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This time of year can be stressful for both students and teachers with lots to get through and exams looming. In the OCR English team, we’re here to answer your queries and support you in the best way we can.
Ahead of the first A Level exam series, I’d like to share with you my top five A Level English Literature FAQs to put your and your students on the path to exam success!
1. We’ve taught Coleridge or Rossetti. How many poems do students need to write about?
Generally speaking, students should aim for a focussed discussion of 3-4 poems, with some reference to others in the collection where they fit the developing argument. This number is not a definitive guide, as poems vary in both length and content. For example, we would expect students to consider fewer poems if they were looking at Goblin Market in detail. Ultimately, it is not about the number of poems students consider, but rather the quality of their response. Students need to be able to demonstrate to the examiner that they understand the style and concerns of the collection as a whole and can select appropriate material for use in their answer depending on the direction of the question.
2. For H472/02 Section 2, should students consider more than two texts in their response?
The comparative essay does give students the scope to consider more than two texts should they wish to do so. However, for this essay we are expecting a response focussed on substantial discussion of two studied texts (at least one of which must be a core text), and in this regard the essay should not become a three/four way split of texts from the topic area. Wider references to other relevant texts would be welcomed as demonstration of the students’ understanding and knowledge of the topic area. What you don't want is for students to 'dilute' their essays by looking at too many texts in detail. They could make references to other texts they've read, but should avoid in depth analyses. The references made to these texts should be briefer and be used to support the discussion of the two main texts. These references would be credited under AO3 or AO4.
3. In the comparative essay questions (H472/01 Section 2 & H472/02 Section 2), what balance of AO3 is required?
In each of the comparative essays, AO3 carries a weighting of 50%. In the assessment of AO3 we are not just looking for historical, cultural or social contexts; connections made wider reading within the topic area are also credited. Students could reference additional texts but equally they could demonstrate more general knowledge of the era and the contexts surrounding their core texts as a way to access AO3. We are not prescriptive about this and examiners will credit either approach.
Although, AO3 is dominant in these essay questions, this doesn’t mean that half of the essay content needs to be historical or cultural information. Assessment of AO3 is all about how well contextual information is integrated into the wider argument in order to support the reading of the texts, rather than giving us a history essay. It is the quality of the contextual information that is included, rather than quantity, even where the AO is dominant. In other words, examiners aren’t looking for students to tell them everything they know about Chaucer and the Middle Ages, for example, but are looking for how well students can select and use the contextual information they do know to support their readings of The Merchant’s Prologue and Tale. When looking at context, students could also consider the political or social contexts in which the text was produced versus the impact of the current social and political context on their reading of the text.
4. The comparative essays questions don’t assess AO2 but won’t students still be using quotes and textual references?
In the questions where AO2 isn’t explicitly assessed, we would still credit students for accurate use of quotations that help either contextualise a specific point or indeed contribute to a more coherent argument overall, under AO1. The important thing is that the quotations/textual references that are used are appropriate to the question and are being used thoughtfully to support the direction of the argument. We do not place a numerical value on the amount of quotations students should use in their comparative essays as it ultimately depends on how quotes are being used, as opposed to how many they are using. It is fine for students to use close textual references; they do not always have to use direct quotation.
5. What is meant by ‘informed by different interpretations’ for AO5? Do students have to refer to critics?
For AO5 we want students to demonstrate that they are aware that there is more than one way to interpret a text. An awareness of other interpretations might be fulfilled by exploring the proposition at the head of the question, which functions as one interpretation. Demonstration of AO5 could also include references to critical material, comments on theatrical interpretations or television/film adaptations, or theoretical approaches to the study of texts (Marxism or feminism, for example).
We do not prescribe that critical material must be used in order to access AO5. Having said that, appropriate integration of critical readings is a valid way of demonstrating understanding of a recognised interpretation of the text, and is often a differentiator in responses. The inclusion of critical views often implies a higher order skill, namely that students are able to reference specific and relevant critical material and assimilate it into their response in order to drive forward their argument. It also demonstrates engagement with the texts and/or topic area and wider reading.
Please submit your comments below. If you have any questions then you can get in touch with us via email at OCREnglish@ocr.org.uk or on Twitter @OCR_English.
Keeley Nolan, OCR English Subject Advisor
Keeley joined OCR four years ago as a Qualification Manager for Modern Foreign Languages. In 2014, she joined the English team as a Subject Specialist, leading on the development of GCSE English Language and supporting first teaching of the new specification. Keeley currently looks after the OCR A Level English Literature and A Level Language qualifications. Prior to joining OCR, Keeley spent two years teaching English abroad. Keeley has a degree in English and French from the University of Leeds. In her spare time she enjoys reading, watching Scandinavian television dramas and swimming.