Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Top Three AS English Language and Literature Exam Tips

Nardvark is starting to lose his kitty-litter. Exams are coming up, and right about now he is willing to try anything to cram that last bit of knowledge into his head so he will pass: sleeping with the AS poetry anthology under his pillow, downloading the free first pages of essays, staying awake during English class...

Tired of listening to him wail all night, Nerdvark has compiled a list of three handy tips for him:

1.       For each of the four exam papers, you only have an hour to do your best work. Don’t panic! Dedicate the first few minutes to reading the question and planning carefully, so that you will come out with an appropriate answer. Remember:

  • A narrative is a story – it has characters, setting, plot, and dialogue. A descriptive piece doesn’t need any of the elements of narrative, just really vivid description that uses imagery and appeals to the five senses. For more on using imagery, click here.
  • An argumentative piece should very persuasively convince the reader of your side of an argument, presenting the other side only to counter-argue. A discursive piece will explore both sides of an issue, but you will still be in agreement with one side and against the other.
  • Literature question (a) usually requires you to discuss a general aspect of the literature you have studied: themes, characters, symbols and motifs, literary techniques, plot, setting, etc. Figure out what specific aspect of the work or works you are being asked to discuss and decide what points you want to make before beginning to write.
  • Literature question  (b) usually asks you a specific question about a passage, such as how the writer presents the setting or what literary tools the poet uses to create a certain atmosphere. You must form a detailed answer to this question, not write a general commentary on the passage, and you must mention other parts of the work (for drama and novel) or other poems you have studied (for poetry) to get good marks on question (b).

2.       Save some time at the end of each paper to go back and re-check your work. Write on alternate lines (double-space your writing) so you will have space to add stuff if you think of something at that point, or re-write awkward sentences, misspelled words, etc.

3.       Practice makes perfect! Whatever works of literature you are studying, you can find exam questions for them on online study sites like Sparknotes and Shmoop.  Don’t just read the sample answers; actually time yourself for an hour: plan, write your best response, revise and edit it. Then compare the sample answer to yours – did you think of all kinds of good stuff?  Did you come up with some stuff that Sparknotes didn’t? Then you’re awesome! Remember, you need to have original ideas and personal responses to get a high grade in AS. Your AS textbook has lots of practice questions for the narrative/descriptive and argumentative/discursive tasks. 

Read more of my blog for more advice on excelling in your writing and in the upcoming exams.

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