Approaching Poetry in your English Literature GCSE Exam: Section C: Unseen Poems

There are two questions in Section C and all candidates must answer both of them. The first question is an analysis of a single unseen poem. This question is worth 24 marks. The second question introduces an additional unseen poem. You must then compare the two poems. Curiously, this second question is only awarded 8 marks, so you can see that you must not spend much time on this. Ideally you should spend about 30/35 minutes on part 1 and about 10/12 minutes on part 2.

The unseen poems come at the end of a long, complicated examination paper, so it is crucial that you have your timings all worked out before the exam. You will need to make sure you have the time (and stamina!) to give Section C your very best shot.

Preparation is key!
Just as with Sections A and B, preparation is key. These are unseen poems so you cannot actually learn them in advance. You can, however, practise your technique. Borrow a collection of poems from the library, use the internet, or use the poems from your Anthology which you have not studied, to practise coming face to face with an unseen poem.

Part 1

The question will be, for example: In ‘To a Daughter Leaving Home’, how does the poet present the speaker’s feelings about her daughter?
(See the AQA Specimen Paper if required.)

SMILE
When faced with an unseen poem, it’s a good idea to SMILE:
Structure – what is the structure and form? What does this add to the effect?
Meaning – what is the literal meaning?
Imagery – what poetic devices, e.g. similes, etc, are used? To what effect?
Language – what type of language is used?
Emotional effect – how does the poem make you feel?

Once you have SMILED the poem, you should have a good understanding of it. You can now look again for deeper meanings. Is the metaphorical meaning different from the literal meaning? In the example mentioned above, the poem appears to be about a girl learning to ride her bike. However, the title of the poem and other language and clues in the text suggest it is more about a daughter growing up.

Context is not assessed in Section C, but do consider the name/dates of the poet. Do they give you any additional clues to what it is about?

Plan your answer
It is important that you spend some time planning a careful, considered answer. Just as with Section B, to score a high mark you need a structured, conceptualized response, not just a stream of unrelated paragraphs. You need to plan a detailed answer which considers the language, structure and form of the poem and includes relevant quotations.

Part 2

You are not given much time to focus on this second unseen poem. Take about three minutes to quickly SMILE it. The focus of the question is on comparison. For example: In both ‘Poem for My Sister’ and ‘To a Daughter Leaving Home’ the speakers describe feelings about watching someone they love grow up. What are the similarities and/or differences between the ways the poets present those feelings?
(Both poems available on the AQA Specimen Paper).

This question is only worth 8 marks and the examiners want to see that you are able to confidently compare the language, form, structure and ideas in the two poems. Luckily, you have plenty of experience in comparing poems from Section B. You will need to work quickly to plan a short answer, addressing these points. Remember, the key focus is comparison.

This concludes my series on preparing for this exam. I hope what I have said will prove useful when you finally come to sit down and put pen to paper, and lastly, I wish you all the best of luck.

Section B – Comparison of two Anthology poems

The question in Section B will ask you to compare two poems from the fifteen which you have studied. The examination paper will choose one poem; you must choose the other.

Preparation is key! It is absolutely vital that you are comfortable and familiar with all the poems. This is no mean feat, so do take it seriously. This is a tricky examination and students (and teachers!) are understandably a little nervous about this. Read through the poems until you are sure of each one. Can you confidently explain the structure, form, imagery and themes in each one? Have you learnt some key quotations for each and every poem?

  • Quick Quiz

Love and Relationships
(1) Which of the poems are about marriage?
(2) Which of the poems are about love between parents and children?

Power and Conflict
(1) Which of the poems consider the power of nature?
(2) Which of these poems are written after the conflict?

If you can, ask a friend or relative to help you revise. Give them a list of the poems you have studied and ask them to read it to you. Give a brief synopsis of each poem.

  • The Question
    Your question will be something like this:

Love and Relationships
‘Compare how poets present the idea of romantic love in ‘Love’s Philosophy’ and in one other poem from your cluster’.

Or

Power and Conflict
‘Compare how poets present the idea of power in ‘Ozymandias’ and in one other poem from your cluster’.

  • Planning your answer

Look carefully at the question and consider what is being asked. You will have the text of the poem in front of you. So what ideas of romantic love are presented in ‘Love’s Philosophy’? You will need to look at the language, structure and form. Consider also the wider context of the poem, e.g. Shelley as a romantic poet. Annotate your poem quickly. Remember to focus on the question being asked. You are not being asked merely to analyse the poem, but to prepare a considered, conceptualised response.

