Beginnings and endings in assessments in Language A: Literature
(Part 1): Getting it right in Paper 1.

Getting in and out of an essay or a commentary. Should be pretty simple, right? Well, it’s a fair bet you’ve had some challenges with these rather apparently straightforward parts of your essays.

Here are some ideas to help you, from various sources. Part 1 deals with introductions for commentaries. Later postings will deal with the Written Assignment, Paper 2 and Conclusions.

***The most important factor is being aware that you are talking to someone who does not know you and does not know what you think about the material, whether it’s a work you have studied or one you are seeing for the first time.

SO: INTRODUCTIONS MATTER! You need to let the reader know:
-what particular text(s) you intend to write about
-what your angle on them is,
-and even, possibly, how you are going to approach them.
You can be quite basic and straightforward about these matters or you can practice enough with them so that you can write them with a little bit of flair and interest.

Probably not, although all of them need something of the ** statement above.

But how to add flair and interest, to introductions in Paper 1, to those factors that immediately grab the examiner?

Mark Beverley, an experienced teacher and examiner, suggests including one of the following for the Paper 1 commentary:

  • What’s the most interesting thing you’ve noticed in reading the selection?
  • What’s the most striking stylistic feature you’ve noticed?
  • In what ways does the selection connect to some feature of human or natural experience?
  • If there is some kind of key point or ‘message,’ what do you think it is?

English A: Literature Skills and Practice (OUP, 2012)

This sort of thing is what professional writers and journalists call the ‘hook’: they convey a sense of you as an individual and your ‘story’ as an interesting one.

Michael Adams in The Writer’s Mind compares the opening words of your essay to the starter in a car.
He compares your first words in an essay to the spark plugs, needed to excite your reader’s curiosity. He has suggestions, too, for a whole range of essays, but some especially which would add some interest to an opening for Paper 1 are:

  • Include a definition, especially if there’s a particular stylistic feature or abstraction that immediately strikes you. For example, ‘Irony, the way writers add layers of meaning, always seems to involve two things and here Jonathan Lethem uses those two levels to keep the reader reading.’
  • Make a bold assertion: “There seems to be no way to fully explain the heartbreak of a friend’s rejection, but Carol Ann Duffy gets it exactly right in this poem.’
  • Write a line (not a narrative, please) that connects the selection with your own personal experience. “ I wouldn’t have thought someone else could so clearly express my experience of. . . . ., but Mary Oliver does it in this short description of . . . . .’
  • Quote and highlight a line from the selection and comment on it, especially if you think it might relate to a central point you want to make throughout your commentary. ‘Whatever you say, say nothing” seems to be the paradoxical base on which this poem by Seamus Heaney is built.’

The Writer’s Mind (Scott, Foresman and Co, 1984)

Just remember that none of these can work without some practice, so experiment with them as you write all of your commentaries, so you’re ready to use one in your actual Paper 1 examination.