Higher 2011 close reading - understanding

Question Types
There are five types of Understanding
 Identifying Parts
Following arguments and tracing developments
 Summarising
a number of points
 Links
This is the simplest type of understanding
question if you recognise the words or
phrases that are being asked about.
This kind of question usually begins with one
of the following:
Explain what the writer means by…
 Explain the significance of the word…
 Show how you are helped towards the
meaning of…
 How does the context help you to
understand the meaning of…
 Explain this expression in your own words…
One reason why British theatre is less stuffy now than it
was before the Second World War is that classes or
groups who in the 1930s would not often have
gone to the theatre, the young, the students, the
more articulate layers of the working classes and
the people of working class origin who have been
to university, all have more money in their pockets.
Explain clearly in your own words what the writer
means by ‘the more articulate layers of the working
classes’. (2U)
The key idea would be that the ‘working
class’ would be the poorer people who
maybe lack a finer education and
cultured life. The more ‘articulate layers’
would be those who – like say a wedding
cake – rise above the others, for
example they are more educated and
cultured than those below and thus are
more open to theatre and the arts.
And if you despise politics altogether, and are
an Alternative Society enthusiast, well what
was Robin Hood but a drop-out, and what
could his greenwood enterprise have been
but an early form of commune?
Give the meaning of the expression ‘Alternative
Society’ and explain how the context helps the
reader to arrive at the meaning. (2U)
You get the marks for showing how the
context helped you to arrive at the
meaning of ‘alternative society’. The
words ‘drop-out’ and ‘commune’ are
both associated with a kind of ‘hippie’
culture so these should help you arrive at
the understanding that it is a social
organisation which differs from the
conventional structure.
The Inuit, who sometimes see themselves as still not quite
separate from the animal world, regard us as a kind of
people whose separation from it may have become too
complete. They call us, with a mixture of incredulity and
apprehension, ‘the people who change nature’. And
indeed what we now decide to do in the north with their land
has a certain kind of frightening irrevocability about it.
What does the phrase ‘a mixture of apprehension and
incredulity’ imply about how the Inuit feel about western
technology and its effect on their land? (2U)
The Inuit feel afraid about it and they find it
unbelievable that we should want to do
it. ‘Apprehension’ and ‘incredulity’ have
been translated and related to the
feelings of the Inuit. They are clearly
anxious/nervous about developments as
well as being angry/shocked.
Recently I found myself unimpressed by some visiting
American who stunned me with monstrous
verbosity, determined to use five words where one
would do, bent on calling a canteen an ‘in-plant
feeding situation’ and a spade ‘a primitive earthbreaking implement’.
Show how the context of ‘monstrous verbosity’ helps
you to arrive at its meaning. (2U)
‘Monstrous verbosity’ means an appalling
number of worthless words. ‘Five words
where one would do’ shows that there
were too many words – and the phrases
quoted such as ‘in-plant feeing station’
show how pointless the words are.
1 mark for correct meaning, 1 mark for
correct use of context.
Make sure that you try to ‘translate’ the
difficult words.
2. If you are asked to consider a context
give both the meaning and its
relationship to the context.
This type of Understanding question is one where you want
to make the most of your chances, because it is usually
quite straightforward.
It is the kind of question which starts with something like:
What are the three reasons for...
 What four things, in their view, do they expect...
 What three main reasons does the writer give for...
 What other ways of looking at education are laid out...
The BBC is a massive patron, uniquely independent
through its licence fee – and the guardian of public
service broadcasting. But, as the fight for the control of
communications hots up, friends of the BBC – both
inside and out – are alarmed that all this is in jeopardy:
the BBC has become too much of a self-seeking
institution, too preoccupied with its ratings at the
expense of good broadcasting, and unwisely overextended financially.
What are the three reasons for causing
alarm to the friends of the BBC? Use
your own words as far as possible. (3U)
This is am easy example. You can see where the idea ‘are
alarmed’ is in the paragraph. The there is a colon, which tells
you that there is going to be an explanation following, and
there are two commas dividing the explanation into three
parts. There three parts are going to give you your answer.
The BBC has become too much of a selfseeking institution
2. ...too preoccupied with its ratings at the
expense of good broadcasting
3. ...unwisely over-extended financially.
The urge to write may also be the fear of death – particularly
with autobiography – the need to leave messages for those
who come after, saying, ‘I was her; I saw it too’. Then there
are the other uses of autobiography, some more utilitarian
than others – exposure, confession, revenge. In writing my first
volume of autobiography ‘Cider with Rosie’, I was moved by
several of these needs, but the chief one was celebration: to
praise the life I’d had and so preserve it.
