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Close Reading - analysis and evaluation questions


Close Reading - analysis and evaluation questions

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									            Close Reading - analysis and evaluation questions

Questions on context

Do them in two or three stages. First, give a definition of the word or phrase. Second,
refer clearly to the specific part(s) of the context that you are using (the best way is to
quote) and say what it or they mean. Sometimes you will require a third step, when
you have to explain how the context helps you to arrive at the meaning, or , if the
context is too general, summarise how you worked out the meaning of the word(s).

  Consider, for example, the following sentence:

            Their new croft was small but gave them a substantial yearly
            yield, and was a considerable improvement on the grim,
            hardscrabble fields they had farmed before.

If you were asked to say how the context helped you to arrive at the meaning of
hardscrabble you might write something like the following:

            The word hardscrabble is used to describe land that is poor, that
            offers little in return for hard work. The context helps because
            the phrase substantial yearly yield shows that the previous piece
            of land was very fertile, so the new land must be very different
            to that if it is described as being inferior. The word grim also
            helps, since it means the land was in a miserable state.

Questions on effectiveness of imagery
An image is a comparison – something is compared to something else, either
explicitly or implicitly. Similes are explicit comparisons: He walked like a duck;
metaphors are implicit comparisons: She sailed through the exam.
   When a question asks about how effective an image is, write down what is being
described and what it is being compared to. Go on to show the exact point, or points,
of comparison – what connects the two things. When you do this, always use the
words just as. At some point say that the image is effective because of the
clear/strong/unusual/striking/vivid (etc etc) connection between the two.
   So if you were asked to write about the metaphor above, you might say something
like this:

            The image is effective because of the clear and strong connection
            it makes between how she coped with the exam and how a boat
            sails through water. The idea is that she got through the exam
            effortlessly, just as a boat sails effortlessly through water.

Questions on effectiveness of word choice
These are not quite the same as questions on the effectiveness of imagery. You
should not, therefore, use the expression just as when you answer them since they
do not invite you to evaluate a comparison. Questions on the effectiveness of a word
are really asking you to consider what a word contributes to a sentence (or part of a

sentence) and in what way. It will always be a word that carries considerable weight,
not a routine word.

It is less easy to come up with a ‘formula’ for answering these kinds of questions
than it is for questions on imagery, but at the very least you might need to consider
not just the denotation (the literal meaning) of the word but also its connotation (the
ideas or feelings that the word invokes beyond its literal meaning). You might also
have to consider such things as tone, and whether the word represents a change from
formal to informal style (or vice-versa).

 Consider, for example, the following:

            Mr Johnson responded avidly to the interviewer’s questions. He
            outlined his government’s policies on housing with considerable
            clarity and dexterity, speaking intelligently, enunciating his
            words with precision and appearing to take a great deal of
            trouble to ensure that he was communicating as effectively as
            possible. Sets of statistics, percentages and other figures were
            reeled off effortlessly in his attempt to persuade his interlocutor
            that the department’s policies in this area were sound. Yet it was
            impossible to resist the conclusion that despite his suave,
            polished performance, he was little more than just another
            numbers geek.

If you were asked to comment on the effectiveness of the word geek, you might write
something like this:

            The word geek is effective here mainly because its informal tone
            contrasts so strongly with the largely formal language in the rest
            of the paragraph. The point being made, that despite Mr
            Johnson’s plausible manner he is essentially someone obsessed
            with figures, would have been far less effective had it simply
            been stated like that. By using the word geek, with its
            associations of eccentricity and social awkwardness, the writer
            does not merely criticise Mr Johnson, he insults him. In addition,
            the sharp brevity of the word, after so many relatively long
            words, itself acts as a snappy put-down.

Questions on tone
If you are asked simply to identify the tone, keep your answer very simple. In most
cases all you’ll need is one word, such as ironic, sarcastic, humorous, solemn, serious,
angry, bitter, sad (and so on). Under no circumstances write something like: The tone
is one where the writer feels that he hasn’t lived up to expectations and should have done
better.... This will always be wrong.
   The words ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ really apply to style, but can sometimes be used
when answering questions on tone.
  NB: Irony and sarcasm often seem to mean much the same, but there’s a difference.
For instance, if you and a friend go out for a meal which turns out to be unpleasant,
you might say something like Well, that was really worth coming all this way for. That
would be ironic. If, however, a similarly unpleasant meal was cooked by your friend
at her house and you said the same thing – Well, that was really worth coming all this

way for – then strictly speaking that would be sarcastic. In both cases what is said is
the opposite of what is meant, but in the first example the remark is not directed at
anyone, whereas the second is clearly directed at the friend, with an intention to
criticise or hurt.
    [Non-verbal irony is when something that is intended or expected to turn out a
certain way turns out very differently. For example, a crime-fearing man keeps a gun
under his pillow to protect himself against violent burglars but dies when he
accidentally sets it off while asleep.
   Irony is also used to describe certain situations where there’s a sense of both
sameness and difference. For example, if a hangman and the person he is hanging
both had the same name, that could be described as ironic.
   Dramatic irony is when, in a play or film, a character shows by what she says or
how she acts that she knows or understands less than the audience does.]

