Lit Paper 2 – Edexcel

Lit Paper 2 – Unseen Poetry (Edexcel)

So, you are preparing for the final literature paper and AQA have decided to settle for two poems, one by a very well known poet and the other by a lesser known one, which is typical. The first has a question, based on a certain thing and the last one in the exam is a compare and contrast to the first. That is typical and you have completed all the other texts in the Lit component and now, you have to do this task which to most students, seems daunting. 

I have to ask why this is the case. I really do, for they are nothing but words on a page. 

To show you what I mean, have a look at this below. 

Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Pushing Forty
Alison Fell

Just before winter
we see the trees show
their true colours:
the mad yellow of chestnuts
two maples like blood sisters
the orange beech
braver than lipstick

Pushing forty, we vow
that when the time comes
rather than wither
ladylike and white
we will henna our hair
like Colette, we too
will be gold and red
and go out
in a last wild blaze

At the end of the day, when you stop seeing such as these as a poem, what you see is a bit of writing that shares some ideas about getting older in life. At 62 nearly, I can see how this might appear daunting for the modern fifteen year old man or woman, but as a student, you need to see the words for what they are, mere words with meaning. 

Poetry tends to turn students right off for some reason and even though I am a multi published writer and poet, I fail to see why poetry is elevated into such a position as it is. 

Try this for me and see what I mean. 

Read this text, out loud…

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me. And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves and satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter. I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells and run my stick along the public railings and make up for the sobriety of my youth.
  I shall go out in my slippers in the rain and pick flowers in other people’s gardens and learn to spit. You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat and eat three pounds of sausages at a go, or only bread and pickle for a week and hoard pens and pencils and beer mats and things in boxes.
  But now we must have clothes that keep us dry and pay our rent and not swear in the street and set a good example for the children. We must have friends to dinner and read the papers. But maybe I ought to practice a little now? So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised when suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Likewise, try reading this out loud now…

Just before winter we see the trees show their true colours: the mad yellow of chestnuts, two maples like blood sisters, the orange beech, braver than lipstick. Pushing forty, we vow that when the time comes rather than wither, ladylike and white, we will henna our hair like Colette. We too will be gold and red and go out in a last wild blaze.

Nothing has been changed!

In the end, both of these pieces of writing (poems) are simple thoughts written onto a page to make the shape we know to be a poem and that is it, but the examinations ask us to then look at things like meanings and intent of writer and stylistic techniques. 


So, what does each one actually mean? What things would you expect to see in the exam answer? Well, the question was based on the idea of how ‘Warning’ presents ideas of growing old.

As a GCSE marker, I would expect the following…  


Lit Paper – June 2023

If there was ever anything that a fifteen or sixteen year old should never have to sit an exam in, it is English Literature!

Back in the previous generations that have taken the Literature side of the course, it has always been a coursework assessment. So if you studied Macbeth, as I’m sure you are doing now, then there was a coursework question set. When I did mine, that is how it was, in 1992. 

If you read An Inspector Calls back then, there was a second one and so on, including a set question to compare and contrast two very random poems. Your teacher would teach you how to analyse poetry, using his or her preferred method (see Unlocking A Poem on this site) and then you’d be hit by two unseen poems. You would undertake a timed coursework in class and so on. 

There was none of this ‘4 exams in English’ but you see, this and previous governments have never trusted either you, or your teachers, who work incredibly hard to get you to the highest grade possible for you. I am proud of the success I’ve had, especially since 2014, where no one has scored below a C grade or a Level 4 at GCSE and A Level English Language and Literature. Everyone has ‘passed.’ Nothing below that! 

So when students do well, the government say to themselves (and they’ve not set foot in a classroom in thirty years) that the teachers are cheating, or the exams are getting too easy, or we must increase the grade boundaries (expect that in August 2023) and they make it incredibly hard for you to hit an 8 or a 9, especially in a 2 hour 15 exam (and that’s assuming that you have no learning disabilities. Then you’d add 25% extra time). 

I’ll let you do the ‘Math’ on that one, as the Americans say. 

But now, you are required to work your butt off and then sit four exams, with the second one being in English Literature and covering the following texts, assuming your teacher chooses the JB Priestley one.

