Examiners’ Reports – Paper One – Higher Level

A summary of key ideas from the last 5 years



Time and again the distinguishing factor between those candidates who do well and those who do less well is the ability of the former to pick up on subtle nuances, ambiguities as well as changes and shifts in the text instead of coming up with an overly simple answer and forcing the text to follow it. Close reading is the key skill here and examiners frequently stress that you should read the text and then ‘come to’ an interpretation based on your reading … rather than hitting on an initial idea and then forcing the rest of the text to fit in with that interpretation. The texts are likely to be complex and so your ideas should be complex too: if a character is both caring and oppressive then you should explore both elements of their personality, rather than just forcing them to be one way or the other. In addition, you must remember to:

·         cover the whole text – don’t focus on only the bits that you are confident with: write about the other bits too

·         look for the ideas first and then find the features that convey them

·         consider who is the speaker, who is the audience, what is the overall effect or purpose?



The key criterion for success here seems to be remaining open to possible meanings and, in particular, the role of ambiguity in a text. If ambiguity exists, don’t just ignore it or opt for one reading – instead explore both and perhaps consider why the text has been left ambiguous. Ambiguity itself is a literary feature: how has the author made use of it and to what effect? Other elements that are frequently challenging to pick up on are humour and irony, so keep your minds open for them too. In addition, you must remember to:

·         avoid paraphrasing the text or telling the examiner what happens

·         avoid forcing your text to have a ‘message’ or theme if it doesn’t have one – the text is not meant to be a springboard to personal or philosophical reflection: if it’s a poem about a field in autumn, write about a field in autumn

·         avoid referring to other texts

·         make your response personal – but this doesn’t mean link it your life: often personal engagement will come across in your tone of engagement and perhaps when you pick out what is most effective or powerful in the text


Appreciation of Literary Features:

Although many candidates can correctly identify a wide range of features, the key to success in this criterion is not just to point out the existence of these features but to go beyond this and explore the (many, subtle and varied) effects these features have been used to create on the reader. In addition, you must remember to:

·         avoid hunting for your ‘favourite’ literary feature – if it isn’t there or isn’t important then forget it

·         avoid focussing so much on features that the overall meaning of the text is lost

·         focus on ‘text level’ features such as character, character development, structure, narrative perspective, mood and tone

·         avoid saying that rhyme or enjambment makes the text ‘flow’ or that imagery enables the reader to ‘see more clearly’ what the author is talking about or that this ‘engages the reader’s interest’ – these statements are too general to really be of analytical interest

·         avoid claiming too much for any given literary feature – there is only so much a comma can do

·         avoid talking about how readers will respond, it is better to talk about the mood created



Avoid having a preconceived plan of attack or template for your essay (for example by talking about imagery first, then sound effects, etc or by working through the text line by line) – good candidates allow the text in front of them to determine how they will structure the essay. Remember to combine related ideas together into paragraphs and try to link your paragraphs together in order so that an overall argument is constructed rather than having a series of disjointed points that jump about all over the place. In addition, you must remember to:

·         plan before you begin writing - even if this changes and develops as you go at least it is a starting point

·         smoothly include quotations

·         keep your quotations short – pick out the key two or three words that are really have the effect

·         compose a clear introduction establishing what the text is about - don’t list literary techniques here

·         if you need a conclusion, avoid using it conclusion to just repeat the points you have already made



Obviously you should try to avoid poor grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes. In particular you should:

·         remember to use of quotation marks correctly

·         use ‘quotation’ instead of ‘quote’

·         avoid starting sentences with ‘Also …’

·         spell literary features correctly – e.g. ‘imagery’ not ‘imageries’

·         correctly distinguish between tone / tone of voice (the attitude of the speaker to his subject), mood (the emotional feeling evoked by a piece) and pace (the speed at which the text progresses)

·         write with clearly comprehensible handwriting – what can’t be read, can’t be rewarded

·         if it is unclear, choose a gender for the narrator and stick with that throughout so you don’t keep writing he/she