Once you have annotated the first poem (spend about five minutes on that), turn your attention to choosing a second poem. You will not have the full poems in front of you, but you will have a list of them you can read through. Look for comparisons and similarities. Which of the other Relationships poems focus on romantic love? Which of the Conflict poems discuss power? Give yourself a couple of minutes to decide this (and then stop thinking about it and move on!). From memory, jot down key features (language, structure, form and context) of the second poem. How does the poet present ideas about romantic love/power in the poems?

You now have your two poems and notes about each of them. Spend an additional five minutes drawing together a plan. You should aim for about three or four good paragraphs. It is important to not just list the features of the poem; you must explain why they are there and the impact they have. Skilled answers will move beyond a basic comparison and begin to create a conceptualised narrative considering the question of, for example, romantic love/power.

And Finally… Start Writing! A question like this will probably require 10-15 minutes serious planning. A good plan on your exam paper shows the examiner that you understand the question, have considered your answer and you know where you’re going. If you start to edge towards the 15-minute mark, however, it is time to move on. You have revised for this, you have learnt all your quotations and you have prepared a solid plan. Now you need to start writing!

 

A final blog, on approaching Section C, the Unseen question, will be published on this site next Thursday.

Is your coursework deadline looming? It’s easy to panic about getting all your studies completed, especially when a percentage of your grade is riding on how good your coursework is. However, it can be a great advantage to have part of your GCSE, A Level or other result safely under your belt when you go into your exams. You’re not under the same intense pressure that you would be in an exam situation, so your work is likely to be of a higher standard. Here’s how to make sure you get it right…

  •   Get a clear understanding of what is required

If you have an essay question, for example, write it down before taking it apart. Look at each word of the question and write what it means. If you’re in any doubt about what you’re being asked to do, talk to your tutor or teacher. You should also check how many marks are being allocated for each part of the coursework: the number of marks will dictate how much time and detail should go into each section. If possible, read a few sample answers to get a good idea of what you need to do to get it right.

  •  Plan your research

Whatever the subject of your coursework, you will need to read texts and do research online to arm yourself with everything you need to answer the questions that are being put to you. Make a list of all the sources of information you will be using, and allocate specific amounts of time to spend reading and taking notes for each.

  •  Don’t rush the writing

Your coursework plan should include plenty of time to write your essay and answer the questions posed, or to present your findings. Do not leave this until the night before. Despite the fact that lots of students might say this works for them, you will just feel unbearably stressed and pressurised, and your work will not be to the highest standard it could be. Give yourself a few days to complete the bulk of the writing at a relaxed pace with time for breaks, and your coursework will be much more likely to help you get that grade you’re after.

  •  Factor in editing time

No matter how hard you’ve worked, the first draft of your coursework will not be your best work. Allocate time for drafting well in advance of the deadline so that you can correct mistakes and make improvements. If you find it difficult to read your own work with a critical eye, ask a friend, family member or tutor to offer ideas on how you can make sure that your work is the best it can be.

The key to successfully planning coursework for any subject is allowing plenty of time, and incorporating as much detail as possible into your schedule. This is your chance to make sure you’re going into the exam knowing that you’re part of the way there, so don’t waste it!

To answer the question, let’s start with the basic facts…

Paper 2 of your English Literature examination consists of the following three parts:

  • Section A is a question about the modern prose/drama which you studied.
    Section B is about your poetry Anthology.
    Section C is about unseen poetry.

You will need to spend approximately 45 minutes on each Section.

For Section B, there is no real choice. Find the page which lists the poems you have studied (i.e. either Love and Relationships or Power and Conflict) and that is the question you must answer. Every candidate must answer both the questions in Section C.

  • What poems will I be examined on?

You will have been studying a series of poems in preparation for your examination this summer. You (or more likely, your teacher) will have chosen whether to study of collection of fifteen poems about Love and Relationships, or fifteen poems about Power and Conflict. You must be able to write about any of the fifteen poems from your chosen cluster. A new twist this year is that the exam is closed book. This means that students are not allowed a copy of the Anthology in the exam. This is a change from previous years.