An Inspector Calls

Power & Conflict Poems x 16

2 Unseen Poems

It has, in the past, affected the mental health of our children, including mine. I remember them both taking it and hating it and you know the one thing that results from this? They both now loathe reading. It just goes to show that we are killing the desire to read for fun in our classrooms and it has to stop!

So with that in mind, until this government comes to its senses, how would you tackle this exam? Below is a rough representation of each question set in June 2023. They may not be exact because I’ve not seen the present paper as a “past paper” yet. But roughly, these were the questions. 

I shall now go through each one, to share a few ideas of the things I would expect my students to mention. They will be bullet pointed ideas. 

An Inspector Calls

“How does Priestley present life for women in an Inspector Calls?”

How are women presented in the play?

  • Eva/Daisy, working class
  • Poverty
  • Working classes
  • Upper classes looking down on her
  • The way a man of means uses her for his pleasure because he feels he can
  • The way no one really cares about her
  • Her ultimate demise
  • Compare her to Sheila and Sybil and how they treated her when they met her and the societal expectations of them both when compared to Eva
  • Summarise the way that Priestley believes that society needs to change
  • Social responsibility
  • Socialist ideologies

I’d expect all of those and possibly some more based on the student’s take on the play and the task. There are other things you can mention, like how Eva wants to better herself, itself a sign of Capitalism at work (the American audience would call that the American Dream)

How does Priestley present the differences between older and younger generations’ in their responses to the Inspector?”

  • In modern day thinking, we call the different generations by letters now, like Gen X
  • So you need to mention the women/history of the period
  • The role of women in this period of 1912 has to be mentioned
  • Young women then
  • Older women then
  • Upper class ladies then
  • Working class ladies then
  • Then compare to how the Inspector treats each of the ladies in the play
  • What differences occur, if any? 
  • Why does he treat them that way? Respect etc. 
  • And why does each person respond in their different way? 
  • Sybil
  • Sheila

Maybe as well, you could add things like the history of the Suffrage movement, the rights of women at the time, the way Eva is an antagonist working for better working rights. There’s all sorts of things a young reader could add in. 

Don’t forget, I am nearly 62, so have seen a lot more in life so know about these things so if your teacher hasn’t taught you the historical aspect to this text, then shame on them!

This is where I add in a disclaimer for you. If you took the 2023 exam and are looking at this and thinking Jeez but I didn’t get half of that into my answer, then do not worry. I’m sure you will do well. 

Then we get to this bit of the exam…

Power & Conflict Poems

In the 2023 exam, the question was based on your reading of the poem, My Last Duchess, focussing on how power is presented. You were then asked to compare one other poem of the sixteen to it.

The first thing is to choose the right poem to compare it to. Students across Twitter shared after the exam how they compared it to certain poems, all laced with elements of power. Exposure. Charge of the Light Brigade. Ozymandias. Plus others. The thing to remember is that any and all of those poems are linked to each other through the twin themes of power and conflict, both of which can be seen in many different ways. 

Conflict does not have to be warfare based. It can be a conflict of interests, a conflict in a relationship, a conflict with life and death. It can be linked into the My Last Duchess poem. 

So do not worry. You will have done well. 

The thing with poems is that students hate them in general, as with any form of literature. I’m not sure why they loathe or fear them. They are, after all, just words on a page.

The only text I’ve taught in the last 26 years that students have adored is Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird! So the thing to do is follow a plan when writing about a poem. 

  1. Content – what is the poem about? 
  2. Themes – love, peace, hate, nature, etc
  3. Words and Phrases – how does the poet successfully use stylistic devices? (best to stick to 5 if not sure – rhyme, rhythm, simile, metaphor and alliteration)
  4. Key Ideas – what are the ideas the poet is trying to share with the reader/header (poems are meant to be performed)? Is s/he asking us to change? Etc.
  5. Your thoughts on the poem – this is where you get the chance to be praiseworthy or nastily critical. Be prepared to slam it if you hate the thing. But say why. You loathe love poems etc. You prefer other styles of poetry, like funny ones. Give examples. 

Which is better for that last one? I think that this is a good poem because….or This is a good poem because…..?

The answer is the latter, to be sure, because it sounds more like a Y11 essay, not like a basic Y7 first effort. This is what we are expecting, after all. 

Then, we get to the final section, but take note. The first poem is worth 24 marks (25 minutes to write) and the final one only 8 marks, (so only ten minutes max). 

