Exam Technique for Literature by Susan Midalia


My name’s Susan Midalia,
and this is a lecture on section one of the literature paper, the unseen close reading. Everyone in the right place? Yeah, good, so welcome, and
I want to start the lecture by telling you something
completely unhelpful, something completely
useless, namely, that I think this section of the paper
can be fiendishly difficult. I just wanna briefly
explain what this section of the exam paper is about. Why are we putting this
section onto the paper? It’s only been on the
exam paper now for about seven, eight years, so
it’s relatively recent. So having said that, it can
be fiendishly difficult. What’s it doing here? It’s not here because
English teachers and markers are nasty, sadistic
brutes, although sometimes you might think so. There are a number of reasons why people who set the syllabus
decided to put this section of the paper, to give it to you. But these are the two main ones. The first thing is that
this section of the paper is testing your understanding of a text, instead of
what you’ve wrote, learned about your set text, okay? So with a set text, you have
a lot of time to read them, think about them, talk
about them in class, okay? So you know a lot of
stuff about your set text. And what markers and teachers
have found over the years is that there’s quite
a lot of roped learning that goes on with your set text, and that’s perfectly understandable. You’ve got an exam, it’s a hurdle that you have to jump over. But knowing stuff about your
set text doesn’t necessarily mean that you understand them, okay? There’s a substantial
difference between knowledge and understanding, so one
of the reasons they’ve put this section onto the
paper is to see if you actually understand what you’re
reading, okay, as opposed to something you’ve learned off by heart. So it’s testing your
comprehension skills, effectively. And it’s also assessing your capacity for independent thinking, all right? So you can’t rely on what
you’ve been told about a text. Here you are on your own,
you have to make a decision about what you think it means. Okay, so there are the two
reasons, the two main reasons that this section of the
paper is now something we ask you to do. But here’s the good news, huh? My aim is to make it easier for you, also to reassure you that
there is no right answer to a text, okay? Markers don’t go into the
marking process with a set idea in their head, “This
is what the text means, “and if a student says anything different, “they’re not gonna get any marks.” Markers take the approach quite rightly that they’re open to different
interpretations of a text. All right, so don’t feel
that there is a right answer. The main thing to think about
is that as long as your answer is plausible, as long as
your reading of a text is plausible, I mean, there is
such a thing as a misreading. It is possible to get things wrong, okay, to misunderstand a text. But generally speaking, as long
as your answer is plausible and most importantly that
you provide evidence, you’re going to be rewarded, okay? And the other thing by way
of reassurance is don’t feel that you have to understand
every single word or line in a text in order to be
able to write on it, okay? In an exam situation, say
hypothetically you have three genre, the poem, extract
from a work of prose fiction, extract from a play. It might happen that you feel
there are two you can’t do, you just don’t get them. But even the third one, let’s
say hypothetically the poem, you’re thinking, I don’t
understand every single thing, but I get overall what it’s
about, and I can write on it. So don’t be put off by the
fact that you don’t understand everything in a text in
order to write on it. And it’s humanly impossible
anyway to go through it word by word, line by line. So that’s the good news. And this is the structure of the lecture. So first of all, I’m
going to clarify what we, what is actually meant by a close reading because I know there is some
confusion and some anxiety about what it is we’re
actually asking you to do. Secondly, I’m gonna give you
some tips on how to prepare for this section of the
exam because in fact there are important things that you can do rather than just walk
up and hope on the day that you understand something. Thirdly, I’ll show you how
to do an actual close reading under exam conditions, and
then finally, some tips on how to stand out from the crowd. In other words, how to write
a response that is better than as many other responses as possible, okay? The WACE exam is a ranking
exercise, we rank students. So basically we set you
up to be competitive. You’re competing with
lots of other students. So I will give you some tips
on what can make your answers stand out from other people’s. Okay, so first part of the
lecture, what do we actually mean by reading a text, right, a close reading? It’s actually very simple. It’s your interpretation of a
text, what you think it means. More specifically what that
means is that you have to identify the text’s version of life. Remember, in this lit course,
