English Critical Essay Tips

You can keep your topic sentences in particular very short. In fact, it’s best to make them straight to the point. Using the “Jekyll and Hyde” example above, the topic sentence for the first paragraph could be: “The battle between Jekyll and Hyde is symbolic of the battle between good and evil in humans.” This is direct, and shows the reader exactly what you will talk about in the paragraph.

Make sure that you finish each paragraph with a one sentence mini-conclusion that links back to the question. Usually the question is split into two, and the finish of the sentence should refer to the second part of the question. So, using the “Jekyll and Hyde” example, the final sentence of the first paragraph could be: “Jekyll’s growing realisation that he cannot control Hyde forces him to isolate himself, and shows that Jekyll has come to regret his earlier immoral decisions.” Writing a one sentence mini-conclusion will help you when it comes to writing your final conclusions, and will also keep your work focused on the question.

In your paragraphs, the best sentence structure is the P.E.A. approach. This stands for Point, Evidence, and Analysis. Make your point, then back it up with a quotation or an example from the text, and then explain why this is important or relevant to the question. You can practice this simple approach by using the following framework in your revision:

Point – One of the key themes in the text is…

Evidence – This is shown when…

Analysis – This highlights/emphasises….

Although it is best not to use these exact phrases every time, this does give you an idea of how you should approach the content of your paragraphs.

The critical essay paper

What do you have to do?

In the Higher English Critical Essay paper you are required to write two essay answers. One and a half hours are allocated to this paper (i.e. 45 minutes for each essay). Each essay is worth 25 marks. You must answer on two of the following four separate genres (i.e. on different types of text).

Section A: Drama

Section B: Poetry

Section C: Prose (either fiction or non-fiction)

Section D: Film and TV drama

What are the examiners looking for?

At the top of the paper you are given some general advice about the marking standards the examiners are using (known as ‘performance criteria’).

The following areas are being assessed:

  • The relevance of your essays to the questions you have chosen, and the extent to which you sustain an appropriate line of thought
  • Your knowledge and understanding of key elements, central concerns and significant details of the chosen texts, supported by detailed and relevant evidence
  • Your understanding, as appropriate to the questions chosen, of how relevant aspects of structure/style/language contribute to the meaning/effect/impact of the chosen texts, supported by detailed and relevant evidence
  • Your evaluation, as appropriate to the questions chosen, of the effectiveness of the chosen texts, supported by detailed and relevant evidence
  • The quality of your written expression and the technical accuracy of your writing

Technique

Before the questions you will find a reminder that “answers . . . should address relevantly the central concern(s) / theme(s) of the text and be supported by reference to appropriate ... techniques.”

The next page shows a list of techniques that are likely to be used in drama, prose, poetry and film and TV. The technical terms in these lists are the jargon of English literary criticism and it is important to make sure you know what these words mean.

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