Exam Centre: Comprehension (A)

student reading

Exam Preparation

Reread the examples of points/paragraphs that you have been given for the comprehension section.

**You can find sample answers for 2011 Text 2 here and 2011 Text 3 here**

Note again how each one contains:

  • A topic sentence often containing key words from the question that links the point of the paragraph with the question

  • Some quotes and/or references from the text that will back up the point made in the topic sentence.

  • An explanation sentence that makes clear how this evidence proves the point.       *

*P.E.E.  (Point/Evidence/Explain)

It is absolutely essential that you know the features of the language of:

N.B. It is not enough to simply know the names of these features and be able to identify them.

You must also be able to say what contribution they make to the piece of writing.

e.g. Inclusive language in a persuasive/argumentative piece makes the listener/ reader feel as if the speaker/writer is on their side and is speaking on their behalf. This makes them more likely to be convinced by the reader/ writer and agree with their point-of-view.

In narrative writing, striking imagery evokes the scene for the reader and allows them to immerse themselves in the story more.

STYLE PARAGRAPH: Feature + Example + Effectiveness


Practice answering* as many of these type of questions as you have time for. It is particularly important to practice the style questions.

N.B. In many cases the piece of writing that appears may contain features from a a few different lanaguage categories. The text and question on style may require you to use your knowledge of all the different types of language you are familiar with in order to pick out some features to use in your answer. By the time you sit your exam, you should be able to pick at least four features of the writer’s style from any piece of writing that you come across.

*TIME SAVER:  Because for the comprehension section of the exam, it is coming up with the points and the examples that you can then turn into paragraphs that is the most difficult part, it is advisable that as a time saving measure you simply practice your exam technique (below)  by answering Question A just to the point where you have ‘dug out’ the points and examples you need to answer all the individual questions. In other words, do all the reading and the planning but save time by not actually writing the answers.

IMAGE QUESTIONS: Given the increasing amount of questions appearing in the comprehension section in recent years based around images, it is more essential than ever to know your image vocabulary (foreground, background, centre, left, right, middle etc.) It is also crucial when working with images to be able to give a general impression, pick out specific details, or offer a detailed description; as well as connecting an image with an accompanying text.


Exam Technique


Notice the theme that is printed on the cover page. Quickly jot down anything that comes into your head based around this theme.


Look quickly at the three texts on the paper.

  • You should decide on what text to answer comprehension questions on based on the following factors:

  1. What genre of writing is the text?

  2. What ‘B’ question accompanies the text?

  3. What are the questions on the text like? Are they straightforward? Pay particularly close attention to the 20 mark question? Is it a style question where you would feel confident of answering it well?

  • Once you have decided for certain which of the three texts you are going to answer  Question A on, move immediately to put an X through the B question – this will ensure that you do not fall into the trap of answering the B question from the same text.

  • Read the introduction of the text carefully. Read it several times if necessary until you are certain of its meaning – underlining important parts will help you process the information.

  • If possible, take a note of what genre of writing the text comes from* – is it personal writing (newspaper column, diary entry, informal letter etc); persuasive writing (speech, advertisement etc.), informative etc. (newspaper report, guidelines etc.) Ask yourself what the aim of the writer is? Are they trying to convince you of a particular point of view? Is the purpose of the writer to entertain or to tell a story? Glancing at the introduction of the text will also help you decide the genre. Some texts may offer a mixture of genres.

*Once you have figured out roughly what type of writing you are dealing with, then you can automatically be looking out for the features of style that may be used in the text. Remember though that some texts will possibly include features of a few different genres of writing e.g. a piece of personal writing may use imagery and/or rhetorical questions as well as hyperbole and personal anecdotes.

  • Next look carefully at the questions. Use the UP (P P)* system to analyse what the question is asking you. If it is clear what type of question it is (style, character, images) then write that beside it. If a question seems to demand a particularly personal response, then write P.R. beside it. Remember though that most questions will require you to ground your answer in the text i.e. use quotations and references to back up your point of view.

  • It is advisable to circle  the marks given for a particular question. This will obviously guide you in deciding how many points you need to make in your answer. As a rule-of-thumb, unless the question specifies, aim to make one point/paragraph per five marks.

  • Do not begin reading the text until you are certain of what the questions are asking you.

  • Always read with a pen (or pens) in your hand. You should be constantly at work ‘digging out’ the points and examples from the text that will form the points/paragraphs in your answer.

  • Once you begin the first reading, it is advisable to have different coloured  highlighters  or  pens to mark the parts of the text that are relevant to each question.

  • For the first reading, try to mark anything that may be useful in terms of answering any of the questions. For example if one of the questions is on style, underline things like rhetorical questions, inclusive language, pressure statements, statistics, quotations etc. or things like imagery (including similes or metaphors), personification, alliteration, dialogue etc. If there is a question about the character of a particular person in the text then underline the relevant text that tells us something about their personality and write the word in the margin beside it. Quickly write 1, 2 or 3 beside any quote or reference that might be useful for that particular question.

  • Next reread the first question again carefully. Are you certain as to what it is asking you? Reread the text again and look for further specific points or quotes that you can include in your points/paragraphs.

  • Once you are happy that you have sufficient material to answer the question, write your answer. For almost all questions there is an expectation that you organise the points you make into paragraphs. Each paragraph will normally contain the usual point (connected with the question), evidence (quotation/ reference) and explanation sentence.

  • As a general guideline, expect to make one point/paragraph per five marks – unless the question specifies otherwise.

  • On the style question (time allowing!), aim to make four points/paragraphs for the 20 marks even if only three are requested.

Personal response

Don’t be afraid to give your opinion on the writing or the writer’s viewpoint – particularly if the question specifically requests it. You are also free to criticise a position or feature of the writer’s style – if you feel you can argue your point clearly; and based on evidence from the text.

*U(underline), P(lan) =P(oints) = P(aragraphs)




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