we’re always talking about texts as a version of life. They’re not mirrors or pictures of life, but they’re versions, they’re constructs, they’re somebody’s ideas, okay? So what you need to do in
this exercise is to identify the text’s issues, the
issues it’s dealing with and its underlying values,
beliefs, attitudes. Okay, so it’s the text as
a form of representation. Think about that word
representation, it’s re-presentation. It’s not presenting life,
it’s re-presenting it. It’s giving you a version. But as well as identifying or describing the text version of life,
evaluate it as well. Say whether you agree with
it or disagree with it or you find certain things in
it problematic and say why. Markers really like that. Any of you here doing Joseph
Conrad’s Heart of Darkness? Yeah, okay, that’s a
wonderful example of a text that doesn’t have a dominant reading. Because on the one hand,
that text encourages us to have sympathy for the black
Africans, the black Africans who were taken as slaves, used as slaves by the European colonisers. So one way that text
works is to ask us to see that the black Africans
are victims of exploitation and greed, okay, but on the other hand, the text also encourages us
to think that black Africans are the symbols of evil of
which we are all capable once removed from the
constraints of civilisation. And that’s a profoundly
racist idea, the idea that the white man, it’s
usually the man, once removed from the constraints of civilisation can do evil and atrocious
things, i.e., become black. So it’s a very interesting
text in that in some ways, it encourages, it’s contradictory. So in a sense, it doesn’t
have a dominant reading. Okay, so there are the
different ways you can approach a text, but the point
is, you’ve got to show where your reading comes
from, that you didn’t just pluck it out of the air,
you’ve got to provide evidence for how you arrived at
your interpretation. So whichever approach you
take, this is what you must do. You must try and arrive at
three main ideas about the text. I think the text means this, this, this. Why three, because that’s
three body paragraphs. Now if you can come up
with more, that’s terrific. But three, three main ideas
is perfectly adequate, okay? I think markers also
understand that this section of the paper is different
from the essay section of the paper in that
you’re not writing on text that you’ve already studied in detail. You’re writing on something
you’ve never seen before. And markers understand
that it’s a different kind of exercise that you’re
probably not gonna be able to write as much as you
would in the essay section because you need all that
time to read the unseen text at least, well, a couple of times. And they also don’t expect
in a sense the same polish that they would in the essay section. But yeah, try and come
up with three main ideas and that each idea is the
basis of a body paragraph. What you should also do, and
this is crucial, of course, is that you must show your
marker how you arrived at your reading, what made
you think that the text means this, this, and this, okay? And most importantly, you show
your marker how you arrived at your reading by analysing
how the text is written. That’s where you get most of your marks. That’s why it’s called a close reading. You’re looking very closely
at how the text is written. So say for example in the
handout that you were all given as you came through the door,
we’re not gonna have time to look at this in any
detail, but it’s for you to take home and look at at your leisure. But in that handout I gave
you, there’s a poem called Skirt Machinist, and one point
I could make about that poem is it encourages us to feel sorry for a female factory worker,
a working class woman, and it encourages us to feel sorry for her because she’s powerless,
helpless, malnourished, has no opportunities in life and so on. And one of the things I
would do if I was doing a reading of that is look very
closely at how it’s written. And one important aspect of
that poem is that it uses the persona of a working
class woman, factory worker. So I’d talk about the
persona and how the use of the persona, how that shapes
my response to the poem. Okay, so you show your
marker how you’ve arrived at your reading, concentrating
on how the text is written. And you also, as I said
earlier, evaluate your reading. Sorry, evaluate the text
version of life, so do you agree with it or disagree with it and why? So I’ll give you a striking
example of how a reader disagreed with the ideas of this poem. ‘Cause as I said, the poem
encourages you to feel sorry for the female factory
worker, this poor, helpless, degraded woman stuck in a menial job. And I had a student who said
that he didn’t feel sorry. He disagreed with the
poem’s attempt to make you feel sorry for this woman. He didn’t feel sorry for
this woman in the poem because he believed that if you’re poor, it’s your own fault, at which
point I thought there are so many things wrong with that statement, I’m not quite where to start. But that was a good example