What three main reasons does Laurie Lee
give for writing autobiography in
lines 1-6? (3U)
The employers expect that:
The working man should do his job efficiently and
without question
2. The Inuit should behave like obedient workers
anxious to please
3. They could provide ‘local colour’ by portraying
the expected stereotype
4. The land is there to be exploited for all its products
You should be able to see that in this kind of
question you have to do two things:
Identify the part of the
paragraph/sentence/phrase which contains each
of the reasons/attitudes/changes/factors.
2. Show that you know what each means by using
your own words
(translating/paraphrasing/recasting) in your
Do not simply write a list of answers.
Because this is an Understanding
question you need to show that you
understand the possible reasons. The
best way to do this is to put your
answers into your own words.
Make sure you are looking at the correct section of the
passage. You will always be given a line reference – e.g.
‘lines 23-31’. There is nothing worse that writing a brilliant
answer only to find later that you have gone too far in the
passage so that only half of it is relevant.
Use your own words whenever possible and particularly
when you are instructed to do so. If you don’t use your own
words, if you simply ‘lift’ or quote straight from the passage,
the marker of your paper is told to give you 0 marks.
In this kind of question you could be asked to look at a
sentence (probably a long, complex one), or a
paragraph, or a section of the passage involving two
or three paragraphs, or even the whole of one
passage. The purpose of this kind of question is to see
if you can understand and recognise the line of
thought through a section of the passage.
Questions usually have the word
“explain” or “explanation”
somewhere in them or sometimes
even just “Why?”
In a generation, living to 100 will be common. Society is
still utterly unprepared for this change. Chatter
about ‘grey power’, or even the growing and
admirable concern for the old and helpless who are
not cared for by families, have scarcely touched the
problem. The old, still veiled in outworn stereotypes
and new-fangled prejudice, are the Great Excluded.
By referring to lines 1-4, explain
fully the difficulties that such
longevity causes. (2U)
We as a society are not ready to deal with
all the old people who will be alive in the
twenty-first century and although there is
a vague understanding of the potential
difficulties, the old are not catered for
yet in the thinking of planners of our
social system.
...the source of the pride was simply this, that, in spite of everything, they had
contrived to remain themselves.
In later centuries, when the political rights of nationality had been sacrificed, first
in part, them almost completely, the Scotsman’s most obvious means of
asserting his country’s continues existence was to insist on it separateness, the
uniqueness of Scottish scenes and Scottish customs. Human nature being
what it is, this meant that, almost inevitably, he would also be found insisting
that those things in Scotland in which he took particular pride were the best
of their kind in the world.
Read lines 3-8. using your own words, explain
why and in what ways this pride changed in
later centuries. (3U)
Scottish political rights and independence
disappeared over the centuries, and as
a result of this the Scots had to fall back
on boasting about the things they still
had which were purely Scottish – the
scenery and cultural habits – to give
them a sense of their own nationality.
Another way of asking this kind of question
is to ask you to show the development of
a word or idea.
Often the idea in this question will be from
the topic sentence of a paragraph, so
you would expect the paragraph to go
on to give you a more detailed or
expanded version of the topic.
It is important to look at the line references you are given in this
kind of question.
There will be a limit given as to how far you have to trace the
development. This is necessary because any idea from the
beginning of a passage is probably going to be developed
right through to the end, so you need to know where to stop
your answer.
(This is from a passage about the influence of screen
The question of media influence is properly understood as an
environmental issue. At a time when we are demanding
that industry takes more responsibility for its pollution of our
air and our water, it’s entirely appropriate to insist that
Hollywood and its like demonstrate greater accountability
for their pollution of the cultural atmosphere we breathe.
By referring to lines 1-4 show how the
writer develops his statement that
media influence is ‘an environmental
issue’. (2U)
He develops the idea by showing that we
demand that the pollution caused by
industry should be controlled because it
damages the environment, so we should
also demand that pollution in films
(scenes of violence) should be
controlled because it damages our
society’s ideas and attitudes.
(This passage deals with an atomic waste disposal site)
As a condition for permitting the site to go ahead, the U.S. Congress has
insisted that a warning sign should be erected when it closes down.
This would have to be capable of alerting future generations to the
risk of opening up this unwanted tomb. It would be the most
momentous ‘Keep Out’ sign in history, a statement so forceful that it
would drive people – or any other form of intelligent life – away from
the area until AD 12,000.
