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O LEVEL LITERATURE

NOTES ON HOW TO UNDERSTAND THE QUESTIONS DEMANDS/ REQUIREMENTS


AND HOW TO RESPOND INTELLIGENTLY.
How to handle some types of questions in the paper
Below is an analysis of what is required for some types of questions in the O level
examinations, but it is by no means an exhaustive list. What we are attempting to do, is to
help you see how an understanding of the terms of the question helps you in the
organization/ structuring of your essay.
The thing to remember is that during the BRAINSTORMING process, you must always
unpack the terms in the question, especially when they refer to particular concepts
that need defining (in relation to the novel/ poem/ passage) and unpack the question
stems so that the issue of the question is tackled/ explored/ discussed and addressed.
In your introduction, include a thesis statement that sums up what your stand is. If the
question requires you to analyse what makes an effective leader, for example, you could
define what criteria you will be using in your assessment. We are not looking for a dictionary
definition of the terms in the question as this is not an EL essay, but we want you think
about the context of the novel and define effective leader in that context. You need to
analyse the text in a complete manner and this is possible only when you understand what
is required of you in the question.
In addition, we remind you that in each paragraph that you write, you have to state clearly
what the point is that you are trying to make in the paragraph and elaborate on the point,
give relevant evidence to support it and EXPLAIN how the evidence helps back up your
point/ helps illustrate your point. Quotes from the poem/ passage/ novel oftentimes need
you to diligently and intelligently unpack their significance in relation to the point you
are making.
At all times, consider Goldings/ Shakespeare/ the writers intention or purpose in writing
this novel, play, poem, passage.
Be familiar with the texts that you have studied. Do not attempt novels/ plays that you have
not studied in these two years.
When you are memorizing quotes, memorize phrases rather than long chunks.
When you quote, quote in context. If the pronoun makes it unclear who or what is being
referred to, take liberty in stating who or what it is using square brackets. E.g You [Ralph]
should have seen the blood! Jack tells Ralph this when (provide the context of the
quote).
All the best! God bless you!
Definition of terms
Event a major happening that takes place over an extended period of time. Eg the conversion
of the boys into savages
Moment a moment is what you choose to define as a moment. For e.g, a moment of
realization for a character. A moment could also refer to an instance, an incident, a situation, a
short scene that spans over a few minutes.
Incident something happening over a short period of time. E.g the killing of the sow by the
boys
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Situation an occurrence, an idea.

QUESTIONS THAT FOCUS ON CHARACTER:


Question Phrasing 1:
In what ways does . make . a memorable and significant character in the novel for you?
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Deal systematically with the key terms memorable and significant.


In your mind, unpack what memorable means if something is memorable to you, you
remember it because it has evoked strong feelings in you (identify these feelings). If
something is memorable, it is because it has struck you as being unique, special, different in
a significant way. Identify why it has struck you.
Why is XXX memorable? What has this character said/ done/ thought that has made an
impact on you? E.g Perhaps it has made you feel a certain way identify what feelings have
been created by this character in you.
In your mind, unpack what significant is if something is significant, it is important because
it has helped you in your understanding of the plot, theme, character. So, think about what is
the significance/ importance of this character in relation to plot development/ understanding
of the theme/ understanding of the other characters in the novel (e.g he may be a foil to
another character)
So, in your discussion, you will be exploring how memorable and how significant the
character is in the abovementioned aspects (pick out which are relevant).
Provide plenty of relevant detail from the novel to support your answers but do not narrate/
retell the story.

So your introduction may look like this:


Ralph is a memorable character in the novel because he is portrayed so realistically by Golding
as vulnerable to the pressures of an internal savage self. Golding uses Ralph to illustrate the
struggle between good and evil within a person. Ralph experiences lapses in character in
several parts of the novel despite wanting to stay civilized, responsible and despite desiring to
keep his eyes on his priorities: to get rescued and to manage the boys well-being in the meantime..
It is through Ralph that we are also allowed to appreciate the boys who loyally remain by his
side: Simon and Piggy, and to some extent, Samneric.
From this introduction, the reader is very clear about your points of discussion in your essay.
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If something is significant/ important, it is there for a reason (explain what this reason is). For
example, it may be as simple as, He is significant in the novel because (give reason) he
acts as a foil to Jack, allowing us to see how tension between doing what is right and doing
what is wrong will exist on an island with no adult supervision and thus no punishment for
doing what is wrong.

