Ten tips for A-Level Literature students

Read the set texts Ok, so this is THE most obvious statement. But it’s also the absolutely most important thing. First time through, read it quickly. If it’s a novel, try to get it read in a week or so. Read it as a reader. Then, when you’ve finished, write a quick response to it. Don’t worry about being academic here, but think about what you remember about it, your first impressions on finishing, the characters and ideas of it. Read all the set texts. Get the list in advance and read all of them – a large part of …

The symbolism of clothing and colour in The Handmaid’s Tale

One of the texts I’m teaching this coming year is Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, as part of the dystopian topic for OCR A-Level literature. Re-reading it (again!) it’s striking how much the colours play a part in the makeup of this novel. Clothing in dystopian fiction is an important signifier. The totalitarian dystopias – The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984 and so on – use clothing as a method of control, ensuring that divisions (often power hierarchies) are respected, and that people are in their appropriate places. In 1984, the Party members wear black or blue overalls (a working man’s clothing, removing …

How to stop worrying about quotations: Getting form, structure and language right without memorising the whole text

When exams are closed book, it’s easy for students to panic and worry more about memorising quotes than anything else. The assessment objective for analysing language always includes the selective/judicious use of quotation, but it does also include close reference. While I will do some on how to learn quotes, as we’re coming into the final half-term before AS exams, I’m starting to spend more time on how to get that detailed, precise understanding of FSL (form, structure and language) without necessarily remembering whole poems or soliloquies. As someone who’s not great at remembering quotes themselves (from literature, anyway – apparently I …

From The Antique by Christina Rossetti: complete analysis

If you find this helpful check out my full Rossetti revision guide Rossetti’s poem explores the difficulties of women in the Victorian era, struggling to find a place where they are valued for themselves and what they can offer in a world where – sometimes – men seem to have all the power. Bleakly she asks the question: would anyone notice if I were gone? It’s a heartbreaking lyric poem which speaks to the misery that seems to have haunted Rossetti for a good part of her life.  It’s a weary life, it is, she said:  Doubly blank in a …

How to start a great essay

Essay writing is a great way to practise writing skills, whether your preferred genre is fiction or non-fiction. You need to have a clear goal in mind, your phrasing needs to be both beautiful and clear, and you need to make every word, as when writing poetry, count. It’s always been a great art form too – although I suppose essayists were something like the newspaper editorial columnists of their day! While columnists write generally on relatively transient and personal ideas, the great essayists wrote meditations where they really thought about the big questions. William Hazlitt and John Stuart Mill …