of someone, if you like, disagreeing with a text. So it’s an extreme example,
but it nevertheless shows you that you don’t have to
agree with what a text is telling you to think. Okay, now this is a technique
that I’ve used over the years and which many students have found useful. And you can use this as a plan. You make a table, yep. So it shows you very
clearly what you have to do. So use this as a plan when
you’re writing on an unseen text. Now you see in the left-hand
column it says my reading, and that’s where you would
write down three points, I think the text means
this, this, and this. Okay, and the other three
columns are all about showing your marker how you arrived
at that reading, okay? What made you think the text
means this, this, and this. And the second column, and
it’s got four asterisks ’cause this is the most
important part of the exercise. The second column is you
discuss how the text is written, because how the text is
written is a major factor in influencing your
interpretation of the text. So does it use symbolism,
imagery, does it have a persona? What’s the point of view of the text? Does it use metaphors or whatever? The next column, writer’s context. You show your marker that you’ve arrived at a certain reading
because you understand the significance of the text context. What you’re showing your marker
there is that you understand that texts don’t exist in a
kind of social and historical vacuum, that texts are
always influenced by the dominant ideas and values
of the historical period and society in which
they were written, okay? Now can I just say here
again by way of reassurance, if you don’t know the
significance of the text context, don’t fret about it. So for example, this poem
here was written in the 1920s, 1920s Australia. If you don’t know what was
happening in 1920s Australia, if you don’t know about the
dominant ideas and values at the time, don’t fret,
because markers understand that this is a literature
exam, not a history exam. But if you do know it, if you
do know what was happening 1920s Australia that’s
relevant to that poem, by all means, add it in to your argument. Having said that markers
understand that this isn’t a history exam, I think it’s
also reasonable to assume that there are certain periods of history that you will know something about. So 1930s Depression, the two World Wars, 1960s, a period of great
social change, feminism, civil rights movement, the
peace movement and so on. Okay, now the final
column, reader’s context. Who you are as a reader
really matters, all right? And what you’re doing is
showing your marker that reading is always, it’s not a
neutral or objective process. But it’s you doing the reading. It’s not just some impersonal
anonymous person, it’s you. But there are different
ways, as I said earlier, that you can talk about you. So for example if you are doing
a personal context response, the two most important
things about you as a reader are always going to be your
values and your beliefs, what you value and what
you believe to be true. The fact that for example
you’re male or female is not really telling us very
much because males as a group and females as a group value and believe many different things. So without knowing Kim
Kardashian personally, and I’m very grateful
for that, I’m convinced, well, I’m pretty sure
that her values would be very different from say the
values of Mother Teresa, okay? So, it’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? Anyway, but other things
that might influence, so sorry, go back to the poem. If I was writing on this
poem, I might simply say, well, as someone who
values class equality, I was influenced to sympathise
with this working class woman as a victim of, et cetera, okay? Or as someone who believes
that class inequality is unfair, whatever. Okay, so I’m stating what
my values and beliefs are and how they’ve influenced
my response to the text. But there are other things
about you as a reader that might be relevant
to the particular text you’re writing on. It might be your age, it could be the race to which you belong, the
class to which you belong. It could be your culture, it could be your historical context. So this poem written in
the 1920s, for example, you’re reading it a hundred
years after it was written. How does that influence the way you read? It could be something
you’ve, your prior reading, something you’ve already read, okay? Has anyone done the Great Gatsby? Yeah, that would be a great
novel to bring to bear on your reading of this one
because the Great Gatsby, also written and set
in the 1920s, shows you that it was a period of
great economic prosperity, but also a period of great
economic and social inequality. And so you could use your
understanding of that text as a way of saying, well,
you know, that’s helped me understand the ideas of this poem. You as a reader, it might
also be the reading practice that you employ. So you’re gonna, for
example, use a Marxist reading practice on this poem. But whatever approach you
choose to take, and you wouldn’t do all of those things, not by any means. If you’re gonna do a personal context one, personal context response, focus