  • How do I answer the Section B question?
    Section B is one 30-mark question. You will be given the text of one poem from your cluster. The question will ask you to compare a theme in that poem with one other poem of your choice (from the other poems you have studied). For example:

‘Compare how poets present the idea of romantic love in ‘Love’s Philosophy’ and in one other poem from your cluster’.

You will notice that the question is asking you to think about how the poet writes. You will need to focus on the poet’s technique in your answer. What imagery do they use? Is is effective? What is the voice? Do they move you?

An advantage to the closed book is that you will be more focussed in your answer. Preparation is key here and you will need to have learned key themes in advance. If the question asks you to consider romantic love, you need to be able to quickly consider the poems you have studied which address the issue and then decide which would work best in the comparison with the text selected. You will not be able to spend lots of time deciding between which poem to discuss or which quotations to use. Your quotations need to be in your head already! For more advice about answering Section B questions, see a separate blog post, to be published next week (March 2nd).

Lastly, how should you approach the Section C questions? Well, there are two questions in Section C and all candidates must answer both of them. The first question asks you to consider one unseen poem. The second question asks you to compare the first poem with an additional unseen poem. The first question is worth 24 marks, whilst the second is only worth 8 marks so you can see where your priorities need to lie. Again, more help with tackling an unseen poem will be given in another blog post to come (Thursday 9th March).

Born in Soho, London, on November 28th, 1757, the poet William Blake came into a Dissenter family. Largely educated at home by his mother, The Bible was the main source of Blake’s early influences. At four years old, Blake claimed he was experiencing visions. His friend, the journalist Henry Crabb Robinson, wrote that Blake once claimed to have seen God’s head appear in a window.

By the age of 10, it was clear that Blake had an incredible artistic talent, and he was enrolled at Henry Pars’s drawing school. When he was 14, he was apprenticed to an engraver, and by the age of 21, he was studying at the Royal Academy of Art and Design.

In August 1782, Blake married Catherine Sophia Boucher. Catherine believed in her husband’s visions, and encouraged his creative talents. The following year, Blake spread his artistic talents into the world of poetry, privately publishing a collection called Poetical Sketches.

In 1787 William’s brother Robert died from tuberculosis, aged just 24. This brought another vision to Blake, who said he saw his brother’s spirit ascend through the ceiling. The following year, Blake claimed it was Robert who, in yet another vision, told him to try a new method of printing his works, which Blake would call illuminated printing. This method of production allowed Blake to control every aspect of the production of his art. He used it to produce scenes from the works of Dante, Shakespeare and the Bible.

In 1800, Blake moved to the seaside village of Felpham to work with the poet William Hayley. While in Felpham, in August 1803, he found a soldier, John Schofield, on the property and removed him by force. Schofield accused Blake of assault and sedition, (meaning Damning the King). This was a serious crime, and it took a full year before Blake’s lawyers were able to get the charge acquitted. Also that year, Blake began to write and illustrate Jerusalem (a plate from which can be seen above), something that would take him until 1820 to fully complete. He then began to show art in exhibitions, but this work was met with scorn. Reviewers referred to Blake as “an unfortunate lunatic.” Devastated, Blake withdrew from society and sank and paranoia. Blake continued to sketch, however, and in 1819 he began a series of “visionary heads,” claiming that historical and imaginary figures had appeared and sat for him.

Sadly, although he remained artistically busy, it wasn’t until after his death on 12th August 1827, from an undiagnosed disease that he called “that sickness to which there is no name”, that William Blake was recognized as a major influence in the literary and artistic world. One of a number of great artists who have only come to appreciation posthumously, it could be argued that his greatest, visionary inspirations were, in his time, the greatest barrier to the success he deserved.

Celebrated English novelist George Eliot was born Mary Anne Evans, on 22nd November 1819. Raised in Warwickshire, Mary was forced to leave school at an early age after her mother died in 1836, so she could become her father’s housekeeper. In 1841, Mary and her father moved to Coventry, where she looked after him until his death in 1849. Mary then travelled around Europe, before eventually settling in London.

Although Mary had inherited strict religious views from her father, she was always open minded and, once she was free from her family, became a freethinker. In London, Mary joined a circle of intellectuals that included Tennyson and Dickens.

In 1850, Eliot began contributing to the Westminster Review, a leading journal for philosophical radicals, and later she became its editor. Adopting her male pen name in the hope that she’d be taken more seriously, she published Amos Barton, a short story which was later to appear in Scenes of Clerical Life (1858).

