Lit Exam #2 – Oh, The Horror

Just when you thought it safe to go into the exam room again for the Literature exam, they go and do something horrible to you. I am advised this morning that the exam questions for today’s Lit exam, the second and final one, were as follows [assuming you studied these texts:

Q1 An extract showing Joe and Pip visiting Satis House, with the question being ‘How is Joe and Pip’s friendship portrayed in the extract?’ [Great Expectations]

Q1B How is friendship portrayed in the rest of the book?

Q2 The poem was ‘A Complaint’ and one other poem of own choice – Compare how loss is shown with another poem.

Q3 Compare Poems ‘British Summer’ and ‘The Month of May.’

My students tells me that Q1 was okay, that Q2 was awful and Q3 was really good to have a go at, so I am hopeful of success for them in the Lit exam this year.

But how did you do in this exam? What did you cover in each question? Below are just a few ideas off the top of my head and without any text in front of me, apart from when we get to the poetry ones in Q2.


Q1 An extract showing Joe and Pip visiting Satis House, with the question being ‘How is Joe and Pip’s friendship portrayed in the extract?’

Q1B How is friendship portrayed in the rest of the book?


The first part of this question, if my memory is correct, is Joe taking Pip to Satis House in the middle chapters. Did you put how Joe and Pip are close but how Pip would feel slightly embarrassed now because of how Joe might feel uncomfortable in such a setting as this? Did you add any of the following detail in there?

Pip and Joe are friends from the off, but as Pip changes when he is older and more affluent, so too does Joe, because of learning from Biddy and because he works hard to build up an income, so both are socially climbing. The fact that Joe pays off Pip’s debt at the end shows how much Joe has grown from humble blacksmith on the marshes to something of the gentleman that all men wanted to be in the Victorian era. It was the main goal of man at the time and still is, to a certain extent, but Joe is arguably the only real gentleman in the story because he is a ‘gentle man’ as well with all he sees. Friendship, to him, is easy, but for others it is not.

As to friendship in the rest of the book, that is one big book to consider, but did you write about:

Pip and Estella

Herbert and Pip

Pip and Miss Havisham

Joe and the young lady he eventually marries

Pip and Orlick [in opposition to real friendship]

Jaggers and Pip

Wemmick and Pip


[Pic = Herbert and Pip from the David Lean film.]

They are just a few ideas off the top of my head, but all able to be written about using short quotes in those lovely PEED chains to get your point across.

Q2 The poem was ‘A Complaint’ and one other poem of own choice – Compare how loss is shown with another poem. 

Now here, we have the horror question that comes up in every English exam, both Lit and Language. Lord knows what they have planned for you in June but this is not nice at all. I am in complete agreement with my students this year. What fifteen year old or sixteen year old knows about loss in such a way as this and can write about it even if they wanted to?

Unfair, Mr Politician! Totally unfair!

Here is the poem they specified, if you chose this question over the other [if indeed there was a choice]. I am assuming this was the one you got today. If not then apologies.

A Complaint – Wm Wordsworth

There is a change—and I am poor;

Your love hath been, nor long ago,

A fountain at my fond heart’s door,

Whose only business was to flow;

And flow it did; not taking heed

Of its own bounty, or my need.


What happy moments did I count!

Blest was I then all bliss above!

Now, for that consecrated fount

Of murmuring, sparkling, living love,

What have I? Shall I dare to tell?

A comfortless and hidden well.


A well of love—it may be deep—

I trust it is,—and never dry:

What matter? If the waters sleep

In silence and obscurity.

—Such change, and at the very door

Of my fond heart, hath made me poor.

The theme of loss in this poem is countered with the idea of what he has or had in love through his relationship. It is the change in his relationship that shows the extent of the loss encountered. The tenses used like in “What happy moments did I count” tell us this is in the past and he is remembering something good, feeling that profound sense of loss. But the question I have is how far into that did you go, depending on how much time your teachers told you to spend on this question, given the length of the exam itself from start to finish?


If you then chose another poem from that which deals with loss, like Neutral Tones, with its sense of greyness symbolising the dullness of loss or the sense of hopelessness that loss brings to a person, then you did okay in this exam for this question. It is impossible for me to assess how well or not you did because you had choice of poem for the second one, but was your essay balanced? Did it cover both? Did it compare, as asked to, saying how one was similar with the other? If so, then Bravo You!

Q3 Compare Poems ‘British Summer’ and ‘The Month of May.’

This, I believe, is the unseen poetry one which usually is a single poem, so for them to add in a second and say you have to compare them is for me, just plain wrong. GCSE English Literature is hard enough in the first place without making it harder for you, making it more likely you might mess up a question like this. Analysing unseen poetry is an artform and so long as you used the ‘Unlocking a Poem’ sheet ideas from this website, you should have done well on at least one of the poems, but did you compare them both with each other?

See this page to see how to compare poems…

In the end, this was not an easy examination, but the set text extract should have been okay, given which ever text your class studied, but at the end of the day, it will all depend on how well you were taught, how well you learned and how well you revised, to see on the day what grade you get.