on your values and beliefs. Or you could use one reading practice. So you’d only do one or two
of those things on that list. But whichever one you choose
to do, you’ve got to show your marker that you
understand that readers actively construct the meaning
of text, it’s your reading. Right, we push on. So this is section two now, how to prepare for this section of the exam. The single most useful
thing you can do in order to improve your marks
between now and the big exam is to practice doing these unseen passages on a regular basis. Every single student I’ve
ever taught in the course of over 30 years has
improved his or her marks, sometimes dramatically, with
regular practice in writing. Okay, so you can come to
these talks, you can hire a private tutor, but at the
end of the day, you have to do it, you’ve got to sit down
in that classroom and write. So I’m gonna be burdening
your teachers with extra work here, but ask your
teacher for sample passages. You can do this for your essays as well, ask for essay topics. Go home, under exam
conditions, write, hand it back to your teacher, ask for feedback, work on your weaknesses, okay? Practice is, it’s no different
from learning to play a musical instrument or
learning to play a sport. You get better by doing it, unless you’re the Brisbane Lion football team. Okay, not my team, I’m just as unhappy. It’s the Dockers, so there you go. Okay, but you have to do it regularly. There’s no point in,
say, doing three practice sample, unseen text, in a week,
and then not doing anything for another five weeks. Sit yourself down and say do two a week. That’s two hours out of your week. Or at the very least, do some plans. Spend 10 minutes doing a plan in your response to an unseen text. You can do six of those in a week, six, and that’s an hour’s work, okay? So practice is really important. And as I said, it is, in my experience, the single most useful
thing that a student can do in order to improve their marks. It’s about hard work. Okay, the other thing
you can do to prepare is to think beforehand what an unseen text is likely to be about. Don’t feel, you know,
I wouldn’t have a clue what a text is gonna be
about, how would I know? Well, the answer is in all
likelihood it’s going to be about one or more of
those four categories, gender, class, race, culture,
or a combination of those. Why, because these are the
four ideological categories that underpin the literature course. And every time you’re
looking at a set text, you’re discussing one or
more of those four things. And why do we do that,
because these are the four categories, gender, class, race, culture, these are the four
categories through which we understand ourselves and
try to understand others. In some cases, wilfully
misunderstand others. Okay, what the first thing
you notice when someone walks into a room? In all likelihood, whether
they’re male or female. What’s the first thing someone
asks when a baby is born? Not is it healthy, but
is it a boy or a girl. Gender’s one of the most
deeply entrenched categories that we have for making
sense of ourselves, making sense of each other. That’s why people whose
gender is indeterminate, who are transgendered or
inter-sexed or whatever, create such anxiety and such
hostility in our culture ’cause we need to know whether
someone’s male or female. Okay, so when you’re
reading an unseen text for the first time, use
these categories as a guide. Yeah, so what’s this text
saying about one or more of those four things? Another way you can prepare
is again to think beforehand about what a text is likely to be about. And you can use this little
formula which I’ve devised. All right, you might find this useful, the triple C formula. It doesn’t stand for corruption
and crime commission. It stands for, and these three things are all interchangeable. So a critique, when you’re
reading an unseen text for the first time, it’s
going to be a critique of some aspect of society or culture. That’s why many writers
are motivated to write. They have something to say
about society or culture. Critique isn’t the same as a criticism. Those two terms are often
used interchangeably, but they’re actually different. Criticism means finding
fault with, all right? Critique simply means an exploration of, which could mean finding
fault with, but it also means finding positive things as well. Conflict. Plays are certainly gonna
have some element of conflict in them, prose fiction as
well, sometimes even in a poem. Now the more specific you can be, the more marks you’re going to get. So say for example someone
who says there’s a conflict between Fred and Bill in
this extract is not going to get as many marks as someone
who says there’s a conflict in this extract between
two males, and the conflict is based on different
ideas of masculinity, and it takes physical form. Okay, so the more specific
you can be, the more marks you’re going to get. And then finally characters. When you’re looking at
characters within text, and this is true for
