Before the Easter break you each asked a question about the Poetry exam. I have collated your questions and below are answers to your queries. This is worth a read as I have included quotes from last year’s examiners’ report – this essentially tells you what the examiners like and don’t like! Read it!
How much should I write?
If we take a look at the break down of the exam, you will need to write more for Section A than you would for Section B. There are more marks available for Section A (Conflict question) so spend 45 minutes on this section. In terms of how much you should write, this is hard to quantify – I would suggest to aim for 3 sides for Section A and at least 1.5 for Section B. However you must ensure you hit the assessment objectives: AO1 – interpretations/quotes, AO2 – language, structure and form and for Section A only, AO3 – comparison.
However you must ensure you hit the assessment objectives: AO1 – interpretations/quotes, AO2 – language, structure and form and for Section A only, AO3 – comparison. In this exam the marks are weighted as follows:
AO1 (quotes and interpretations) – 15%
AO2 (language, structure and/or form)- 10%
AO3 (comparison) – 10%
How should I structure my essay?
You should always try to include some sort of introduction and conclusion (see below Q and A). Then each paragraph of the main body of your essay should offer your own interpretations and ideas. Remember you should also focus on AO2 – language, structure and form. You may wish to approach this – one paragraph on language, one on structure, one or form or you may wish to embed this throughout your essay. If you struggle to focus on language ensure you are zooming in to key words from the poem and linking them to the question. Remember for Section A you need to compare – you need to do this throughout so ask yourself does each paragraph talk about both poems.
How to write an introduction and conclusion?
You could use the inverted pyramid approach for your introduction and then work on the opposite for your conclusion:
Your introduction and conclusion should always focus on the question – so why not highlight the key words in the question at the start. For Section A ensure you state which 2 poems you will write about and make some reference to the question. So if the question is about ‘effects of conflict’, you could start with: ‘The effects of conflict are explored across the cluster however I will particularly focus on Bayonet Charge and Poppies. Hughes’ poem is set in World War 1 in contrast we can assume Weir’s poem is set after the conflict, showing a mother looking back on her son’s life.’ To conclude ensure you summarise the main points of each paragraph such as: ‘Both poems consider the effect of conflict through the use of individual experiences; Poppies gives a first person account whereas Bayonet Charge a third person account with both using pronouns throughout the poems. Both poets explore the effects of conflict through the use of irregular structures and use of enjambment. Both poets also use imagery – Weir domestic and textile imagery to link with the mother character who is detached from the conflict whereas Hughes uses violent imagery to show the first hand experience of a solider in conflict.’
How do I shorten quotes to ensure they make sense?
You are using your quote to support your interpretation, therefore your quote needs to be carefully chosen. If you struggle to include quotes there is nothing wrong with introducing your quote using: this can be seen in the quote…, this is demonstrated in the line… or as seen in the opening line… You can them zoom in on key words from your quote such as: ‘The writers use of the word …. suggests ….’ If you feel confident embedding quotes in to you essay, as below, then do otherwise use the approach you feel most confident with.
How do I ensure I answer the question?
At the start of the exam read the question. For Section A you will need to pick a question from a choice of two – this may be determined by the named poem or perhaps the focus of the question. Read both questions a couple of times, pick one and underline/highlight the key words in the question -these are the words you need to focus on throughout your essay. You may wish to write down similar words around the question to avoid repetition. Kept the question open in front of you throughout the exam. Ensure each paragraph uses either the words from the question or similar words. Same for Section B – pick the key words (remember these will often give aware the focus of the poem) and make reference to them throughout. If you really struggle to focus on the question, you could top and tail each paragraph – start and finish it with reference to the question.
How do I identify comparisons?
The examiners’ report on the June 2013 exam states:
‘Some candidates are increasingly able to form, sustain and develop a strong thread of comparison. However, this remains a key feature of underperformance. There are two ways in which candidates can be inhibited from performing well with AO3: where they have attempted to deal with the poems independently and then ‘stick them together’ at the end, and where they have attempted to root their comparison in AO2. The best comparisons derive from taking an idea, or theme, or topic, and discussing how both poems deal with it.‘
So the examiner is saying focus on ideas, themes or topics that both poems have in common. To help you revise you could create venn diagrams for the poems and clearly focus on the ideas, themes or topics in the poems using key quotes to show similarities and/or differences.
What is rhythm? What is metre?
Rhythm refers to the pattern of sound made by varying stressed and unstressed syllable. The metre is simply the arrangement of syllables creating rhythm through repeated patterns. So this involve stressed (/) and unstressed (x) syllables – remember the word present. If you stress the first part you get present (gift), stress the second part you get present (stand up in front of people and talk). English poetry has five different recognised patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables – one of which being iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter uses 10 syllables to a line, every-other syllable stressed(x/x/x/x/x/) thus creating the sound of a heartbeat. For more information take a look at this website – Metre
What is structure and form?
This can be tricky to define but generally:
Form – based on number of lines, rhyme scheme, rhythm/metre. It could be that the poem is a recognised form e.g. elegy, sonnet, ballad.
Structure – based on how its structured. How is it split? How many stanzas? Also how it develops, for example, the first three stanzas might be calm and the last three might become violent. Think about the order too – is it chronological or random?
You do not need to explicitly mention the form of the poem or the structure of the poem e.g. The form of the poem is…. You could simply say – the poem;s line lengths are irregular. This is interesting to note, from the examiners’ report from last June:
‘AO2 assesses understanding of how language or structure or form links to meaning – not all three, and not if there isn’t anything to say about one particular element. The questions are constructed to enable candidates to do this: ‘the methods poets use to present ideas about’ is a principle of question construction. The most interesting method, usually, is the language. Examiners are looking for the extent to which candidates can talk about what they think the poem is about, and some of the ways the poet might have presented their ideas to the reader. As ever, candidates who respond with their own ideas tend to produce some surprising, individual and thought-provoking responses…The most interesting method, usually, is the language. Examiners are looking for the extent to which candidates can talk about what they think the poem is about, and some of the ways the poet might have presented their ideas to the reader. As ever, candidates who respond with their own ideas tend to produce some surprising, individual and thought-provoking responses.’
What’s a narrative?
The definition of a narrative is: a spoken or written account of connected events; a story. Therefore some poems may have a narrative – a story, others may not. The Charge of the Light Brigade and Come on, Come Back are strong examples of poems with a story-like quality.
How can I quickly analyse a poem?
I can recommend approaches but to hit those top makes you need to react to the poem and offer your own view. The examiner is looking for your ability react to a poem in front of you – this is different from Section A where you could have essentially ‘learnt’ the poems. The examiners’ report from June last year said:
‘A shared view across the examining team was once again that where candidates are thinking independently, such as with their response to the unseen, they often demonstrate a higher level of skill than in their response to Section A. If candidates are encouraged to think for themselves, rather than merely reciting what they have been taught in lessons, they are then enabled by the task in the exam to demonstrate a higher level of skill.’
Quick approaches to Section B:
- Read the poem at least three or four times.
- Read the title. What is the significance? Does it tell you anything?
- Highlight key language choices that link to the question.
- If nothing jumps out to you focus on the first and last lines.
- Is there an extended metaphor occurring throughout the poem?
- Is there any recurring image?
Those of you who wrote that you were struggling with specific poems I suggest you look at the blog posts on these poems.
Hope this helps.