How to approach passage-based questions

A-level questions typically ask candidates to write a detailed critical analysis of an extract from a text. Before beginning an answer, it is necessary to have a very good idea of:

  • The context of the extract
  • Its significance
  • Its mood.

When you have the given extract in front of you:

  • Read it through a couple of times to remind yourself of its content.
  • Consider exactly what the question is asking for.
  • Go through and annotate it — that is, write brief marginal notes whenever anything strikes you about its style and significance.
  • At this stage you will be going through chronologically — that is, starting at the beginning and working your way down to the end.
  • When you begin your actual answer, you will probably not want to use a completely chronological approach.
  • It is always vital to show that you have a good sense of what is going on overall in the extract.
  • Do not simply list features of style. For example, it is pointless to say that the writer uses imagery or alliteration unless you can say what the effect is, or might be, upon the audience.
  • Answer the specific question! Your answer must show that it focuses upon what is asked for and is exactly relevant.
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