In the June 2023 exam, it was these two poems below:

Unseen Poetry


Masons, when they start upon a building,

Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,

Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done

Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be

Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall

Confident that we have built our wall.


I am yours as the summer air at evening is

Possessed by the scent of linden blossoms,

As the snowcap gleams with light

Lent it by the brimming moon.

Without you I’d be an unleafed tree

Blasted in a bleakness with no Spring.

Your love is the weather of my being.

What is an island without the sea?


I am purposely not going to analyse them here, because that would be wrong. But students who sat the exam came out and hit their Twitter buttons and said things like “I love who wrote this paper.” They were thankful for it being easier than expected. 

Personally, I’d see the final poem and think okay, not so bad, but the first one, the Heaney one, would confuse the students of lower ability. It’s what I’d call a “ringer” of a poem to use. Normally, the poet they use is not famously known. Little Joe Bloggs wrote a poem and we like it so here it is, etc. But to use Seamus Heaney was a tad cheeky in my humble and honest opinion as an educator. 

So, if you’re reading this after taking the 2023 exam, how do you think you did? 

If you have the exam next year and are in Y10 now, then expect this for your Mock exam. That is what teachers usually do. 

But above all, try not to take it too seriously, because the last thing a member of my profession wants is for you to begin or continue to hate reading. 

Readers become Leaders, after all.


Lit Paper 1 – June 2023

What a lovely brace of questions that came up in the exam this morning for my tutees, assuming that you did Macbeth and A Christmas Carol.

If you did then this might help you. 


How does Shakespeare describe Macbeth as a male character that changes?

The scene was where Macbeth finds out that the English Army are marching towards Dunsinane. 

As a tutor and semi retired (through disability) teacher of English who has taught GCSE for 20 years, covering everything from KS2 Y5 English, through the SATS at Y9, to Degree Level English tasks and exams, when I saw this on Twitter today, I rejoiced. 

My students were taught specifically to take a task where there is a section of text to analyse, to do it in a certain way. First, you analyse the given text. Then you start at the beginning of the story and work your way through the text, adding quotes in to prove your points, right through to the end. 

With points and evidence given, you then have to explain (using those lovely PEE chains) but a lot of students stop there. They make a point. They back it up with evidence.. They explain it…just the once. 

That is where the marks go down because the examiner and marker are expecting a development of your critical thinking to get you up in the higher grades. 

If a student is taught to use a PEED chain, then it becomes a point, then evidence, then explanation and then, two more things it could mean. 

How to do this will be covered in the next section. 

A Christmas Carol (Dickens)

How does Dickens describe the effect of greed?

The Christmas Carol extract was when Belle breaks off the engagement with Scrooge. 

Again, what a wonderful text to choose. Bravo to whoever chose that one as it is the one scene in the entire thing that really shows the extent of what happens when greed overrules life and love and nothing bust nastiness, in the character and epitome of Scrooge, results in someone that is cold and brutal to all that he meets. 

To show you what I mean, think of the text for a moment. You make a point. Scrooge loves money more than Belle. You use the bit where he says he is doing it for her and then you explain, saying how he cannot put her first in his relationship. But to add the extra two to develop your critical thinking, you could think what others in your class might possibly think. 

So 5 things are done. Not 3.

Point, evidence, explain, explain again and then add a final thought in, before you go to your next point. So, Scrooge loves money more than Belle. The text is where he says he’s doing it for her. Your thought is that he cannot put her first. Then, the other two ideas might be that his love for money is meant to make the reader think am I the same? (reader theory) and how this scene is a metaphor for how selfishness can destroy love in all aspects of life, if we let it. 

Suddenly, the depth of your paragraph and answer is so much better, has more depth and if you do this all the way through the essay, it also becomes twice as long as it would be, if you are using the famed and well taught  ‘PEE approach.’

I always tell my students when doing this to imagine me holding three fingers up and smiling, as if to say “make sure you’ve got your three explanations in there.”

I’m not typing this to make you think oh my God. I did it wrong. Entirely the opposite actually, for I am sure your answer will be fine and great how you did it, but for future GCSE students, this could be a way forwards. 

Let’s see what happens in late August, shall we?

But let me leave you with this, to see if any emotions of this went into your Christmas Carol essay earlier.