Writing the comparison question for OCR A-Level

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The OCR English Literature specification is great in lots of ways, but the AO balancing is a little strange. The comparative question, for which I teach Rossetti’s poetry and A Doll’s House, is 50% AO3 – Demonstrate understanding of the significance and influence of the contexts in which literary texts are written and received.

Examiner training is explicit that the way to determine a mark is holistically (is it competent, good or excellent) then shade the mark within the band to fine-tune the mark. However, it feels as a teacher that you do need to foreground the dominant assessment objective to meet the criteria.

We ensure that the response begins with the dominant assessment objective. For Rossetti and Ibsen, introductions often include the following (we don’t use a prescribed formula, and ideas have to be focused based on the question of course, but it helps as a reminder of the lens through which to look):

  • Whether their different genders affect the statement
  • Whether their different time periods affect their interpretations – making the point that “Victorian” isn’t specific enough and that there was a lot of social change between the two texts.
  • If their social background (family, class, country) make a difference
  • The contrasting choices of drama vs. poetry

Students construct a thesis surrounding the statement which draws directly on these ideas.

Then, for paragraph topic sentences, we encourage starting with something that also foregrounds the dominant objective e.g.

  • Rossetti and Ibsen’s middle-class status means that they don’t understand or present working-class concerns
  • Although through Nora Ibsen explores the perilous financial uncertainty that late 19th century women were subject to, Rossetti’s poetry virtually ignores any concept of financial insecurity despite the difficulties her own family experienced.
  • Women’s sexual freedom was increasingly in question in the decades between Rossetti and Ibsen, driven in part by the development of the ‘New Woman’ and ‘matinee girl’ to whom Ibsen’s work appeared to speak directly.

What do you think?

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