Amongst her literary friends, Mary met George Henry Lewes. George was a married man, but despite this, they came to live together as a couple until his death. This caused a society scandal which led to Mary being shunned by friends and family alike.

George Eliot’s first novel, Adam Bede‘, was published in 1859 and was a great success. Her other novels include The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Romola (1863), Middlemarch (1872) and Daniel Deronda (1876).

It was the popularity of Eliot’s novels which earned her social acceptance back. Soon her home with George Lewes became a meeting place for fellow writers. After Lewes’ death in 1878, George remarried. Her husband had been a friend for many years; John Cross, who was 20 years younger than her.

Mary ‘George Eliot’ Evans died on 22th December 1880. She is buried in Highgate Cemetery in north London, leaving an incredible literary heritage behind her.

These ideas have been written with teenagers in mind (see my earlier blog post ‘Four ways Creative Writing can help your teenager’), but in truth these activities can be used by anyone who can pick up a pencil and write!

I often find it helps to set a timer for these activities (Ten minutes should be about right, although I find students often feel that nine or eleven minutes is more rebellious!). If you still want to write after the timer goes off, that’s fine. The time limit just works to spur you so you don’t see a blank page and panic.

(1) ‘What’s in a name?’ poem
Write your name down the left side of a piece of paper. Then try to think of a word (it can be a noun, verb, adjective, whatever you like!) for every letter of your name. Do not spend too long on this; just write down whatever you think of!

So Emily might write:
Eggs
Marry
Imagine
Lichtenstein
Yesterday

Then write a poem (it doesn’t have to rhyme) using all the words in the correct order.

(2) “Happy Birthday to you!”
It’s your birthday today and you have just opened the worst present ever. What is it?

(3) “But Daisy, blue bananas don’t exist.”
You are walking through a busy supermarket when you hear this sentence. Create a script (For Eastenders? Or The Archers? Or TOWIE?) which features this conversation.

(4) Story prompts
Write a story for eight minutes. You must use all the words in this list (If someone else can read the list out to you over the course of your eight minutes then that is even better, but otherwise just write out your story whilst adding in the words every sentence or so).

For example:

Happy Theatre Bounce
Jacket Lemon Strictly
Sister Jewel Catastrophe

(5) The Argument
Bob hates Jim. Why? Well, write a letter from Bob telling Jim why he can’t forgive him. Then write Jim’s response.

(6) “We were eating cheese sandwiches…” : A story starter

  • “We were sitting on the bench eating cheese sandwiches when she told me…”

Copy that sentence down into your book. Now complete the story!

You can use each or all of these triggers, it’s up to you. But whether you’ve “hit a block” or are putting pen to paper for the first time, any of these tips should prove useful.

 

How are you going to study through this new academic year? Well, If you want to achieve at the highest level possible, it could help to adopt the same strategies of the most successful entrepreneurs on the planet? People like Richard Branson, Peter Thiel, Mark Zuckerberg (above, giving US secretary of state John Kerry a tour of facebook…) and Karren Brady are all very different in terms of personality, but they all share a set of key characteristics that have helped to propel them towards achieving and exceeding all their goals. Here, we discuss how you can use those characteristics in your studies, so that you can achieve your potential.

1. A desire to learn

Regardless of the subject you are studying, a willingness to acquire new knowledge is essential. Entrepreneurs take advantage of every possible opportunity to learn, and rather than seeing it as a chore, they genuinely enjoy the experience.

2. Determination

When Richard Branson was starting out, he didn’t have much in terms of money or support. A big part of his global success has been his dogged determination to continue working despite difficulties and challenges. You can apply this to your studies by using affirmations. Tell yourself that you are going to succeed in your course, and do it regularly – especially at times when you start to doubt yourself.

3. Self-belief

Karren Brady had to employ every possible ounce of self-belief when she took over Birmingham City Football Club. The odds were against her success, but Brady’s belief in her own abilities helped her to completely change the fortunes of the club. If you believe that you are capable of succeeding in your studies, you are much more likely to do so.

4. Believe in what you’re doing

Entrepreneurs are passionate about what they do, and that is a big factor in their success. Don’t complete a course of study just because you think you should – do something you’re interested in and that you care about. If you choose something that matters to you, you won’t find it hard to be motivated.

