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SQA Candidate Guidance Higher English Close Reading Some facts about the paper Time The Close Reading exam paper lasts for one hour and forty-five minutes. (Date and time for 2011: Friday 13 May, 9.00am to 10.45am) Content The exam paper will have two passages on a related theme. The passages will be selected from works of non-fiction, from essays, or from quality journalism. The ideas will be complex and expressed in sophisticated English. The total length will be in the region of 1,500 words. The length of each of the two passages may vary from year to year: the first passage may be longer than the second, or the first passage may be shorter than the second, or both passages may be of similar length. The questions (which are printed in a separate booklet) will test your ability to understand the writers' ideas, to analyse the writers' techniques, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the writing. There will always be at least one question requiring comparison of the passages. Marks The total number of marks available is 50. The number of questions will vary. The number of marks allocated to each question is shown at the end of each question. Codes As well as an indication of the number of marks allocated, there is a code letter to tell you which skill is being tested in each question. These codes are: U for Understanding, A for Analysis, E for Evaluation. Sometimes these are combined to indicate that there is a focus on more than one skill – for example, U/E indicates that you are being asked to show an understanding of the writer's ideas and to make an evaluation of them. Arrangements Full details of the Arrangements for Higher English can be found on SQA's website. Specimen question paper The specimen question paper for Higher English can be found on SQA's website. Some general advice Timing It is important to use your time wisely so that you answer all the questions and are not rushing to finish the last two or three questions. You might consider allocating amounts of time to groups of questions. For example, if you try to 'earn' about 7 marks every 15 minutes or about 5 marks every 10 minutes, this will ensure an equal allocation of time to all questions. Allocation of marks/length of answers The number of marks allocated to a question will give you a clear idea of the length of answer required. A question for 1 mark can probably be answered in very few words, while a 4 mark question (especially if it is coded A or E) will require a detailed answer making a number of points. A common mistake is to spend too much time on the early questions. Remember that the questions at the end are often quite 'high value' ones – so it's important to give them enough time. Also, don’t waste time writing unnecessarily long answers with pointless introductions which simply repeat the question – get to the point quickly. While answers on some Evaluation questions will need to be written as 'mini-essays', most answers do not need to be in sentences. Codes Remember to look at the code letter(s) for the question and focus your answer appropriately. Introduction to the passages There is usually a brief introduction (printed in italics) just before each passage begins. This can be very important. If the examiners have thought it necessary to provide an introduction, it will be because they think it will help you to understand the passages more easily. How to prepare/practise for the exam The general importance of reading The best preparation for this part of the examination is extensive reading of the types of English from which the passages are usually selected. This should be done over a long period of time – you cannot expect to become familiar with this type of complicated writing by looking at a couple of past papers. The more comfortable you become with the type of writing, the less daunting the passages in the exam will seem. You may even begin to guess the types of questions the examiners will ask. Quality newspapers, quality magazines/periodicals, types of non- fiction book The simplest way to find appropriate writing is to read regularly one or more of the 'quality' UK newspapers (often referred to as 'broadsheet', although some of these are now printed in 'tabloid' – or 'compact' – form). The 'opinion' or 'comment' sections are the most valuable, but extended news coverage is also useful. Magazines and periodicals which deal with serious topics such as current affairs, politics, media issues, history, science, religious/ethical issues are also appropriate places to find suitable writing. Similarly, a non-fiction book (or collection of essays) dealing with any of these topics would be helpful. Your teacher/lecturer or school/college librarian may be able to suggest some titles. Material which is purely, or largely, factual is not helpful. You need to be reading about ideas, in writing where the writer is developing a line of thought. Past exam papers/SQA's website Looking at previous exam papers is the most obvious way of making yourself familiar with the layout of the paper and the style of questioning within it. Recent past papers in Higher English are available, published by Bright Red Publishing, and can be purchased in most bookshops. (Note that these are published exactly 'as sat', and may not reflect recent slight changes in format.) The marking instructions for recent Close Reading exam papers can be found on SQA's website. Some specific advice Questions on understanding Answer these 'in your own words'. Even though the individual questions do not state this, there is a clear instruction on the front cover of the exam paper, and this is repeated at the beginning of the questions. It means that you have to demonstrate that you understand the more complex words and phrases used in the passage. If you simply quote or use the words already in the passage, the marker won't know whether you understand what they mean – and will assume that you don't. The number of marks allocated to an Understanding question will clearly indicate the number of points you are expected to make. Try to make your answers to these questions fairly brief; using bullet points is perfectly acceptable here. For examples of this type of question, look at questions 1, 3(a) and 3(b) in the 2008 paper, questions 5(a) and 10(b) in the 2007 paper, or questions 5 and 9 in the 2006 paper. The link question This is a common question, although it's not asked every year. Note that this is an 'Understanding' question. You must demonstrate an understanding of each of the two paragraphs (or sections) being linked. In addition you must identify the word or words in the link sentence which connect with the preceding paragraph and the word or words in the link sentence which connect with what follows. So there are four elements in a successful answer: a quotation (from the link sentence) which refers to the idea(s) of the preceding paragraph; an understanding of the idea(s) of the preceding paragraph; a quotation (from the link sentence) which refers to the idea(s) of the coming paragraph; an understanding of the idea(s) of the coming paragraph. For examples of this type of question, look at question 3(a) in the 2008 paper or question 5(a) in the 2003 paper. 