Paper 1 - Unseen commentary - tips

First exam
Thursday 2nd May 2013
Standard – 1 hour 30
A poem and prose
You must choose one.
Read both. Then
Either a
 An extract from a
novel or short story
 An essay
 A biography
 A journalistic piece
of writing
 A play
Normally excerpts are from novels and short
Other forms chosen will have techniques used
by writers which are common in novels and
short stories e.g. Use of comparison, similes,
Be prepared for a challenging prose extract –
think diary entry, essay, journal extract.
Whole range of poems used.
A lot are modern and use free verse
However some are pre 20th and 21st century –
glossaries often given.
Look at title and collection it is taken from for clues.
Sometimes they give a date.
Older ones are likely to use a set structure for
stanzas and rhythm.
Never read too much into title of collection e.g.
‘Daughters of Africa’- poem called ‘Points of View’.
The poem was about the role of water and how we view it –
nothing essentially to do with the title.
If the poem is long the examiner will consider
this when marking.e.g. ‘Child and Insect’ –
Standard 2005 May
They will then not expect candidates to
examine every aspect of the poem but to be
5 minutes reading time – read prose carefully – if
standard reading guiding questions before you start
to read each piece.
5 minutes – read poem carefully.
Weigh it up carefully , but also consider which form
you have had success with previously.
Once you have selected your text, read it through
once again making annotations.
 Reading /annotation –
5 minutes of reading
time and 10-15
Planning – paragraph
by paragraph – 5-10
You must address the
guiding questions
Start writing after 2025 minutes .
 Reading /annotation –
5 minutes of reading
time and 15/20
minutes .
Planning – paragraph
by paragraph –
section by section –
10 minutes
Start writing after 30
-35 minutes- no GQs
– so prep takes
A. Understanding and Interpretation
How well does the student’s interpretation
reveal understanding of the thought and
feeling of the passage?
How well are ideas supported by references
to the passage?
B. Appreciation of the writer’s choices
To what extent does the analysis show
appreciation of how the writer’s choices of
language, structure, technique and style
shape meaning?
C. Organisation
How well organized and coherent is the
presentation of ideas?
 D. Language
 How clear, varied and accurate is the
 How appropriate is the choice of register,
style and terminology? (“Register” refers, in
this context, to the student’s use of elements
such as vocabulary, tone, sentence structure
and terminology appropriate to the task.)
You must read the text carefully at least 3 times to do
well in this.
Example 1 – Your mock paper of Jan 2013 – Ballad of
Birmingham. Some students seemed to think the
event taking place was a war…not a freedom march!
Example 2 – The prose extract – The Jade Peony.
some students refusing to acknowledge that the
mother described in the opening of the extract is in
fact dead.
Do not look at a text, come up with a personal interpretation
and let it control your whole commentary.
Example –
Ensure that you are basing your ideas on concrete evidence in
the extract you have chosen.
DO NOT make wild estimates.
Think about the purpose, stylistic features and the audience
being addressed.
Misinterpreting the meaning of words in the prose or the
Re-read the extract if you are unsure!
Literary texts can be interpreted in different ways.
There is often a surface meaning and a deeper
The wording in this category includes – the
candidate’s ideas are relevant and include a
personal response.
As an ‘examiner’ I come across interpretations I had
not seen or considered. If they were defended
(using quotations too) and relevant I awarded them.
Points for prose
Identify the genre of the extract –diary, journal, essay, memoir etc
 Who is the implied reader? The audience?
 A speaking/narrative voice? Omnipotent? subjective?
 Characterisation
 Idioms
 Themes
 Choice of diction - Use of metaphor, simile, personification,
onomatopoeia – perhaps even semantic fields e.g. The use of sea
 Syntax
 Paragraphs/structure
 Suspense, tension, conflict
 Creation of atmosphere
 Use of dialogue/narrative
 Listing
These are not in isolation e.g. The use of a particular metaphor may
create an atmosphere or tone to the piece.
This is organisation of your ideas and how well supporting
examples are integrated into the body of the commentary.
If you feel safer go for a line-by-line approach or section by
section. If you are confident and in the past have been
successful try a different approach. Standard students can
use a response to the guiding questions as a plan.
Remember you can delete sentences/phrases when you
proofread at the end
You MUST answer the guiding questions provided
Your essay should have clear topic sentences and seamlessly
embedded quotations to support your ideas. The end of your
paragraphs should have clear linking sentences.
Keep your quotations bite-sized!
You should also consider referring to line numbers in the
extract if you are analysing a specific section i.e. lines 8-9 of
the extract examines the list of events a whale seems to go
Prose passage – consider the development of
the extract but also try to examine the extract
organically. Making connections between the
opening and closing lines of the prose.
Poetry - chronological order of analysis is
satisfactory but the stronger responses would
think about the way the poet constructs the
poem. Think about moving around the poem
and making connections.
May 2005 – ‘The Loom’ by Sasaki
The progression of colours (B) throughout the extract and the
narrator’s appeal to our senses (A/B) brings the reader closer
to the actual experience that the mother’s loom weaves ( A).
The mother begins weaving with the ‘subdued and muted
colours she liked ’. So instantly the colours symbolise her
character and emotions ( B). The word ‘subdued’ is one that
can be ascribed to a state of mind. The writer’s use of ‘muted’
is interesting as the mother says nothing throughout the
extract. (B)
(A) – Understanding and interpretation
(B) – Appreciation of the writer’s features
‘In the Rear-View Mirror’ by Shaw – Nov 2008
The structure of the poem is particularly significant as it links
to the speaker’s view that images are stored in our memories.
The first word ‘thinking’ in the opening line; ‘Thinking about
them as you saw them last’ pinpoints that the poem will be a
reflective/contemplative piece . The rest of the line highlights
that the narrator is analysing his memory of the ‘last’ time he
saw his parents. At the conclusion of the poem Shaw replicates
the line but changes ‘last’ to ‘lasting’. The subtle change in
tense implies his memory will be ongoing.
Language is very clear, effective, carefully chosen and precise, with a high
degree of accuracy in grammar, vocabulary and sentence construction;
register and style are effective and appropriate to the task.
No notes / shorthand
No colloquialisms/slang/informal speech
Spelling/use of capital letters/grammar must be accurate.
Keep the register formal e.g. always use present tense for
Single markers around poem titles and quotations
Do not over think your language use and over edit making the
sentences difficult to read for the examiner
Do not squash your words together on the line
For long quotations – set out lines as they appear in the
poems – indent and put on a new line
Select words carefully
Do not write in a elevated fashion unless terms are accurate
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