These guides are intended for candidate use and contain a useful summary of the Close Reading paper.
The guide contains general information about the Paper, as well as practical advice about how to practise and prepare.
The Close Reading exam paper lasts for one hour and forty-five minutes. (Date and time for 2013: Monday 20 May, 9.00 - 10.45 am)
The exam paper will have two passages on a related theme. The passages will be selected from works of non-fiction, from essays, or from quality journalism. The ideas will be complex and expressed in sophisticated English. The total length will be in the region of 1,500 words. The length of each of the two passages may vary from year to year: the first passage may be longer than the second, or the first passage may be shorter than the second, or both passages may be of similar length.
The questions (which are printed in a separate booklet) will test your ability to understand the writers' ideas, to analyse the writers' techniques, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the writing. There will always be at least one question requiring comparison of the passages.
The total number of marks available is 50. The number of questions will vary. The number of marks allocated to each question is shown at the end of each question.
As well as an indication of the number of marks allocated, there is a code letter to tell you which skill is being tested in each question. These codes are: U for Understanding, A for Analysis, E for Evaluation. Sometimes these are combined to indicate that there is a focus on more than one skill - for example, U/E indicates that you are being asked to show an understanding of the writer's ideas and to make an evaluation of them.
Full details of the Arrangements for Higher English can be found on SQA's website.
The specimen question paper for Higher English can be found on SQA's website.
It is important to use your time wisely so that you answer all the questions and are not rushing to finish the last two or three questions. You might consider allocating amounts of time to groups of questions. For example, if you try to 'earn' about 7 marks every 15 minutes or about 5 marks every 10 minutes, this will ensure an equal allocation of time to all questions.
The number of marks allocated to a question will give you a clear idea of the length of answer required. A question for 1 mark can probably be answered in very few words, while a 4 mark question (especially if it is coded A or E will require a detailed answer making a number of points.
A common mistake is to spend too much time on the early questions. Remember that the questions at the end are often quite 'high value' ones - so it's important to give them enough time. Also, don’t waste time writing unnecessarily long answers with pointless introductions which simply repeat the question - get to the point quickly.
While answers on some Evaluation questions will need to be written as 'mini-essays', most answers do not need to be in sentences.
Remember to look at the code letter(s) for the question and focus your answer appropriately.
There is usually a brief introduction (printed in italics) just before each passage begins. This can be very important. If the examiners have thought it necessary to provide an introduction, it will be because they think it will help you to understand the passages more easily.
The best preparation for this part of the examination is extensive reading of the types of English from which the passages are usually selected. This should be done over a long period of time - you cannot expect to become familiar with this type of complicated writing by looking at a couple of past papers. The more comfortable you become with the type of writing, the less daunting the passages in the exam will seem. You may even begin to guess the types of questions the examiners will ask.
The simplest way to find appropriate writing is to read regularly one or more of the 'quality' UK newspapers (often referred to as 'broadsheet', although some of these are now printed in 'tabloid' - or 'compact' - form). The 'opinion' or 'comment' sections are the most valuable, but extended news coverage is also useful. Magazines and periodicals which deal with serious topics such as current affairs, politics, media issues, history, science, religious/ethical issues are also appropriate places to find suitable writing. Similarly, a non-fiction book (or collection of essays) dealing with any of these topics would be helpful. Your teacher/lecturer or school/college librarian may be able to suggest some titles.
Material which is purely, or largely, factual is not helpful. You need to be reading about ideas, in writing where the writer is developing a line of thought.
Looking at previous exam papers is the most obvious way of making yourself familiar with the layout of the paper and the style of questioning within it. Recent past papers in Higher English are available, published by Bright Red Publishing, and can be purchased in most bookshops. (Note that these are published exactly 'as sat', and may not reflect recent slight changes in format.)
The marking instructions for recent Close Reading exam papers can be found on SQA's website.
Answer these 'in your own words'. Even though the individual questions do not state this, there is a clear instruction on the front cover of the exam paper, and this is repeated at the beginning of the questions. It means that you have to demonstrate that you understand the more complex words and phrases used in the passage. If you simply quote or use the words already in the passage, the marker won't know whether you understand what they mean - and will assume that you don't.
The number of marks allocated to an Understanding question will clearly indicate the number of points you are expected to make.
Try to make your answers to these questions fairly brief; using bullet points is perfectly acceptable here.
For examples of this type of question, look at questions 1, 3(a) and 3(b) in the 2008 paper, questions 5(a) and 10(b) in the 2007 paper, or questions 5 and 9 in the 2006 paper.