your set text as well, think about them not just as individuals, but think about them in
terms of the systems of power to which they belong,
gender, race, class, culture. Always comes down to those four things. Or another way of thinking
about characters is to think about the nature
of the self, of selfhood. All right, that we have
minds, we have bodies. Some people believe we
have a soul or a spirit. I don’t personally, but other people do. And writers, when you’re looking
at, again, at your set text as well as an unseen text,
think about is this writer primarily interested in
our minds, in how we think? Or is this writer interested
in our bodily selves? Or is this writer interested
in our spirit or our soul? So you can use that as a
guide to reading something, not just your set text,
but also reading something for the first time, something unseen. You can also prepare for
this section of the paper, and it’s really crucial
to do this, to memorise the different ways in
which texts can be written. Why, because it will give
you things to be looking for when you read an unseen
text, and it will give you lots to write about ’cause remember I said this is what you have to focus
on, how the text is written. Okay, so you need to
know the different forms that texts can take. So if you’re reading an
unseen poem, for example, ask yourself, is it a
sonnet, is it a ballad, is it a lyric, is it free verse, whatever. If you’re looking at an
extract of prose fiction, is this realist fiction, is it a satire, is it a dystopian text, and so on. So try to identify the form of the text, what kind of text it is. But also you need to
know, you need to memorise the generic conventions and
the different techniques that can be used, the
different kinds of language. So here, just as a reminder
of the generic conventions, but I’m not going to dwell on these because you should know them. So you need to know that if
you’re looking at unseen poem, these are the things you have to look for, typography, persona, rhyme, meter/rhythm. If you’re doing an unseen prose fiction, it’s point of view,
characterisation, setting. And here’s all the ones on drama, okay, but I’m sure you know all these already, so I’m not going to dwell on them. There are also lots of
techniques that you need to be familiar with, so
when you’re looking at an unseen text, ask yourself,
is it used in contrast, repetition, symbolism,
imagery, et cetera, all right? And then finally language. Can you please, when you’re
analysing either an unseen text or a set text, please
remember that language use is crucial in a text. Some people thing sometimes
they only need to talk about the use of language in a
poem, but you must talk about the use of language in all three genre ’cause that’s what the text
consists of, words, language. And so say for example you were
talking about point of view in a novel, you have to talk
about the kind of language the narrator uses. Okay, so remember to
always discuss language. But don’t say, “I was
influenced to read the text “in this way because of the
writer’s use of language.” That’s a meaningless statement. That’s like saying musical
composers use notes, okay? You’ve got to specify what
kind of language, okay? So this writer uses connotative language, figurative language,
complex language, whatever. Okay, moving on now to the third section. Remember you have 10 minutes reading time, and in that 10 minutes, what
I would strongly suggest you do when you’re looking
at that unseen section of the paper, is be open to
writing on any one of them. I know most people have a
favourite genre they like to write on, “Oh, I’m
always good at drama. “I’m definitely gonna
write on the unseen play.” Well, some people hate poetry and say, “Oh, I’m definitely not
writing on the poem.” But be open to all of
the genre, all right, because on the day, let’s say
for example you’re someone who hates writing about poetry. On the day, you might actually
get the poem and think, yes, I can do this. So what you need to do is
kind of skim read all three genre, just give them a
quick read, all right? Go in with an open
mind, not a closed mind, about which genre you
might write on, okay? And the first thing you
do, what’s really important is to pick up clues from
the contextual information. Now if you have a look at
the handout that you got as you were coming in, okay, you will see, and you’ll
always get this in the exam. You’ll be given a bit of
information about the text, some contextual information,
and you can pick up clues about how you might read
or interpret the text. So text A is a poem
entitled Skirt Machinist. It was written by the Australian
woman poet Lesbia Harford and was published in 1921. The title refers to a
woman factory worker. I should point out here that
the name Lesbia is not a clue to the poet’s sexual identity. It’s just a very popular name at the time. I don’t think people
would be inclined to call their daughter that these days. But I can already tell from
that contextual information that this poem is going to
be about gender and class. Yeah, it’s a woman factory
