- Shakespeare, William
- 1564 - 1582: William Shakespeare's Stratford Beginnings
- 1582 - 1592: William Shakespeare's Marriage, Parenthood and Early Occupation
- 1592 - 1594: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 1
- 1594 - 1611: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 2
- 1594 - 1611: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 3
- 1611 - 1616: William Shakespeare - Back to Stratford
- Walpole, Horace
- Social / political context
- Religious / philosophical context
- The Theatre
- Act I
- Act II
- Act III
- Act IV
- Act V
What makes a good English exam answer
Focus on the question
What are the terms of the question?
- Decide what the key words of the question are, and underline them
- Ensure that you have defined them at least in your own mind — if you think they are problematic, define them at the beginning of your essay
- Make sure your definition is sound; do not try to stretch the meaning of words too far, but do not just jump at the first possible idea.
What has been asked?
- Answer the question asked — not the one you would like to have been asked
- Avoid being irrelevant
- Be sure that you show explicitly enough how your ideas relate to the question.
If you are asked to analyse an extract:
- Look closely at it, considering the writer's choice of language
- Do not generalise and do not waffle
- Keep your eye on the given passage.
Wake up the examiner!
Be willing to think
- Do not just go for the first possible approach
- Try to range widely, covering a good number of ideas, as long as you stay within the terms of the question
- Be willing to dispute the terms of the question if you are given the opportunity (e.g. questions which ask: ‘how far … ', ‘to what extent … ' , ‘do you think …').
Create a strong opening and closing
A reader of an essay — usually a teacher or examiner — is going to be marking many similar essays. To send the reader to sleep at once:
- Just repeat the words of the question (‘This essay asks about ... and I am going to …' )
- Or give the hackneyed dictionary definition.
Instead, try to start in an way which wakes him or her up. Try:
- A short, controversial statement
- A relevant quotation
- A relevant piece of evidence.
The main thing is that you have thought about it, and realised that a strong opening is very helpful.
A strong ending is important since it is what the reader comes to last in your essay, and so helps to create the final impression:
- Save a new, controversial (but relevant) point to the end
- Or have a useful quotation to end with.
Illustrate amply with relevant material
- Do not try to get by on ignorance and waffle
- Use a good number of brief but totally appropriate quotations from the text to prove each point you are making
- You need to know your text well to do this!
A fluent style
You need to think out each sentence (very rapidly!) before you put pen to paper:
- Does it say what you want?
- Does it make the point?
Anyone claiming to be a student of English is expected to have mastered the mechanics of the language:
- If you know you have problems with spelling and punctuation, do something about it before any examination
- In examinations you will be penalised for errors
- Examiners award marks for ‘quality of language'.
- You need to know your text well enough that all its ideas are in your head and that relevant quotations come easily to mind
- When you use textual quotations, remember to try to blend them seamlessly into your own sentence-structure
- If you have simply memorised a few quotations, they may not be the most apt ones.
- Say what you want in a clear way without going round in circles
- Leave yourself time to make new points
- Always avoid repeating ideas.
Appropriate tone and vocabulary
Most of the essays you will write require a formal register of language:
- Contractions (‘don't', ‘can't') and slang which we all naturally use in spoken language are not appropriate in a written essay
- The tone and style of the language must be right for the designated audience
- Students of literature are also expected to have a wide range of literary terminology which they can apply correctly; reading some literary criticism during your course (see Resources and further reading) will help you.
Organising your time in exams
Plan a coherent line of argument
Have the confidence to take time to plan. It is worth it:
- You will save time in the end
- You will have a much sharper, more authoritative piece of writing
- Someone who is a practised planner can usefully give a quarter of the overall time allowed to making a plan. By not then sitting trying to think of the next point, the rest of the time allowance should be sufficient. (See Approaching exams and essays: How to plan an essay).
Divide your time appropriately
In an examination you will have several essays to write, or sections to complete:
- Give each the appropriate time
- Even if you can write an amazingly stunning essay on one topic, don't take time off other questions in order to do it
- You can't get more than maximum marks on any one question, however brilliant your answer
- You will not do well if you fail to answer all compulsory sections
- If you are allowed your text in an examination and rely on leafing through it to find ideas in an exam, you will run out of time
- Don't repeat what you have said earlier: e.g. ‘So we see that …' (followed by a summary of everything you have already said). You won't get further marks
- End with something memorable
- Above all, never waste time!
Scan and go
Scan on your mobile for direct link.