follow a very simple plan, for all my essays, as follows:

Introduction – the details of the second chapter about the Pea Souper in London [look up the definition of Pea Souper] and that this beginning brings tension and suspense to the reader’s mind as they read.

Point 1 – the creation of tension – throughout the chapter, using quotes and PEE chains

Point 2 – the creation of suspense in the chapter – again using quotes and PEE chains

Point 3 – because this is a two part task, this third part would be how they both work together to make the reader want to read on in chapter 3

Conclusion – here I would note the effect of the whole chapter on the reader – reader response theory is something you need to look up.

With this in mind, if I write it as accurately as I can, the answer is one that has structure, quotes, PEE chains used correctly and is one that does what it is asked to do.

But be warned: I always tell my students that answering an exam question [or a CA] is like taking a train journey. You set off at Point A and you arrive at Point B. If the tracks change by mistake, or error, then you arrive at Point C. This is what happens with your writing if you are not careful. Enjoy the exam and the process of testing, but above all, do not panic.

Happy writing! Luck is for the ill prepared.