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English Literature B Unit 1 Exam Preparation Tips


With so many people taking advantage of Ask Will Online for the different novels and poems I have analysed, I thought it would be a good idea to give some tips and help about exam technique for the LITB1 exam paper for AQA English Literature B. This exam can seem extremely daunting and is the first 'proper' exam for many students which involves the student writing essays. Therefore, it is essential you know just exactly what you need to do to get the best grade possible.


The Unit 1 exam paper is split into two sections: Section A and Section B.

Section A

This section is a place where you should really try to gather a lot of marks. It involves you picking a question form the list provided in the exam and is only ever based on one text. For example, when I did this exam, I chose the questions based on Auden's poems.

Whatever question you choose will have the following layout:
  • The first question will be based on either a specific chapter of a novel or one poem.
  • The second question will be more general looking at themes or as simple as a statement and whether you agree or disagree with the statement. You will be asked about a text from the same author/poet as the first question.
For Section A, there is the common question which starts, for example, like this:
How does Auden tell the story in 'Miss Gee'.
This DOES NOT mean that you need to tell the story of what happens to Miss Gee that she basically gets cancer and dies. The examiner already knows the story plot therefore you do not at all need to mention anything about what actually happens in the poem.

What this type of question, 'How does _____ tell the story in...', actually wants you to do is look at the ways in which the author/poet uses techniques to tell the story effectively. This can be usually be split into three areas: form, language and structure. How does Auden use form, language and structure to effectively tell the story of 'Miss Gee'? That is the real question you need to be answering.

For some people, going through the poem or chapter chronologically will work fine for them. However, the best way to structure your essay for this is through adopting the following format:

  • Introduction - Sum up the main points you want to mention and any little add ons you might think are relevant. For example, Auden was gay which may have been a reason why Miss Gee had deep sexual urges for the Bishop - Auden felt the same way as a closet homosexual (as well as the fact that it could be seen that her sexual repression caused the cancer).
  • Three separate paragraphs on Form, Language and Structure - For each paragraph, highlight what Auden or whoever it is has done with form, language and structure and then link this to how it tells the story in the text. Point, example, explanation and then how this tells the story.
Remember that the first question of the exam paper is not a lot of marks. Two pages in the booklet will do you plentiful.

The second question looks more at your opinion and needs to take a wider approach to answering the question. You will usually be thrown a bone with keywords such as 'tragedy, death, love, fear' or 'victim' into the question. If not, you will be given a statement which you will argue whetehr to agree or disagree with in your essay.

The essence of the second question is to use more general knowledge of the text or poems by that Poet. For example, the question I was given when I did this exam was:
How far do you think that Auden's poems are dominated by death?
For a question like this, you should use the following structure for your essay:

  • Introduction - Highlight the key argument to agree and disagree and mention the topics you will talk about in each of your paragraphs. For example, 'it can be seen Auden's poems are dominated by death since the main characters in his poems end us dying such as in Miss Gee and O What Is That Sound. However, Auden's poems are also dominated by other themes such as love and war.'
  • Paragraph to agree with question - For my example, this paragraph would look at reasons why Auden's poems are dominated by death such as the death of the main characters with quotes and references to the moments in the poems they die.
  • Paragraph to disagree with question - Continuing the example, this would look at either war or love in Auden's poems providing the opinion that Auden's poems are not just dominated by death but other topics too.
  • Keep doing paragraph to agree and then disagree. Usually, 3-4 paragraphs is a good argument.
  • Conclusion - Based on what you have said in your essay, make a decision to the answer to the question and back it up with a summary of why you believe this with possible added new points. For example, 'Ultimately, I feel that Auden's poems are dominated by death even if death of a character is not present in his poem. Poems such as O Where Are You Going? do not have death or mention death but refer to an ideology that death for this poem is dusk, 'dusk will delay'. Auden's poem are deliberately vague making it easy to refer to his poems as dominated by death since the death can be represented in a person dying, as dusk or as time in If I Could Tell You.


Section B

Section B consists of one question which is very general so that it can be linked to the remaining texts you have studied. 
With this question, choose it wisely. Highlight keywords and analyse the questions writing a potential structure to the exam (similar to the second question of Section A). It is vital to plan out your essay for this question.

Since half of the marks of the whole paper are in this question, you should spend around an hour on the question:
  • 5 minutes planning the essay.
  • 5 minutes on the introduction.
  • 40-45 minutes on the content of the essay.
  • 5-10 minutes on the conclusion.
If you find that you are running out of time, stop where you are and write a conclusion. An essay that analyses all the texts without a conclusion will get less marks than an essay that analyses all but one of the texts and has a full conclusion. It is important to finish your exam off with a verdict.

I hope that this helps those that are nervous for the exam. If you don't know already, I have analysed many texts for English Literature B A level which I have listed all below for your convenience:

Essays

About Will Green

A student in England studying Automotive Engineering with Motorsport, Will created Ask Will Online back in 2010 to help students revise and bloggers make money. You can follow AskWillOnline via @AskWillOnline.

7 comments so far:

  1. Lots of teachers now saying to write it as two aspects of narrative in section A rather than language form and structure... What do you think?

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    1. To be honest, I have always found that the language-form-structure structure has been good since you know you have not forgotten any detail and you are preventing yourself from telling the story of the poem like a story...remember the examiner knows the poem already!

      However, it's been a few years sincevdoing A level English and if that is what teachers are now telling students to do, then maybe it is a good idea to do two aspects of narrative. Do consult with your teacher first about this though and not rely on a website for your exam technique!

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  2. Very informative post! Really it was a big fun to read about English literature. I think it is better description than teachers give us. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Thanks, your post help me to pass exam!

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  4. this block awesome

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  5. Will, I'm sitting this for the first time because I messed up my choices last year so I'm doing the whole A Level in a year. Do I need to reference all the poems by a particular poet or should I just focus on one? Thanks in advance

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    1. For the second question in Section 1, no, you won't have to - it is important to include 2-3 poems to give some variation and strength to your argument but you do not have to mention EVERY poem from that poet.

      When you mention a poet in the final section, because you have more time to talk about the poet, you could mention more poems. However, mentioning every poem will be time consuming and you would not be able to go into the level of depth of analysis if you did so. Therefore, 2-4 poems is sufficient I would say (but don't count me to that)!

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