A Level English Literature Assessment Objectives

What are they?

In order to check that all exam boards are assessing students on the same skills, a single set of Assessment Objectives (or AOs) is used by all boards in their A Level English Literature specifications. There are five of these AOs.

Some basic guidelines

  • It will make no difference whether you are doing coursework or an exam, the AOs are the same, though more detail might be expected in some areas for a piece of coursework.
  • You should be clear whether the AOs are weighted in a particular part of the specification. If they are, balance your essay accordingly. For some boards, certain AOs are not assessed at all for a particular paper or section.
  • Whichever AOs are being assessed, do not simply work through them one by one in your essay. They are not there to provide you with a plan!
  • The most important thing to remember is not to focus your answer on the AOs, but primarily to answer the question asked, covering the areas indicated by the AOs as you go along.
  • With practice, you will learn how to achieve this balance.

Assessment Objective 1

Articulate informed, personal and creative responses to literary texts, using associated concepts and terminology, and coherent, accurate written expression.
  • This essentially means that you must produce a well-written essay which addresses the question in a critical style.
  • You should use literary terminology where it is helpful, but do not force in clever-sounding terms for the sake of it. 
  • Be aware in advance of the specific concepts and terms that are relevant to the text you are writing about… and use them!
  • This is possibly the most important AO. All top grade answers will be written accurately and will offer a clear answer to the question which is logical and follows a line of argument. If your essay is unclear and does not obviously offer a relevant response to the question, you will not score highly.

Assessment Objective 2

Analyse ways in which meanings are shaped in literary texts.
  • This is where you look closely at the text and the methods that the writer has used. You cannot only look at the ‘big picture’ of the text.
  • Somewhere in your essay, you need to comment on the way that the text is put together. All texts have structure; some have a more obvious form than others. For example, a poem might have the form of a sonnet, but the form of a novel might be difficult to separate from the structure.
  • Language is, fairly obviously, the words used and the way in which they are ordered. This might include non-standard use of English, recurring images, or specific sentence lengths, for example.
  • Notice that the AO says ‘meanings are shaped’. It is not enough to mention, for example, imagery, without saying how this adds to the overall meaning of the text.
  • As with AO1, you should know in advance which areas of structure, form and language are most relevant to your text.

Assessment Objective 3

Demonstrate understanding of the significance and influence of the contexts in which literary texts are written and received
  • In this AO, you show that you know about the contexts of the text under study.
  • The contexts might be literary, historical, social, political, or various others. What you write about are those that are relevant to your text.
  • There are ‘contexts of production’ and ‘contexts of reception’. The former means things which affected the writer and his/her time, and the latter means things which affect the reader/audience and his/her time. This contrast might produce interesting ideas, such as in the Victorian responses to Wuthering Heights or in changing views of women in The Taming of the Shrew.
  • Try to work AO3 comments into your essay, rather than producing one paragraph about ‘context’ which does not fit into your argument and probably does not help to answer the question either.

Assessment Objective 4

      Explore connections across literary texts     
  • This AO is where you show that you can compare texts and see how texts influence each other.
  • If you are asked to compare texts, that is a straightforward task. If you are not specifically asked to compare, then you might find an opportunity to make reference to another text (eg: mentioning Hamlet when writing about a tragic novel). This shows your awareness, but do not intrude other texts or writers in a way that sounds like you are showing off about what else you know.

Assessment Objective 5

      Explore literary texts informed by different interpretations     
  • This AO is where you show that you are aware of different views on the text.
  • You are not expected to make detailed reference to specific critics or theories, but you need to show that you are aware of different readings of the text. Concentrate on those readings which are relevant to your text, such as feminism in Tess of the d’Urbervilles or Marxism in Hard Times.
  • You might want to use phrases such as ‘Some critics have suggested…’ or ‘Other readers might…’. Those ‘other readers’ could, of course, be other students in your school or college who have expressed opinions in class discussion!
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