With so many people taking advantage of Ask Will Online for the different novels and poems I have analysed, I thought it would be a good idea to give some tips and help about exam technique for the LITB1 exam paper for AQA English Literature B. This exam can seem extremely daunting and is the first ‘proper’ exam for many students which involves the student writing essays. Therefore, it is essential you know just exactly what you need to do to get the best grade possible.
The Unit 1 exam paper is split into two sections: Section A and Section B.
This section is a place where you should really try to gather a lot of marks. It involves you picking a question form the list provided in the exam and is only ever based on one text. For example, when I did this exam, I chose the questions based on Auden’s poems.
Whatever question you choose will have the following layout:
- The first question will be based on either a specific chapter of a novel or one poem.
- The second question will be more general looking at themes or as simple as a statement and whether you agree or disagree with the statement. You will be asked about a text from the same author/poet as the first question.
For Section A, there is the common question which starts, for example, like this:
How does Auden tell the story in ‘Miss Gee‘.
This DOES NOT mean that you need to tell the story of what happens to Miss Gee that she basically gets cancer and dies. The examiner already knows the story plot therefore you do not at all need to mention anything about what actually happens in the poem.
What this type of question, ‘How does _____ tell the story in…’, actually wants you to do is look at the ways in which the author/poet uses techniques to tell the story effectively. This can be usually be split into three areas: form, language and structure. How does Auden use form, language and structure to effectively tell the story of ‘Miss Gee’? That is the real question you need to be answering.
For some people, going through the poem or chapter chronologically will work fine for them. However, the best way to structure your essay for this is through adopting the following format:
- Introduction – Sum up the main points you want to mention and any little add ons you might think are relevant. For example, Auden was gay which may have been a reason why Miss Gee had deep sexual urges for the Bishop – Auden felt the same way as a closet homosexual (as well as the fact that it could be seen that her sexual repression caused the cancer).
- Three separate paragraphs on Form, Language and Structure – For each paragraph, highlight what Auden or whoever it is has done with form, language and structure and then link this to how it tells the story in the text. Point, example, explanation and then how this tells the story.
Remember that the first question of the exam paper is not a lot of marks. Two pages in the booklet will do you plentiful.
The second question looks more at your opinion and needs to take a wider approach to answering the question. You will usually be thrown a bone with keywords such as ‘tragedy, death, love, fear’ or ‘victim’ into the question. If not, you will be given a statement which you will argue whetehr to agree or disagree with in your essay.
The essence of the second question is to use more general knowledge of the text or poems by that Poet. For example, the question I was given when I did this exam was:
How far do you think that Auden’s poems are dominated by death?
For a question like this, you should use the following structure for your essay:
- Introduction – Highlight the key argument to agree and disagree and mention the topics you will talk about in each of your paragraphs. For example, ‘it can be seen Auden’s poems are dominated by death since the main characters in his poems end us dying such as in Miss Gee and O What Is That Sound. However, Auden’s poems are also dominated by other themes such as love and war.’
- Paragraph to agree with question – For my example, this paragraph would look at reasons why Auden’s poems are dominated by death such as the death of the main characters with quotes and references to the moments in the poems they die.
- Paragraph to disagree with question – Continuing the example, this would look at either war or love in Auden’s poems providing the opinion that Auden’s poems are not just dominated by death but other topics too.
- Keep doing paragraph to agree and then disagree. Usually, 3-4 paragraphs is a good argument.
- Conclusion – Based on what you have said in your essay, make a decision to the answer to the question and back it up with a summary of why you believe this with possible added new points. For example, ‘Ultimately, I feel that Auden’s poems are dominated by death even if death of a character is not present in his poem. Poems such as O Where Are You Going? do not have death or mention death but refer to an ideology that death for this poem is dusk, ‘dusk will delay’. Auden’s poem are deliberately vague making it easy to refer to his poems as dominated by death since the death can be represented in a person dying, as dusk or as time in If I Could Tell You.
Section B consists of one question which is very general so that it can be linked to the remaining texts you have studied.
With this question, choose it wisely. Highlight keywords and analyse the questions writing a potential structure to the exam (similar to the second question of Section A). It is vital to plan out your essay for this question.
Since half of the marks of the whole paper are in this question, you should spend around an hour on the question:
- 5 minutes planning the essay.
- 5 minutes on the introduction.