Questions on linkage
These questions are usually on how a sentence links two paragraphs but they can
also be about how a sentence (or even a paragraph) links larger parts of the passage.
  If (as is likely) it is about how one sentence links two paragraphs, divide the
sentence into two parts then show how one part refers back to the previous
paragraph and how the other refers forward to the next. You must quote from the
   Imagine, for example, a passage about cats where the first two paragraphs deal
with the origins of cats as domestic pets in Egypt and the third deals with how they
have become the most popular pets in Britain. This third paragraph might open with
the following sentence:

             Regardless of their exotic origins, cats eventually settled down
             with perfect ease in more humdrum surroundings.

If you were asked to show how this sentence acts as a link between the first two
paragraphs and the third, you might write something like this:

The first part of the sentence – Regardless of their exotic origins – refers back to
the previous paragraphs about Egypt. The word regardless, meaning ‘in spite
of’, must obviously refer to something that has already been said, while
exotic origins refers back very specifically to Egypt, the exotic country spoken
of in the first two paragraphs, where the cat had its origins, or beginnings.
The second part of the sentence – cats eventually settled down with perfect ease
in more humdrum surroundings – introduces the topic of the next paragraph,
the idea of cats settling down and becoming very popular in Britain, a place
which – compared to Egypt – could be described as humdrum.

Your answers to linkage questions must be as specific as this. It’s worthless to write
something like: The first part of the sentence refers back to what has gone before, and the last
part introduces the topic that is to be discussed in the next paragraph.

Questions on sentence structure
When a question asks you to comment on the effectiveness of sentence structure, the
first thing to do is to run through in your mind the kinds of sentences you are likely
to be asked about. These are:

                           (a) short sentences
                           (b) long sentences
                           (c) sentences where word order is particularly important
                           (d) minor sentences
                           (e) questions (including rhetorical questions)
                           (f) commands

(a) short sentences

            My friend is ill.
            The TV has broken down.
            They paid her at last.
            She left last winter.
            Nothing was done.

If you were asked to comment on the effectiveness of a short sentence, you would
have to look at the sentences close to it, because the shortness of the sentence would
only be obvious if the others were longer.

Consider, for example, the following paragraph:

            When I got home that night it was already after eight, so I was
            pretty tired. All I wanted to do was have a bath and go to bed,
            but my as soon as I entered the house I sensed something was
            wrong and knew that I could forget my plans for an early night.
            There was a pile of CDs lying on the floor in the hall and doors
            that were normally closed during the day were wide open.
            Walking into the living room and switching on the light only
            confirmed what I already knew. I’d been burgled.

You might be asked to comment on the effectiveness of the final sentence here – I’d
been burgled. In the question there might not be a specific reference to structure, but it
is in fact structure that the question would be asking you about. What you ought to
notice is that compared to the sentences in the rest of the paragraph, the sentence is
short. What, though, is the effect of this? Because it is a short sentence amongst
longer ones, it is made to stand out. But it is more than that. The very shortness of the
sentence helps to add to the shock of what it means. The speaker, having looked
forward to an early night, then having sensed that something was wrong, is finally
confronted with the blunt truth, and that blunt truth is itself expressed bluntly, in a
few words. The truth hits him when he switches on the light. It comes to him
immediately, without any elaboration, so the sentence enacts that abruptness by
being so short.

(b) long sentences
   Example 1

            Throughout the night and into the next day we heard a series of
            loud, disturbing noises coming from the upstairs flat, which for
            years had been empty and was now being rented by a large
            family, but rather than get into an argument with new

            neighbours we decided that we would say nothing for the time
            being in the hope that things would eventually settle down.

The structure here is not particularly remarkable: it is simply a long sentence, whose
Length does not appear to add much, if anything at all, to its effectiveness. It would
be easy to imagine the sentence being divided up into smaller sentences with no loss
of impact.

  Example 2

            For hours and hours we plodded through the streets, mile after
            mile, our feet aching and our heads pounding with every weary
            step we took, until at last, after what seemed like an eternity and
            with our strength all but exhausted, we reached the hotel.

This, however, is different. Here the length of the sentence very clearly adds to its
effectiveness, since the way it is drawn out, with several pauses along the way, enacts
the meaning of the sentence itself, which describes a long drawn-out journey. The
lengthy sentence is dragged down by pauses before the end is reached, just as the
lengthy journey was dragged down by tiredness until the hotel was reached.

In the same way that short sentences will stand out amongst longer ones, long ones
will stand out amongst shorter ones. Of course writers may make a sentence longer
or shorter simply in order to provide variety – indeed it could be argued that
sentences that are noticeably longer or shorter than others are quite likely to be
precisely for that purpose only. But there are times when the length of the
sentence – short or long – adds to the impact of the sentence because it is related to
its meaning.