This is a common question, although it's not asked every year.
Note that this is an 'Understanding' question. You must demonstrate an understanding of each of the two paragraphs (or sections) being linked. In addition you must identify the word or words in the link sentence which connect with the preceding paragraph and the word or words in the link sentence which connect with what follows.
So there are four elements in a successful answer:
For examples of this type of question, look at question 3(a) in the 2008 paper or question 5(a) in the 2003 paper.
If you are asked to 'summarise' or to 'identify the main points' or to give the 'key reasons', your answer should be fairly brief. You should focus on each main idea the writer is putting across. Don’t include any of the supporting evidence or examples the writer uses - these will weaken a 'summary' (and waste valuable time).
Examples of this type of question can be found in question 11(a) in the 2001 paper, question 5 in the 2002 paper and question 6(b) in the 2006 paper. In the 2006 question, examiners found many candidates writing extremely long-winded answers which repeated everything the writer said. Not only is that very time-consuming, it is the opposite of what a summary should be doing. The question (which was worth 6 marks) could have been answered in three fairly concise sentences.
There is specific advice below about answering on imagery, sentence structure, etc, but there is an important point to be remembered about all Analysis questions.
You must pay attention to why you are analysing: the question nearly always gives a clear focus for you about what the writer's use of a feature is trying to achieve, and you should concentrate on this - don't analyse 'in a vacuum'. For example, question 3 in the 2007 paper is not an open invitation to analyse word choice and imagery for their own sake, but to show how they convey 'the wonder of the library as a physical space'. Similarly, question 4(c) in the 2008 paper asks you to show how the writer's use of language "reinforces his criticism of the conservationists' ideas", not just to write general comments about the language. For other examples, see question 4 in the 2006 paper, question 9(b) in the 2005 paper, or question 9 in the 2004 paper.
These are questions most Higher English candidates find especially difficult. It's not easy to 'learn' how to do them, since your ability here depends on your sensitivity to language, and this is something that has been growing gradually since you started learning to read. The following bits of advice, however, might help:
For examples of this type of question, look at questions 2(a) and 9 in the 2008 paper, questions 3, 5(b) and 9 in the 2007 paper, or questions 3(c) and 8(b) in the 2006 paper.
Candidates find these questions difficult too. As with questions on imagery and word choice, it's not easy to 'learn' how to answer them. You have to be able to recognise relevant features of sentence structure (eg brevity, length, use of listing, climax, anti-climax, repetition, use of questions, balance, period), but the marks are given for the quality of your comments on their effect in context.
For examples of this type of question, look at question 9 in the 2008 paper, questions 1(b) and 10 in the 2006 paper, or question 6(b) in the 2004 paper.
'Tone' is possibly the most difficult area of all. Not only will you have to identify the writer's tone at a particular point in the passage (eg anger, contempt, regret, nostalgia, irony, humour), you'll also have to explain how the writer establishes the tone. The 'how' part is often done best by exploring other aspects of language such as sentence structure, imagery, and word choice (see the sections above) since these are often used to convey tone. Also, features such as sound, exaggeration and anti-climax are often used to establish tone.
For examples of this type of question, look at question 7(b) in the 2008 paper, question 3(b) in the 2005 paper or questions 6(b) and 10(c)(ii) in the 2004 paper.
Sometimes a question simply asks you to show how 'the writer's use of language' does something or other. This means you're not being guided towards a specific technique such as sentence structure or tone. For these questions you must find the most appropriate technique(s) and then deal with it/them in the way suggested above. Remember, however, there will still be no marks for simply identifying a feature or quoting a word or image.
For examples of this type of question, look at questions 2(b), 8 and 10(b) in the 2008 paper, questions 4(a) and 8(b) in the 2007 paper, or questions 4 and 7 in the 2006 paper.
There will always be at least one question at the end of the Close Reading paper requiring some comparison of the two passages. From 2011/12 it will ask you to compare the similarities and /or differences in the key ideas in both passages. You will always have to make reference to both passages but you don’t have to give them both the same amount of attention. You can answer the question either by writing an answer or by giving a series of developed ‘bullet points’
For further details, look at the Revision of Comparison Question information on the Higher English Announcements page, where an example based on the 2011 Question paper is provided with accompanying Marking Instructions.
The Specimen paper has also been modified to demonstrate the change.
Hint: Have a look at the comparison question(s) before you start so that while you are working your way through the other questions and becoming more familiar with the ideas in the passages, you will be able to give some thought to what you might say in the comparison question(s).
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