5. Make flexible plans
Everyone who is successful in business has to make plans, and they are very important in terms of deciding how things are going to work and how progress will be measured. However, a great entrepreneur will be able to adapt their plans at the last minute to suit changing circumstances. In your studies, you should be prepared to change your plans when the situation demands it, and still get your work done.

6. Networking
Entrepreneurs are skilled networkers. What this means is that they make connections with people who have expertise or experience, and call on them when they need help. You can make connections with your tutors, other students, and friends or family members who have a knowledge of your subject. This can help you to feel supported as well as providing you with help to succeed.

We will all too soon be back to that fraught time of year again, when thousands of hopeful students await the outcome of all their hard work. It can feel as if your results will make or break your entire life, and the pressure to do well from various sources can take its toll on even the most confident and optimistic students. So when results day does roll around, what do you do if you don’t get the grades you were hoping for? How are you supposed to manage with your own disappointment, never mind that of parents or teachers? Here’s a handy guide on how to get past any issues that might arise from your exam results, and how to make sure you stay sane in the process!

1. Don’t panic
There is no point whatsoever in panicking about your results. Repeating negative self-talk in your head and in your interactions with others will only elevate your stress and anxiety levels. Make a conscious effort to tell yourself that no one’s life was ever over because of an exam result; and that you have a bright future to look forward to – regardless of which path you decide to take.

However, if you are struggling to drive feelings of panic from your mind, ask for help. Talk to your family and friends about how you feel, and ask for reassurance that you will be able to bounce back and start again.

2. Start planning for the future
You’ll feel much better about not getting the results you had hoped for if you take control of the situation. Rather than being a passive recipient of your results, use them as a springboard for taking action. What do you want to do next?

Perhaps repeating the exam would be your best option. Or, you might decide to focus on your strengths in other subjects. Alternatively, you could use this time to decide on a completely new course of study, or even a way to combine studying with work experience at the same time. If you’re not sure which direction you should head in, don’t be afraid to seek the advice of tutors, teachers, parents and friends. Each person you ask for advice will have their own unique perspective – so you could come away with a whole heap of ideas on what could be next for you.

3. Go out and celebrate!
You don’t have to hide yourself away if your results aren’t what you wanted. Regardless of what that little piece of paper says, you have worked hard to complete your course of study – and you’re entitled to celebrate that!

Make a point of getting in touch with your friends, and arrange a night out or a party. You all deserve the chance to blow off some steam after months of studying and feeling the pressure – so go for it, in whatever way that suits you.

Are you feeling a little nervous about your exams? The key to success is remaining calm and in control. The best way to take control is by following a dedicated and varied revision schedule. Simply staring at your text books is not the answer – here’s what to do…

1. Break up your time. It’s especially important to break your revision time into small chunks when exams are just around the corner. You want to make sure that every subject is covered in as much detail as possible.

For example, if you have decided that you are going to revise on a Saturday morning, break it down into study periods of 45 minutes each. Write down what you are going to cover in each study period, thinking carefully about how long each task will take.

2. Use a pen and paper. You’ve probably done most of your coursework and revision on your laptop or tablet. However, using a pen and paper has significant advantages when it comes to committing information to memory.

Read through the material you need to know. Then, use your pen to write down the most important points, facts, dates or quotations. The act of writing will help you to absorb the information, and also aids your evaluative skills – which are important in almost all subjects.

3. Create personal audio notes. Having created your paper notes, it’s now time to really consolidate your knowledge and ensure that you don’t forget any important details.

Using your phone or tablet, choose the voice recording feature and read your notes aloud. For the absolutely vital information, add a sound effect or change your voice – both will help it to stand out and instantly become more memorable.

4. Listen up. Listen to your personal audio notes as much as possible, and vary the recordings you choose so that every subject is covered.

Making a cup of coffee in the morning? That’s 5 minutes that could be spent listening to your notes. On the bus? Put in your earphones and listen to your notes as you watch the world go by.

5. Pop quiz. Adding a little fun to your learning can dramatically increase your chances of exam success. Get a friend or family member to help you create a quiz about the course(s) you have been studying. For wrong answers, you pay a penalty. For example, if you have forgotten a quotation, you have to go out into the street and shout it aloud!

It’s not too late to complete this revision plan: all you need is a little determination and the desire to succeed! If everything is getting too much for you, don’t be afraid to take time out to rest, relax and listen to your favourite music. You could even try doing a 5 minute breathing meditation to help give you focus and a sense of calm. Everyone will wonder what your secret is!

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