Understanding AO4 (High band English Literature)


A LEVEL ENGLISH LITERATURE – UNDERSTANDING
AO4 Hello and welcome to the fifth and final video
looking at the use of assessment objectives in AS and A2 English Literature. In this particular
video we’re going to be looking at the use of assessment objective 4. AO4 focuses on the contexts or the time and
place when particular texts were written. It looks at the ideas that went to inform
and create those texts and how those texts were then received, understood, interpreted
or criticised over time. AO4 has two particular areas of assessment
focus. The first one is asking you to show your understanding of how and why the time
or the era that the text was created in relates to its creation, so when the text was written
how did the social, political and economic circumstances surrounding the writer influence
the way that they wrote that particular text? So in part it has a lot to do with understanding
the history of the text and when it was written. The second area asks you to then look and
see how different times after the text was written, have interpreted and evaluated those
texts, so in a sense it fits in with AO2 and AO3 where we look at other readings of that
particular text to understand why it’s been received the way it has at a particular moment
in its history. AO4 appears mainly in coursework but there
are elements of it in examinations, particularly synoptic elements and in the OCR examination
you are actually asked to answer general questions that compare texts but also look at their
contexts, so AO3 and AO4 are together in that examination. The Examiners focus on three major areas of
concern when candidates are answering questions based on AO4. The first one is ignorance and anachronism.
Anachronism is when you put modern era ideas or thoughts or circumstances into the past
and judge the past as if it was the present, which
is often a misconception within candidates’
understanding. The second part is assertions and generalisations
where people just make comments and don’t back them up, or make general comments about
a particular time. And thirdly, as with AO2 and AO3, relevance.
They don’t really link the context to what they’re writing about or the question. So then, just looking at the problem of ignorance
and anachronism. Ignorance basically means you haven’t done the reading and that means
you cannot answer an AO4 question competently enough. That means it’s important to read
around your text, understand the time when it was written, understand what writers and
critics and other artists or important people were saying about that particular text at
the time and how it links to the ideas; the spiritual ideas, the social ideas, the political
ideas and even maybe the economic ideas of its particular time of production. Then of
course the anachronism here where candidates confuse past with the present and mix things
up. So a number of Examiners’ reports often humorously refer to the fact of people mentioning
that there were televisions or radio in the time of Dickens or electricity in the time
of Shakespeare. That shows you have really not got a very good understanding and so the
understanding of the period, a simple one, one that you may even get of Wikipedia – which
is not recommended but you should be able to at least get a grasp from a particular
period – needs to be shown. An Examiner is alerted to a lack of understanding
in AO4 and also it subverts any ability to contrast texts if a student makes simple historical
errors an does not really show a good background understanding of the particular time a text
was written and this is true even of more recent texts that maybe have been written
in the twentieth century, such as the 1960s or 70s, the poems of Philip Larkin for example. The next area where Examiners identify weaknesses
in students’ responses to AO4 are assertions and generalisations and these link also to
confusion and lack of knowledge. So often in exam answers or essay responses, statements
are made and then vaguely linked to a text. So for example, talking about Shakespeare
you might say ‘everyone worshipped Elizabeth I’. That’s not really enough to link to
the text of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ for example. So it really does need to be
contextualised, that means the time that it was written needs to be very strongly linked
with evidence to the play or the poem or the novel that you’re writing about. Linked to this assertion argument is that
of generalisations and what happens is students lazily make assumptions about a particular
idea or a particular way of thinking, so for example this often happens in relationship
to the times of Chaucer where people think that Chaucer just simply believed one thing
or another about the Catholic Church or people get mixed up when writing about the renaissance
in Britain and Shakespeare’s contemporaries such as Marlow and Johnson, they make assumptions
that they believed completely one thing or another as Protestants or they mix up Protestant
with Catholic, so again, you need to have clear ideas about the reasons behind why something
was written and the actual goings on at the time of that particular piece of writing. Next is the use of relevance. This manifests
itself in a number of ways. The first one is students just quote left, right and centre
and don’t link those quotes to the texts. Earlier in these videos we saw some very interesting
comments made about ‘The Great Gatsby’ and they were linked contextually to the text,
so the idea of the motor car being something new in 1920s America, it wasn’t just a whole
blitz of quotations about motor cars, there wasn’t just lots and lots of different quotations
about it, not linked or explained or justified or evaluated. So students tend to use too
many quotations that are around the area of the context but don’t really link to the
question they’re being asked and that links again to this second point here – failure
to link those points. It’s very important that any quotations you use are definitely
there to support or extend or help you evaluate a comment you’ve already made in your answer.
And normally AO4 falls flat because students don’t incorporate the other AOs; AO2, where
we’re looking at language structure and form and AO3 where we’re looking at links,
similarities between texts and differences within those similarities and similarities
within those differences. So again, it’s all really about background knowledge, background
reading and background understanding, in order to link that up within your writing. Here we have an A example of the use of AO4
and it links very much to what we’ve been talking about. It concerns a response to a
question on ‘Othello’. Immediately we see that the student has a very good grasp
of the context of the play with these two words here ‘Machiavellian’ and ‘malcontent’.
Both these ideas link to certain negative characters in Elizabethan drama. There isn’t
a massive explanation after that, there isn’t a massive quotation but the terms are strongly
put and again, here we see AO1 in action; the student then goes on to justify the point
they have made and develop it and link it very clearly to the text and very clearly
to the author’s intentions. Not just let it float free and say ‘Iago is a malcontent’
and then say ‘he does bad things’. This candidate digs deeper and contextualises this
comment and actually unpacks it, explains it, evaluates it and links it to an earlier
form of drama, the medieval morality play and that Iago is mainly a link to that vice
like figure and Othello, the innocent everyman, whose common vices bring him low and make
him a victim of that vice. So you can see that AO1, 2, 3, and 4 often
link together and if you look back over these videos and at the particular pieces of writing,
you can see that AO1 brings those AOs 2, 3 and 4 out and makes them clearer and shows
the candidates strong understanding of the text on those three assessment objective levels,
that’s why they have received the A grade. Not because they had some miraculous insight
into the play but they were able to make clear points that link together and quote, or show
knowledge that backed up the points they made. 1

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