worker, so it’s about gender and class, I can already tell
that from the information. And I’ve got the date, 1921. If I know something about
Australia in the 1920s, that might be a clue for me as well. Okay, when you’re actually allowed to, so in your reading time,
you skim read the text using those guides that I’ve
given you, gender, class, race, culture, and you skim
read it to have a think about how it’s written as well. Now you’ve got writing time. So I think you need to reread
your text and annotate it. One reading is usually not enough. You’re gonna have to read it again. But what I don’t want you to do is panic. And this can happen frequently in exams, and it’s understandable. Students, you’ve got an
hour, and you think, oh, I have to start writing straight away. Do you do that sometimes? I’m worried I’m gonna run out of time? Okay, what you must do is
think first and plan in detail. You can easily spend up to 10
minutes doing a detailed plan, easily, and you’ve still got
50 minutes in which to write, and you’ll be able to finish your answer, this is true for your essays as well. You’ll be able to finish
your answer because your plan is so good that you already
know what you want to say before you start writing. So the actual writing of your
answer is that much easier, and it’s also going to be
a better answer because you’ve already thought about
what you’re going to say. The hardest part of writing
a response is the thinking and the planning. How to structure your answer. So you’ve done your plan, how
do you structure your answer? In the introductory paragraph,
basically you’ve got to do three things, you’ve
got to state your reading, so I think the text means
this, this, and this. You’ve gotta state how you
arrived at your reading, so what factors influenced your reading, and say whether you agree
with the text version of life or not and why. Those three things, your
reading, the factors that influenced your reading,
and whether you agree with the text version of life or not. You don’t have to do it in that order. That’s kind of the simple and
most obvious way to do it, but you might start with
your context, for example. Or you might start with the
text context, all right? So there’s no rule, it’s
not like writing an essay. An essay you have to start with your thesis statement basically. Okay, so that’s the
structure of the intro. As long as you get those
three things in, that’s fine. Now with the body and the
concluding paragraphs, it’s just like an essay,
it’s exactly the same thing. With the body paragraphs,
the body paragraphs are where you get most of your marks, because that’s where you’re
providing your evidence. Same for essays. And make sure in every body
paragraph that you have at least two examples
to support your point. Okay, so if I’m a WACE
marker and I open your script and I have a look, “Ah, yep,
student’s written three pages.” And if I can’t see any quote
marks or very few quote marks, before I even start reading
the answer, I’m already thinking there’s not enough
evidence in this answer. So you’ve gotta nail it by
providing lots of evidence and not just to quote, but
to discuss how your quote supports your point. It’s always that three-step process. Make a point, support it
with a quote or an example, and then show how your
quote supports your point. And then you have your
conclusion, which is the same as the conclusion for an essay. Can I just say on the
subject of conclusions, if the unthinkable happens and
you are running out of time, forget your conclusion, okay? Write your body paragraphs
because that’s where you get most of your marks. The conclusion just tells your marker what you’ve already said. If I read a really good
answer, even a kind of competent answer, and it
doesn’t have a conclusion, I don’t take off any marks
’cause I think, this was done under exam conditions, okay,
the student didn’t have time to write a conclusion,
but it’s not a big deal. So concentrate on those body paragraphs. It’s also the case if you’re
marking that sometimes a student doesn’t write a
particularly good introduction, but they warm up in the body paragraphs. And I can honestly say,
hand on heart, that markers are looking to reward
you, not to punish you. Okay, so here’s some tips. If you find that you’ve
only got two points to make, I’m gonna write on this
unseen poem, but I can really only say two things about
it, you can still do it. You just have lots more examples, right? You can’t go wrong with lots of examples. But the easiest way to
find three points to make, it’s very simple. How does the text begin? What idea does it begin with, point one. How does it develop, point two. How does it conclude, point three. So if you have a look
at that poem, you’ll see there’s an important idea
with which the poem begins, and then something shifts in the middle, and then there’s a
different idea at the end. Okay, more tips. This is true for your essays
as for your set text as well, always remember to discuss
the perspective in a text. So if you’re writing on
a poem with a persona, as this unseen poem has, an I person, then you must discuss