- 40-45 minutes on the content of the essay.
- 5-10 minutes on the conclusion.
If you find that you are running out of time, stop where you are and write a conclusion. An essay that analyses all the texts without a conclusion will get less marks than an essay that analyses all but one of the texts and has a full conclusion. It is important to finish your exam off with a verdict.
I hope that this helps those that are nervous for the exam. If you don’t know already, I have analysed many texts for English Literature B A level which I have listed all below for your convenience:
- W.H. Auden – As I Walked Out One Evening, 1st September 1939, If I Could Tell You, O What Is That Sound, O Where Are You Going, Miss Gee.
- Robert Browning – Fra Lippo Lippi, Porphyria’s Lover, The Bishop Orders His Tomb, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, My Last Duchess, The Patriot.
- Thomas Hardy – Under The Waterfall.
- The Kite Runner – Everything You Need To Know [Analysis].
- Frankenstein – Complete Analysis, Key Gothic Themes.
- Doctor Faustus – Complete Analysis, Key Gothic Themes.
- The Bloody Chamber – The Erl King, The Bloody Chamber, The Courtship Of Mr Lyon and Key Quotes To Remember, Key Gothic Themes For Whole Book.
- The Great Gatsby – Theme Of Ghosts.
- A View From A Bridge – Everything You Need To Know [Analysis], Eddie Carbone Character Analysis, Beatrice Carbone Character Analysis.
- Of Mice and Men – Everything You Need To Know [Analysis].
An exemplar student response to a Paper 2A, Section A question in the sample assessment materials, followed by an examiner commentary on the response
Explore the significance of the crime elements in this extract. Remember to include in your answer relevant detailed analysis of the ways that Hill has shaped meanings.
Band 5 response
This extract from a post modern text contains traditional crime writing elements which are given a surprising angle. This extract, which we are told comes from the early part of Hill's novel, focuses on a murder trial. Attention in this passage is on the build up to the not guilty verdict which is given at the end. The placement of a trial in older crime writing texts is usually towards the end of a narrative, for example Fagin's Trial in Oliver Twist. By placing this trial at the start of her novel, Hill is clearly suggesting that there will be repercussions and readers are invited to speculate on what will happen next. Perhaps Alan Keyes is indeed not guilty and the rest of the novel will focus on the tracking down of the true murderer or perhaps Keyes is guilty and Hill has created this 'miscarriage of justice' to give her villain scope to commit further crimes. The fact that the two court reporters think Keyes is guilty perhaps will persuade readers that the second option is the more plausible.
The scene in the courtroom is focalised through the court reporter, Charlie Vogt which is interesting as in doing this Hill creates a kind of detachment through her partial replication of a journalistic style. Using Charlie as the focaliser is an interesting narrative choice as although Charlie seems assured, knowledgeable and sensible (leading us to believe Keyes will be found guilty), he is wrong in his presumptions. In this extract, though, we are not given his reaction to the verdict though we can speculate on his frustration and anger. In having a fallible narrator of sorts, Hill is able to build up uncertainty and increase tension in the extract. The focalisation through Charlie also keeps us away from the accused. A third person narrator could take us directly into Keyes' thoughts but Charlie pays little attention to Keyes who is in the dock with his police minder and does not speculate on what he might be feeling and thinking. Hill seems to want to keep us away from Keyes' reactions in a direct way. In choosing to present him through Charlie rather than direct third person authorial narration, Hill can create mystery around her 'criminal'. Is he actually guilty or not?
The trial itself is an important element in the crime writing genre. Trials are often satisfying narrative ingredients because readers like to see criminals caught and punished by the due processes of the law. The genre is essentially moralistic and generally reflects a moral and stable social and political world. Trials are associated with another crime element - that of punishment. Again, readers like to see criminals, especially murderers, get their just desserts. The fact that Keyes is found not guilty here could be seen as disturbing, as if the world is upside down, though we will expect that the murderer will not get away finally - crime novels rarely allow for this, even those written this century. The inclusion of trials in crime writing texts also gives writers the opportunity to create tension and engage their readers in the judicial process. We become part of the law abiding establishment on the side of right. In this extract, Hill begins by describing the packed courtroom and there is a clear sense of excitement and anticipation. Ironically there is the suggestion that trials are rather literary affairs - Charlie Vogt thinks this trial is better than any book or film. Here Hill is using the post modern technique of metafiction, drawing attention to her own artifice. In the first half of the extract, Hill describes the packed courtroom and the participants: the court is overflowing, Charlie and Rod are anxious, 'poised like greyhounds in the slips', Keyes is standing with his eyes down, and the lawyers are shuffling papers. The tension is then heightened with the first use of direct speech: 'All rise'. Hill does not attribute this speech, perhaps because she expects readers to be familiar with the legal context of the court, and she creates the immediacy of a real courtroom drama. She creates further tension through delaying the jury's verdict by focusing again on Charlie's thoughts. He thinks about the jury and other people in the court. And then the final part of the extract is almost like a play script with quick fire dialogue and stage directions:
'Is this verdict unanimous?'
