Close Reading is a key component of the Higher English/Intermediate Two course and one of the areas where crucial marks can be picked up if you learn the process of answering each specific type of question.
More advice will follow on this page in the weeks/months to come, but I have included a link to an excellent Close Reading pack (Microsoft Word) which contains an abundance of advice and practice questions (with answers). It is worth printing off the marking grid on the first grade to keep track on how successfully you are answering the questions as you progress through the booklet.
A Whistle-Stop Tour of Close Reading
- Read both passages before attempting any questions – get the gist of what it is about. Make sure that you read the blurb at the start of the passage – it will usually tell you exactly what the passage is actually about.
- Try to determine the purpose of the article, whether it is to inform, argue or persuade, as this will often give a strong clue about the type of language features the writer will employ. I find it helpful to mark an I, A or P at the top of the passage
- Work to time – it is best to try to cover around 6 marks every 10 minutes and important that you don’t waste 10 minutes on a two-mark question in the middle and end up missing eight marks worth of questions at the end.
- Read the question carefully – usually there is more than one aspect to consider and, unless you can figure out exactly what you are being asked, you are unlikely to pass.
- Underline key words – the question paper is not an antique document – scribble notes all over it if it helps you.
- Try not to leave any questions blank, a guess might just get you the extra mark you need to pass.
- Use own words to summarise key points – rephrase / paraphrase from the passage
- Bullet-point answers to understanding questions – don’t waste time.
- The number of marks usually indicates the number of points required, unless stated otherwise.
- Look at your notes and the textbook for key strategies when undertaking ‘link’- and ‘context’- questions and remember, being specific about the passage and avoiding vague statements is key to maximising marks.
You must identify the technique, give reference, establish key connections / associations, and analyse meanings and effects for full marks.
- Again, bullet points are acceptable for Analysis questions, but be sure to be specific in linking the techniques and their impact with the actual passage.
- Questions may ask you about a specific use of language such as word choice, imagery, sentence structure etc. or may ask generally to show ‘how the writer’s use of language’ achieves an effect, whereby you address the features that you find most appropriate.
- You WILL NOT score marks for merely identifying techniques and quoting – you need to analyse too.
- The most common language features you should be looking for are:
- Word choice – explain the connotations of appropriate words and their use in the passage – try to go beyond what a word means , and explore what it suggests; formal / informal language may be important; sound effects e.g. alliteration, or ironic devices e.g. play on words, may also appear; word choice may contribute to imagery or tone.
- Imagery – you must identify the two elements of comparison and show how you understand the literal ‘root’ of the image i.e. the normal context, before going on to explain the ideas suggested by image
- Sentence Structure – try to recognise features of sentence structure (e.g. short sentences, length, use of listing, climax, anti-climax, repetition, inversion, use of questions, balanced sentence, periodic sentence) and analyse the effect. – e.g. identifying a list is useless if you can’t explain the intended impact or the reason the writer has chose to include a list.
- Tone – be able to identify the tone being used (e.g. humour, scorn, anger, regret, contempt) and explain how it is established, possibly through reference to word choice, imagery, sentence structure and other techniques such as irony (exaggeration, understatement, anti-climax etc.)
- Do Not use bullet points for these questions. They should be written in continuous prose and be more developed than U/A answers.
- These ask you to judge how well a statement, an expression, a fact, an example, a concluding paragraph etc. achieves its purpose / effect within the context of the passage.
- You will need to link a short analysis of the aspect in question with reference to other features of the paragraph / passage to give an evaluation of how effective it is on the basis of the ideas it presents and the use of language, tone etc.
- There is always a high mark question at the end of the paper requiring comparison of both passages (or sometimes parts of the passage), evaluating the ideas and/or style
- This is a mini-essay and is marked differently to the others – it is not only dependent on the number of points you make.
- The best answers to these questions are often like little essays in which you develop a clear point of view about the passages, supporting each statement with specific reference to the passages. Poor answers are usually a list of random thoughts with no clear line of thought.
- When answering on style, it’s acceptable to make some use of material from previous answers, but it’s a good idea to introduce a few ‘new’ points.
- When answering on ideas, try to go beyond simply summarising what the writers have said; it is likely that your opinion is being asked for – so it is quite acceptable for you to give this, provided it is linked appropriately to ideas in the passages.