the use of that persona because everything in the
text comes through the eyes of that persona, whether you
agree with that persona’s views or not, okay? Any answer that writes
on a poem, so if a poem has a persona, an I person,
and you don’t write about it in your response, that’s a
seriously inadequate answer. You would lose marks for that, okay? So remember, always discuss
the persona in a poem if there is one. Similarly with a work of
prose fiction, if you have, you’re writing on a novel or a short story or an extract, you must
discuss the point of view, the narrator or narrators, it’s
crucial because the narrator colours everything that we see. Plays are a bit trickier,
you know, whose perspective is used in a play. Well, sometimes plays have
what’s called a morally normative character, they represent
the norms that the writer wants you to agree with. Another tip for you is to
discuss the emotional dimension of text, it’s something
that students often do, often don’t do, sorry, that
you talk about the ideas of a text, what a text
encourages you to think. But talk about what the
text encourages you to feel, what you felt, ’cause the
feeling dimension of a text, what’s called the affective
dimension of text, affect is emotions and sensations. So you’re reading something,
does it make you feel outraged, disgusted, sad,
melancholy, is it bleak, is it hopeful, affirming? Okay, all these words,
this emotional response is crucial in a text. Okay, and finally, quickly, how to stand out from the crowd. So discuss the significance
of a text title, it’s also true for your set text. A lot of students never
talk about the title, and it’s a really important
part of a text’s meaning. It’s a framing device, it
sets up certain expectations. Or after you’ve read a text
and you go back to the title, you might see something in it
that you hadn’t seen before. So Skirt Machinist, for
example, I could read that in one of two ways. I could read it as a sign
of the woman’s anonymity, she doesn’t have a name, she’s
simply defined by her job. Or I can read it another
way, which is to say that the poet thought a
poor working class woman is worth writing about, okay? So discuss titles. Try to sound engaged
with the text, all right? State how the text has
engaged you intellectually. So has it, for example,
complicated your understanding of an issue, educated you
in some way about an issue or idea, okay? Markers really love this, this
is also why English teachers and lit teachers get out
of bed in the morning. They want you to think about something. So talk about what the
text has made you think in a way that makes it
seem like it matters. Please, please be sincere,
don’t manufacture outrage. Markers can sniff something
insincere a mile away, like the student who wrote
an exam a few years ago. It was a text about
materialism and how we all buy too much stuff and what’s
the purpose of that. And the student said,
“After I read this text, “I made a decision to go home
and throw out all my stuff.” And he thought, yes, right,
okay, I really believe that one. Okay, so be sincere. And also, as I said earlier,
talk about how a text has engaged you emotionally as well. Another way you can
stand out from the crowd is to relate the text to your own society. Relate it to something that’s
going on in your own world. All right, I’ll just skip through these. And you can also stand out from the crowd by showing evidence of wider reading. Link your unseen text to something
that you’ve already read. And finally, you can use a
nifty quote, a provocative quote from another writer or
from a thinker as a kind of framing device for your interpretation. So I’ve given you a couple of quotes in your booklet on page 16. So for example, if you’re
writing a text about, right at the bottom of the
page, if your text deals with the racism of a so-called
civilised white culture, you might begin with the
philosopher Walter Benjamin’s pronouncement, “There is
no document of civilisation “which is not at the same
time a document of barbarism.” Every civilisation is
built on acts of barbarism. So have you ever been to
Egypt and seen the pyramids? Wonderful monuments to civilisation. Those pyramids were
built through the deaths of hundreds of thousands
of Egyptian slaves. Okay, well, here’s another
quote if it’s dealing with gender, if the text your
writing on deals with gender. It’s a great one for the
Handmaid’s Tale, this one. “The control of women’s
bodies is the basis “of all social control.” So throw in a nice quote,
some provocative or thoughtful quote at the beginning
or end of your essay. And because I began with a
really useless statement, something completely unhelpful,
I’ll end on a similar note with a quote that has no use at all, and please don’t use it in your exam. It’s from the comedian Groucho
Marx, and I love this one. “One morning I shot an
elephant in my pyjamas. “How he got into my
pyjamas, I’ll never know.” Thanks very much, please feel free to come and ask questions if you have any. (audience applauding)

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