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.