How is the idea contained in the word
‘momentous’ developed in the rest of that
sentence? (lines 3-5) 2U
The idea of ‘momentous’ is developed by
saying that the sign has to do something
really important – keeping everyone
away from the place for thousands of
years. And not just human beings, but
any other form of life.
Take account of all the material within the line
‘Explain fully’ suggests that you don’t just stop at
the first idea – follow though to the end of the
section you have been given.
This kind of question asks you to look at quite a long section of a
the passage and summarise a number of points.
There are several ways of asking this kind of question and they
can demand slightly different approaches.
Identify five benefits...
2. Outline briefly the main effects...
3. Briefly summarise the main points...
4. Summarise the main reasons...
5. What do you think are the key reasons...
A good approach is to read the question carefully and know
what it is you’re looking for before you read the section of the
passage and to use a highlighter.
Our gaze now shifts much nearer in the time corridor – to the invention of
recorded sound. Though the early gramophone came into being in the
1870s as a result of the desire to record and reproduce speech, very soon its
principal, almost monogamous marriage was with music. Thomas Alva
Edison’s invention of recorded sound unleashed on the twentieth century a
massive amount of music in a multitude of forms; it gave music wings to cross
the planet. Before the gramophone age, people heard a particular piece of
orchestral music maybe once or twice a decade. Now anything can be
listened to, instantly, at the flick of a switch, the drop of a needle or the
aiming of a laser. 150 years ago the very slowness of making a notated
score of a piece of music meant that the creator had to live with it and think
about it for a period of time before it was released to the world. Now a
recording can be made instantaneously, even at the point of creation.
Where one a catchy, impulsive melody made up on the spot and enjoyed
for the evening would die the next morning never to be heard again, now
everything can be captured for posterity.
Using your own words as far as possible, identify five benefits the gramophone
has brought to the world of music. 5U
The gramophone allowed lots of music to be transmitted to
the people of the twentieth century
It allowed music to move all across the world.
Any piece of music can be listened to exactly where and
when you want to hear it.
A composer can record his compositions immediately
instead of writing it down first.
Spontaneous music can be preserved for later listening
Musicians can have their best performances recorded with
no mistakes thanks to editing.
Find out from the question what you’re looking for
before you read these quite lengthy extracts.
2. Check whether you are being asked to list, or give
3. Make sure you are working within the correct area
of the passage – don’t go too far.
4. Use your own words.
5. Marking off ideas on the paper can help.
This last type of Understanding question will ask you to
look at several paragraphs and then explain how a
line of thought is developed.
Sometimes it can be as simple as one word or phrase:
Now – this must be linking something from the past
with the present.
 Later –must be the next stage of development.
 On the contrary – is going to provide an opposing
view to what has gone before.
 But even more so – another point is introduced to
back up a previous statement or idea.
The 7.15 Latin dance is full, as was the six o’clock, as is the 8.30.
In the reception area of Edinburgh Dancebase, learners,
ranging from the middle-aged, fresh from work, to students,
mill around waiting to dance.
Unlikely as it may at first seem, this is occurring across the
country. Against similar winter backdrops people are
queuing up to learn to dance. National inhibition is being
shed as salsa, merengue and cumbia beats force hips to
sway rhythmically and partners to twist complicatedly.
French ceroc classes are filling up, street dancing to hip-hop
is being used as an exercise class. Even ballroom dancing is
enjoying something of a renaissance.
The sentence acts as a link in the line of thought
because ‘this’ links back to the idea of the dance
classes in Edinburgh being full and ‘is occurring
across the country’ links forward to the ideas in the
second paragraph as it goes on to say that this is
happening in many different places throughout the
The problem here is political will rather than financial capacity. The
pinch will come in other resource areas, such as health spending.
People over 65 consume three times as many prescription items as
other age groups. Nearly half of those with some measure of
disability are over 70.
But the resource question, meeting the material needs of the old
elderly, is only half the story. The real problem lies elsewhere – in the
imagination. What are the old for? Who are they, and do traditional
divisions of human life into childhood, youth, middle-age and oldage still fit our experiences?
Referring to specific words or phrases, explain how the sentence
‘But...story’ acts as a link in the writer’s line of thought. 2U
The ‘resource question’ refers back to the
problems of funding health care for the
elderly, ‘is only half the story’ points forward
to the rest of the paragraph which is going
to look at the other half of the story – the
real problems of identity in old age.
The formula for answering this kind of
question is to identify in the linking
sentence two words of phrases, one
pointing back and on pointing forward.
You then have to link the backward
pointing one with the relevant part of the
previous paragraph, and the forward
pointing one you have to link with the
relevant parts of the following
Remember that link answers usually
should have four specific parts.
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