'On the third count, do you find the accused guilty or not guilty?'
His honour Judge Palmer was sitting very straight, hands out of sight, expression unreadable.
Although it is likely that Hill gives the reactions of Charlie and Keyes after this extract, at the point where this ends there is a sense of numbness. The fact that the judge has to call order suggests that there is general disquiet and surprise. Some readers, having been led by Charlie's thoughts could also be surprised though it is more likely that because this trial is at the beginning of the novel we will have expected the unexpected. Twists and turns are of course another element of the crime writing genre.
Crime writing often focuses on the pursuit of the criminal and unusually here the criminal has already been pursued and caught. What Hill sets up though is that there must be a further pursuit. If Keyes is the murderer though there is certainly a mystery about him. Although Charlie is unreliable he does draw our attention to Keyes' hands and there is something sinister in the description: 'Normal hands. Nothing ugly, nothing out of the ordinary. Not a strangler's hands…' Hill's use of minor sentences here and repetition is significant. The heavy use of the negative is somehow more of an affirmative. The fact that Charlie finds it difficult to look at him also suggests that there is something menacing about this crime villain. It is important too to consider what Hill reveals of the crime victims. We are told the names of two of the victims - Sarah Pearce and Carrie Gage - but there are no further details other than they were elderly women and that there was also a third victim. Because the victims are just names and because there is no detail here of the crimes - apart from the fact they were strangled - there is little opportunity to sympathise with them as victims. This is perhaps unusual. Certainly it is easy to sympathise with Nancy in Oliver Twist and with the duchess and Porphyria in Browning's poems. Interestingly in these crime texts as in this extract, the criminal is male and the victims are female. What could also be seen as unusual is the way Hill, through Charlie, presents one of the jury members as victim. By using a sequence of questions Charlie focuses on her look of desperation, her fear - the trauma of having to do jury service. In other ways this extract is linked more typically to the crime writing genre in the way it reflects social norms. The victims of murder here are women and the aggressor it seems is a man; in the real world violent crimes are more likely committed by men on women, perhaps because they have the physical power to do so. The extract is also grounded in the real twenty first century world in its having court officials and members of the jury who are female. Hill clearly wants her fiction to represent the real world perhaps why she incorporates real world criminals (Hindley and Brady) into her narrative. She wants her readers to believe that events here could be true - another element of crime writing.
This is a busy answer in which a secure overview is established. The candidate has excellent knowledge of the crime genre and applies that knowledge to this extract in a perceptive way. Relevant details from the extract are used to support arguments and there are also some relevant references to other texts which, although not a requirement, work well. The candidate is always thinking about possibilities and significances and writes about them in a confident way.
The response is well structured and there is some impressive writing. The task is always in mind and the candidate uses literary critical concepts and terminology in an assured way. The writing is accurate and mature though not always sophisticated.
There is perceptive understanding of the way Hill shapes meanings and the candidate is particularly strong in writing about structure and the novel's form. Some very good comments are also made on voice and language.
There is some perceptive engagement with social, gender, legal and literary contexts. These contexts are connected to the crime writing genre in a thoughtful and assured way.
There is perceptive exploration of connections across literary texts arising out of genre study. The candidate selects a range of crime elements from knowledge of the genre and applies them judiciously.
The candidate is always thinking of potential meanings here. There is very good discussion of the way the not guilty verdict can lead to readers to make different assumptions. Perceptive comments are also made on the effects of Hill's use of focalisation.
Overall: Perceptive and assured. This response seems consistent with the Band 5 descriptors, though perhaps towards the bottom of the range.
This resource is part of the Elements of crime writing resource package.