How does Golding make XXX and YYY so memorable? Support your ideas with details from
the novel.
[PBQ] How does the writer make the portrayal of YYY (character) in this passage so
memorable?

[PBQ] Does your opinion of YYY change following this incident? Support your answer by
close reference to the rest of the novel.
[PBQ] What do you think is the importance of XXX (character) to the story? Support your
answer by close reference to the rest of the novel.
How does Golding make XXX such an interesting and significant character in the novel?
Support your ideas with details from the story.
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Interesting Interesting suggests that there is something unusual or outstanding about the
character. There is something different about him, a unique/ special/ unusual/
outstanding quality about him that the writer intends for us to notice. We may also be
surprised/ pleasantly surprised or even shocked at this difference. The writer makes this
character interesting for a reason and the discerning Literature student will ponder about
what the writers purpose is (this is the significance of the character in the novel) For e.g,
Simon is an interesting character for his ability to remain unfazed even in the most tense of
situations and his ability to detach himself from the chaos in his retreat into serenity/ a place
of refuge.
In your mind, unpack what significant is if something is significant, it is important because
it has helped you in your understanding of the plot, theme, character. So, think about what is
the significance/ importance of this character in relation to plot development/ understanding
of the theme/ understanding of the other characters in the novel (e.g he may be a foil to
another character)

Question Phrasing 2:
By close reference, show how the writer creates sympathy for XXX in the novel
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Sympathy show how is the character likeable AND/ OR pitiable.


Exhibit a good sense of engagement with the character.
Must have firm textual support in the form of relevant details.
Your essay should be a discussion about HOW the writer makes the character likeable AND/
OR pitiable and WHY the character is likeable and/ or pitiable.

How does the writer make it so easy to feel sympathy for XXX? Support your answer by close
reference to the novel.
How far does the writer encourage you to feel sympathy for YYY in the novel?
In the novel, does the writers portrayal of YYY enable you to feel at all sorry for him?
[PBQ] How does the writer make you feel sorry for XXX in this passage?
[PBQ] What does the writer make you feel towards XXX in this passage?
[PBQ] How far does the behaviour of XXX here surprise you? Support your ideas with details
from earlier/ later parts of the novel.
How do you think the writer makes YYY such a tragic figure in the novel?
Explore in detail one other moment in the novel when Golding makes you feel strongly about
YYY (a character)

Moment a moment is what you choose to define as a moment. For e.g, a moment of
realization for a character. A moment could also refer to an instance, an incident, a situation,
a short scene that spans over a few minutes.
You have to refer to ONE moment only. In your introduction, you MUST set the parameters
of the moment you are referring to: Give the chapter reference and describe from which part
to which part of the moment you will be referring to in the essay.
Do NOT answer in just one paragraph. Think about different parts/ aspects of the moment
that may have made you feel strongly. Identify these parts/ aspects of this moment and the
strong emotion/ strong feeling you felt. In different parts/ aspects of the moment, you may
have felt differently. Or the moment may have caused you to feel a range of strong emotions.
You have to identify these strong emotions. Organize these into paragraphs.
For e.g, in Chapter 1 the near-killing of the pig trapped in the creepers, you may discuss
how you felt great worry for the pig and great alarm when Jack drew his knife and was
about to stab the pig (in one paragraph), what great relief you felt when the dramatic pause
allowed the pig to run off (in another paragraph), how you felt great dismay hearing both
Ralph and Jack talk about how to kill the pig (in another paragraph) and how you felt greatly
disturbed in seeing and hearing the aggression and determination in Jacks voice to kill the
next pig he saw (in a last paragraph).
The question states feel strongly so your emotions must be of greater intensity. E.g
greatly disturbed instead of affected, great worry instead of worry, great dismay or great
disappointment rather than just disappointed. You may even develop a great distaste for
Jack or even hate him for what he has done. You may feel greatly indignant at the
savagery of the boys in their attack on the sow that resembles the raping of a woman. You
may also be moved to strongly support or passionately side Ralph over Jack because
you are outraged at his actions. Whatever the emotion, it must be felt with passion and at a
more intense level.
O-level examiners want YOU to develop strong feelings towards the plot, characters
and even the themes in the novel. Start thinking about how you FEEL and how you are
MOVED.

