An extract to whole text question – a quick guide

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Introduction: What’s the writer’s message or purpose? End with a sentence linking the extract to the major theme of the question.

E.g Through the character of Macbeth, Shakespeare explores the corrupting nature of power. In the extract, we see him at a crucial moment as he decides whether to be virtuous – or fulfil his ambition. 

Paragraphs: 3-4 depending on time and length

  • Use a writer – technique – theme/purpose structure to stay focused. E.g. Shakespeare uses the motif of seeing to represent the way Macbeth changes across the play. Or Shakespeare shows us Lady Macbeth’s thoughts to explore the way their relationship has developed. 
  • Include both extract and whole text OR have paragraphs dedicated to each (e.g. a whole-text paragraph on ambition then an extract-based one on ambition – these will be shorter)
  • Include some aspects of zooming into language / key words or phrases. Use literary vocabulary where it’s helpful but avoid feature spotting. E.g. Macbeth says “upon my head they placed a fruitless crown”. The word “fruitless” reminds the audience of the legacy that Macbeth won’t be able to leave behind, and that the prophecy regarding Banquo involves his lineage – the play thus becomes about more than simply one man’s desire for power, but the Faustian pact that Macbeth has made which, ultimately, will be short-lived. It also reminds the audience of the importance of inheritance, perhaps as a way to comment on the inheritance of James I after Elizabeth I’s death. 

Conclusion: a couple of sentences is usually plenty. Don’t introduce new material, but come back to the main theme and focus of the question. Try to step back and summarise the writer’s overarching idea.

E.g. Throughout the play, Macbeth makes choices that are always focused on his ambition for power. However, through the outcome of these choices Shakespeare issues a warning to his audience that such ambition is always destined to destroy the one who acts upon it. 

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