Paper 1: the basics
The Unseen Commentary/Guided Literary Analysis
The first of two external examination papers is referred to as:
Guided Literary Analysis
In this first of two exams, students are expected to demonstrate skills in critical analysis of a poem or extract of prose that they will almost certainly not have come across before. The paper is therefore unusual in the sense that, unlike all other assessment tasks, it is not directly affiliated with any particular 'part' of the course. Skills demanded by the paper are going to be taught in and through each part or element of the course as a whole - with the acknowledgement that the nature of Part 2 - the Oral Commentary is perhaps the closest to Paper one in its spirit.
Because of the fact that students cannot know the texts in advance, and that they can come from a wide range of periods, genres or styles, it is important that they are given exposure to various kinds of works throughout their course duration, as well as provided with opportunities to implement critical skills in different ways.
Note that this paper is worth 20% of the final overall mark
What kind of extract?
Students will be asked to choose to write about either a poem or an extract of prose. These works will not come from an author listed in the PLA or the PLT so it is impossible for students to have studied them as part of the course; furthermore, although the possibility can never be eradicated, preferred choices are for the more unusual kinds of works that students will ideally not have encountered in any manner beforehand. This is in order to prevent students bringing knowledge about the extract's context to bear on their analysis of it, and (as far as possible) to make sure that the chosen extracts are genuinely unseen.
The first extract is always prose, which could be either of fiction or non fiction. The second is poetry, and almost always a complete poem.
In regard to the prose extract, the Subject Guide defines possible sources as:
- a novel or short story
- an essay
- a biography
- a journalistic piece of writing of literary merit
- a play
Non-fictional writing is a notoriously over-looked genre of the literature course - and can in effect be avoided altogether at Standard Level (where a total of three genres only needs to be covered in the course as a whole). This is a mistake for two reasons:
- students could easily find themselves faced with a non-fiction extract in this Paper 1 examination
- non-fiction works are rich, varied and inspiring works to teach
But regardless of whether or not (at SL) you choose a work of non-fiction as part of your programme, your students will of course need to have tackled one - either in whole or in part, in order that they are prepared for the possibility of non-fiction appearing in Paper 1.
What are the differences between HL and SL?
As can be seen from the different ways in which this paper is described, some important differences exist between Standard Level and Higher Level incarnations of it. The table below describes the nature of the differences:
|Guided Literary Analysis||
What skills are being assessed?
The criteria for Paper 1, at both HL and SL are as follows:
|Criterion A||Understanding and Interpretation||5 marks|
|Criterion B||Appreciation of the writer's choices||5 marks|
|Criterion C||Organisation and development||5 marks|
|Criterion D||Language||5 marks|
More detailed breakdown of the criteria, including the specific descriptors for each level of attainment can be found on pages 36 () and 44 () of the Subject Guide. Note that some important distinctions exist between both levels in terms of the language used to describe particular strands. For instance, there are obvious differences between the way 'adequate', 'good', 'very good' and 'excellent' are used, but perhaps more notably, terms such as 'persuasive' are used to describe the top level of achievement in criterion A and C at Higher Level. This, along with other relatively subtle points of comparison testify to the fact that HL students are expected to demonstrate more independent control of the material they cover, as well as the way they shape their answer.
At both levels, however, broadly speaking the skills are the same. Students must:
- engage with the content of the poem or passage: its ideas, events, characters, settings
- engage with the ways in which language and style generate these elements
- demonstrate an ability to organise points in a meaningful, purposeful manner
- write in a formal, clear and cogent manner
In reference particularly to Criterion B, It is worth reinforcing, once again, the need for students to make sure they relate aspects of style to content - that they do not see the exercise as one of 'feature spotting'. Identifying some of the elements of craft but exploring them in significant depth, and with sensitivity, is a far better practice than covering many with scant attention to detail.