Do not be disappointed in late August either way. Just enjoy the experience of this Lit exam which is now over forever [for most] and revise like mad for the Language exams for the one question that will nobble most students is the Language and Structure question in each paper. Language is easy enough, but folks get stuck on the idea of structure. For that, remember my posts on here for the three levels of attack: Word Level analysis, Sentence Level Analysis and whole Textual Analysis. If you write following such a structure, writing a paragraph for each [1.5 sides A4 total?] or one of your own making to make it easier, then you will Ace the two exams in June and be full of smiley faces afterwards.


Happy hunting!






The Lit Exam – Easy or Tricky?

Some students who come out of the GCSE English Literature examinations saying one thing; “that was easy, Sir.” They say this for one of two reasons. Either they have revised, worked hard, been taught well and done well in the examination, or they have rushed the question, not revised as well as they could do and done what they think is a good answer, but one that will in fact get them no higher than a G or an F in old money, or a 2 or 3 in the new ways of marking the thing.

So, how well did you do today?


My student that I tutored read and studied three texts: Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the great play, An Inspector Calls. He says, in round about words that the questions for his first exam were as follows [might not be word for word]:

Macbeth: How is Lady Macbeth portrayed in the sleepwalking extract? How is guilt shown elsewhere in the play?


An Inspector Calls: What is the significance of money in the play?

How did you answer these if you took this exam board question?

It was the first Edexcel examination so seeing this might give you some tips if you need a resit in November, or if you are looking at this next year and trying to figure out how the hell to answer such a question as these. The fact that he was unable to give me the Dickens question is a bit of a bind, for it is my favourite novel of all time, but that is for the second examination and so there is still time for me to write a later blog piece.

So here goes on the two from today.

Macbeth: Lady Macbeth the Sleepwalker

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Given the fact that I have not been given the exact text to work from it is difficult to see where it starts and where it finishes but the fact that it is a separate two part question says a lot. Normally, you would answer the first question and be expected to say something about the guilt she feels in the rest of the play in your answer. But here, they have split it to make it easier and so you will see the need to write [using those lovely PEED chains] about both sides of the question.

What would you include? Well, in the first part, you might write about the following:

  1. She is sleepwalking out of guilt
  2. Her mind is fractured because of the bad things she has done
  3. She cannot control or switch off the feeling of helplessness
  4. As such, she is damaged goods
  5. But then, she did ask for hell’s demons to unsex her earlier in the play
  6. She feels the nature of what she has entered into because the human heart cannot take such a thing as killing another human being

Guilt in the rest of the play

In the end, there is so much guilt to choose from. Here are just a few ideas for you to consider. They are not meant, if you took the exam today or whenever it was and you then read this and think oh dear, I did not put half of that in, to annoy you. If they do, then apologies from the outset, but they are meant to make future learners think about the depth of their answers.

  1. Macbeth feels guilt as soon as he does the deed
  2. He feels the guilt of Banquo’s death and sees the ghost. Is that not his fractured mind also at work? [compare to Lady Macbeth and get more points]
  3. There is the guilt of going to the witches for assistance
  4. There is the guilt of others for allowing Macbeth to do what he does; Macduff for not being able to protect his family etc

Guilt is resident throughout this play. It is there because the writer, Mr Shakespeare himself, wanted us to think of certain themes like this. He was writing around the time of the arrival of James 1st onto the throne in England and Shakespeare is almost saying what would we need to do to get rid of a monarch? How could it happen? It is pure conjecture of course, but can be seen as a muse for writing. The history of the Scottish battles, found in different texts [Holinshead Chronicles] will have had some influence as well. It is even possible to see the previous Queen, Elizabeth 1st, as being partly an influence. She is a strong woman in a man’s world and knows what it means to be so. With these and other possibilities, it is possible to run out of paper in an examination very easily.

But what of An Inspector Calls?

What is the significance of money in the play?


Written as a social criticism at the time against capitalism and its insidious activities in our lives, this play is a critique of how the rich treat the poor, how the employer treats the employee in a time before British benefits systems were invented. You worked and you got money to live. You didn’t and you ended up in the Workhouse. Sad, but true! Very Dickensian, I know, but true.

So to see a writer defining the importance of money in one’s life, one has to write an essay in terms of how one group of people in the play see money and how the other sees the need for it. The question is begging for you to compare the rich and the poor and their attitudes to income.


Here are a few ideas for you…

  1. The employer – Birling Snr – his sense of superiority over everyone
  2. The drunken party goer – Birling Jnr – a lost sense of family
  3. The employee – needful of employment to live, fearful of losing job
  4. The rich friend – keeping the little woman, male and female stereotypes
  5. The Good Samaritan – helping others out when we can
  6. The rich family – their attitudes to their wealth, keeping it in the family
  7. The workforce – How they are needful of the factory
  8. Inspector Goole – His comments on how one treats the other
  9. The Social Comment – the criticism being made of those who have at the time

There is so much more I can think of and that is without looking at the text in full, or revising it. I have not read it or taught it for about ten years, but they are the things that bounce back into my memory because it is such a memorable little play.

So how did you do?

I hope in August that you find out and it is good news from both Lit exams. When you take the next one, in a few days time, remember what is said here about depth and detail. Then it is time to revise for the Language exams in June and knock them into the stands when you answer. Remember, for all your English exams, write using those lovely PEED chains where needed and do not stop writing, for the more you can offer to the examiner, the better chance you have of scoring higher than predicted. If you only offer one page when there are four or five given for you to use, then do not expect much more than a 3.


It is up to you now. Time to get revising!