'Summary' questions If you are asked to 'summarise' or to 'identify the main points' or to give the 'key reasons', your answer should be fairly brief. You should focus on each main idea the writer is putting across. Don’t include any of the supporting evidence or examples the writer uses – these will weaken a 'summary' (and waste valuable time). Examples of this type of question can be found in question 11(a) in the 2001 paper, question 5 in the 2002 paper and question 6(b) in the 2006 paper. In the 2006 question, examiners found many candidates writing extremely long-winded answers which repeated everything the writer said. Not only is that very time-consuming, it is the opposite of what a summary should be doing. The question (which was worth 6 marks) could have been answered in three fairly concise sentences. Analysis questions There is specific advice below about answering on imagery, sentence structure, etc, but there is an important point to be remembered about all Analysis questions. You must pay attention to why you are analysing: the question nearly always gives a clear focus for you about what the writer's use of a feature is trying to achieve, and you should concentrate on this - don't analyse 'in a vacuum'. For example, question 3 in the 2007 paper is not an open invitation to analyse word choice and imagery for their own sake, but to show how they convey 'the wonder of the library as a physical space'. Similarly, question 4(c) in the 2008 paper asks you to show how the writer's use of language "reinforces his criticism of the conservationists' ideas", not just to write general comments about the language. For other examples, see question 4 in the 2006 paper, question 9(b) in the 2005 paper, or question 9 in the 2004 paper. Questions on imagery and on word choice These are questions most Higher English candidates find especially difficult. It's not easy to 'learn' how to do them, since your ability here depends on your sensitivity to language, and this is something that has been growing gradually since you started learning to read. The following bits of advice, however, might help: You never get any marks simply for quoting a word or identifying an image – the marks are always for the 'quality of comment'. The comment must be specific to the word or image being asked about – vague remarks which could apply to any word or image will get no marks, and you get no marks for repeating the question. When answering on word choice, try to go beyond what a word means, and explore what it suggests (in technical terms: connotation rather than denotation). When answering on imagery, try to show how the literal root or origin of the image is being used by the writer to express an idea in a metaphorical way. For examples of this type of question, look at questions 2(a) and 9 in the 2008 paper, questions 3, 5(b) and 9 in the 2007 paper, or questions 3(c) and 8(b) in the 2006 paper. Questions on sentence structure Candidates find these questions difficult too. As with questions on imagery and word choice, it's not easy to 'learn' how to answer them. You have to be able to recognise relevant features of sentence structure (eg brevity, length, use of listing, climax, anti-climax, repetition, use of questions, balance, period), but the marks are given for the quality of your comments on their effect in context. For examples of this type of question, look at question 9 in the 2008 paper, questions 1(b) and 10 in the 2006 paper, or question 6(b) in the 2004 paper. Questions on tone 'Tone' is possibly the most difficult area of all. Not only will you have to identify the writer's tone at a particular point in the passage (eg anger, contempt, regret, nostalgia, irony, humour), you'll also have to explain how the writer establishes the tone. The 'how' part is often done best by exploring other aspects of language such as sentence structure, imagery, and word choice (see the sections above) since these are often used to convey tone. Also, features such as sound, exaggeration and anti-climax are often used to establish tone. For examples of this type of question, look at question 7(b) in the 2008 paper, question 3(b) in the 2005 paper or questions 6(b) and 10(c)(ii) in the 2004 paper. Questions on 'the writer's use of language' Sometimes a question simply asks you to show how 'the writer's use of language' does something or other. This means you're not being guided towards a specific technique such as sentence structure or tone. For these questions you must find the most appropriate technique(s) and then deal with it/them in the way suggested above. Remember, however, there will still be no marks for simply identifying a feature or quoting a word or image. For examples of this type of question, look at questions 2(b), 8 and 10(b) in the 2008 paper, questions 4(a) and 8(b) in the 2007 paper, or questions 4 and 7 in the 2006 paper. Comparison questions There will always be at least one question at the end of the paper requiring comparison of the passages. You will have to compare and evaluate the ideas in the passages, or the styles in which they are written, or both of these. Be very careful to establish whether you are to answer on style or on ideas, and stick to the task. You will always have to make reference to both passages, although you don’t have to give each of them the same amount of attention. Note that in 2006 the question referred to specific sections of each passage, not the whole passage. 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. Hint: have a brief look at the comparison question(s) before you start, so that while you are working your way through the other questions and becoming more familiar with the ideas and styles of the passages, you will be able to give some thought to what you might say in the comparison question(s). For examples of this type of question, look at question 13 in the 2008 paper, question 13 in the 2007 paper, question 13 in the 2006 paper, or question 16 in the 2005 paper.
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