(c) sentences where word order is particularly important
Example 1

            There are a great many things in life that annoy me but of
            those that come to mind there is no doubt that the worst is

This is not an especially striking sentence, but even so it should be obvious that
placing the word rudeness at the very end increases the impact of the writer’s
point. The structure of the sentence allows a certain degree of expectation to be set
up while we wait to find out what the writer’s pet annoyance is, which we learn
only at the very end, just before the full stop.

At the same time, putting the word at the beginning of the sentence would also
make an impact:

            Rudeness is no doubt the worst that comes to mind when I
            think of all the great many things in life that annoy me.

Each makes an impact in its own way. If, however, the key word in the sentence is
put in the middle, the effect is lessened:

            Of all the great many things in life that annoy me, rudeness is
            no doubt the worst that comes to mind.

These three sentences say the same thing but their different structures mean that
their effectiveness is not the same.

Example 2

            Homework is what we’re going to be concentrating on from now on.
            From now on we’re going to be concentrating on homework.
            From now on, homework is what we’re going to be concentrating on.

  These three sentences are similar to those in the first example above. Again, the
least unusual is the final one, where the most important item in the sentence
homework – is given less prominence by simply being in the middle of the
sentence. Placing it either at the start or the end gives it greater impact.

Example 3

            For hours and hours we plodded through the streets, mile
            after mile, our feet aching and our heads pounding with
            every weary step we took, until at last, after what seemed like
            an eternity and with our strength all but exhausted, we
            reached the hotel.

This example has already appeared in the long sentences section. It was
pointed out that the sentence is long and dragged-out, just as the journey
was. But the sentence is also constructed so that there is a build-up to the
final and most important word, hotel, which again mimics the journey,
since the destination, or final point of the journey, is represented by the
final word in the sentence.

Look carefully at the construction of the following sentences to see how word
order contributes to their effectiveness.

            Milk is something I never drink.
            Up he raised his ugly head.
            I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, sweat and tears.

Example 4

            To err is human; to forgive divine.

This sentence, taken from a poem by the eighteenth century poet Alexander Pope,
is obviously very short, but something else is clearly going on. What it means is
that to make a mistake is human, but to forgive is God-like (in the sense that it’s
something that God would do). But the way the words are placed in the sentence
is a major part of its effect, since the sentence is split into two halves, which mirror
each other. To err is mirrored by to forgive, in the sense that there is a connection
between making a mistake and forgiving one, and human is mirrored by divine,
because they are opposites. There is therefore a pleasing balance to the sentence,

which is central to how it makes its effect.

Consider the balance that is achieved in the following sentences.

      • If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few
        who are rich.
      • You thought the subject would be quite simple; it is extraordinarily
      • He was a free man in Paris but it was in New York that he was arrested.

When contrasting ideas are balanced in sentences, the sentences are said to be
antithetical. (The noun is antithesis.)

(d) minor sentences

            She wandered into the office but there was no-one there. Not a soul.
            I thought it wasn’t a bad idea. Sort of.
            America. Who wouldn’t want to go there?

A minor sentence is one without a verb. So in the above examples the minor
          sentences are as
          Not a soul.
          Sort of.

Minor sentences are to be found most frequently in spoken English, but writers
sometimes exploit them in order to achieve particular effects.

            He went into the corridor after hearing the noise for a second
            time. Nobody about. Darkness, silence. A faint light in a room.

In this example the final three sentences are all minor ones, and would seem
to be trying to mimic the thought-processes of the speaker as he goes into
the corridor. He looks around, and what he registers comes straight into his
mind, without any elaboration, so that’s how it is written down. This is
often how minor sentences work they try to convey what is going on in
someone’s mind. Since we often don’t think in full sentences with verbs,
minor sentences reflect that.

(e) Questions (including rhetorical questions)

A question is easy to identify because it ends in a question mark, not a full
stop. A rhetorical question is one which does not expect an answer, because
it is designed for another purpose.

Examples of rhetorical questions

            Why are you so careless?

               Why me, God?
               How on earth did she get elected?
               Have you no manners?

In other words, using a rhetorical question is simply an eye-catching way of
making a point.

In general, if you are asked to comment on the effectiveness of the structure
of a sentence, it will be because the sentence is long, the sentence is short,
the word-order in the sentence is significant, or because the sentence is a
minor one.


In analysis questions (marked with an A) and evaluation questions (marked
with an E) in the Higher you are being asked to look closely at how the
writer achieves his or her effects. It assumes that you can appreciate the skill
– often the very subtle skill – that writers display and which is fundamental
to the impact their writing makes.

 In understanding questions (marked with a U) you are being asked to show
that you understand what a passage means, but in analysis and evaluation
questions you are being asked to show that you appreciate how it is written.


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