Critical Essay Workshop

Critical Essay Workshop
Choosing an appropriate question
In the critical essay part of the exam you must
ensure that you are being careful and sensible
about which question you choose.
If you choose the wrong type of question, or a
question which isn’t appropriate for your text,
then you will find it very difficult to achieve a
good mark.
Example of good question
Choose a play in which a central character
experiences not only inner conflict but also
conflict with one (or more than one) other
Explain the nature of both conflicts and
discuss which one you consider to be
more important in terms of character
development and/or dramatic impact.
This is a very good question that you could
choose for “The Crucible” because the main
character (John Proctor) experiences inner
conflict at various points in the play. He is also
in conflict with the other main character,
Abigail Williams, throughout the play. Both of
these conflicts lead to Proctor’s eventual
arrest for witchcraft.
Example of poor question
Choose a novel in which a particular mood is
Explain how the novelist creates this mood and
discuss how it contributes to your appreciation
of the novel as a whole.
This is not a good question for “The Prime of
Miss Jean Brodie” as there is no obvious mood
that permeates the novel. Indeed, the mood
can be said to change at various times
throughout the novel. Thus, it would be very
difficult to achieve a good mark for this
Example of average question
Choose a poem which features a complex
Show how the complexity of the character is
presented and discuss how significant this
aspect of characterisation is to the impact of
the poem.
This is an average question for “Shooting Stars”.
The poem does focus on a particular character
and her description of the horrific conditions
that she had to endure during her time in the
concentration camp, but you would have to
explain how her character can be seen to be
“complex”. This might be tricky to do.
You are now going to be shown some questions
from previous exams. For each question:
• Copy the question down.
• State if you think it is “good”, “average” or
• Explain your answer.
Choose a poem in which aspects of structure
(such as verse form, rhyme, metre, repetition,
climax, contrast, narrative development …)
play a significant role.
Show how the poet uses at least two structural
features to enhance your appreciation of the
poem as a whole.
Choose a novel in which a main character
refuses to accept advice or to conform to
Explain the circumstances of the refusal and
discuss its importance to your understanding
of the character in the novel as a whole.
Choose a play in which a central character’s
changing view of himself/herself is an
important feature.
Show how the dramatist makes you aware
of the character’s changing view of
himself/ herself and discuss how this
affects your understanding of the
character in the play as a whole.
Choose a play in which a power struggle is
central to the action.
Explain briefly the circumstances of the power
struggle and discuss the extent to which it
contributes to your appreciation of theme
and/or character in the play as a whole.
Choose a poem in which the tone is sinister or
seductive or cynical.
Show how the poem creates this tone and
discuss its relative importance in your
appreciation of the poem.
Choose a novel in which a central character is
flawed but remains an admirable figure.
Show how the writer makes you aware of these
aspects of personality and discuss how this
feature of characterisation enhances your
appreciation of the text as a whole.
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