How far and in what ways does the writer make you admire XXX? Support your ideas with
details from the novel.
Question Phrasing 3:
How does the writer show the changing relationship between XXX and YYY in the course of
the story?
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This is not a mere retelling of the story.


You have to analyse the relationship at the start, middle and end. Your essay should be a
discussion of about 4-5 ways in which the relationship has changed and explain how the
changes are made evident to you. Also explain what contributed to the change is it external
factors, change in values, beliefs, motivations, a mix of both?

How does Golding make the relationship between XXX and YYY so moving?
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This is not a mere retelling of the story.


Moving show how the relationship has tugged at your heartstrings, touched you, made you
feel emotional, made you feel emotions such as pity, sympathy, admiration, pleasantly
surprised, overjoyed.
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You have to analyse the relationship between the specified characters at the start, middle
and end. Your essay should be a discussion of about 4-5 ways in which the relationship has
made you feel certain emotions. There could have been a change in the relationship at
points in the novel and this could have been moving as well. Explain what contributed to the
change is it external factors, change in values, beliefs, motivations, a mix of both and WHY
it makes their relationship moving?

How does the writer make XXX such a moving character? (CHARACTER)
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Moving show how the characters actions, word, interactions with others, intentions/
motivations have tugged at your heartstrings, touched you, made you feel emotional, made
you feel emotions such as pity, sympathy, admiration, pleasantly surprised, overjoyed.

[PBQ] How does the writer bring out the thoughts and feelings of the characters in this
passage?
Question Phrasing 4:
How far do you agree that the strong character(s) in this novel are XXX, rather than YYY?
Support your ideas with details from the novel.
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During the brainstorming stage, unpack what you strong means physical/ mental/ spiritual
strength, moral strength and courage? Strong knowledge? Strong in terms of their
contribution to society/ their roles and responsibilities being weighty.
You have to evaluate the strength of one party in relation to the other.
Even if you agree and say that one party is strong, you should also consider the strengths
that the other party exhibits (if there are any, of course) because both parties play different
roles in the community.
Support your answers with excellent, relevant textual detail.
Do not just narrate. Your essay will have to discuss and EXPLAIN why what they do is a
STRENGTH.

Question Phrasing 5:
What impressions do you form of XXX?
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Your answer must probe CHARACTER rather than behaviour.


Look beyond the apparent. Take into consideration his circumstances, his situation, his
relationships between other characters, his motivations, his value system, etc to understand
the character as a 3-dimensional character. Look at the multi-dimensional, sometimes
paradoxical or contradictory behaviour that the character exhibits to understand the
character in flesh, blood and spirit.
Do not jump to conclusions and just take the first action/ thought/ speech of the character
and immediately form an impression of him as this may be a nave and shallow
understanding of the character.
Read the entire passage to formulate a holistic picture of the character.

[PBQ] How does the writer create vivid impressions of XXXs character in this passage/
elsewhere in the novel?
[PBQ] How does the writer develop your impression of AAA in the rest of the novel?

Question Phrasing 6:
How does Golding memorably convey XXXs feelings about the breaking up and falling apart
of Ralphs tribe? (CHARACTER & PLOT)
How does Golding make this incident so significant in XXXs life? Support your answer with
details from elsewhere in the novel. (PLOT & CHARACTER)
Explore the ways in which Golding vividly portrays the good and the bad boys in the novel.
Support your ideas with details from the novel.
How does Golding vividly convey the shortcomings of Ralphs leadership in the novel?
Support your ideas with details from the novel.
How does Golding vividly convey the harshness of Jacks rule in the novel?
Question Phrasing 7:
Explore the ways in which the writer vividly portrays the different attitudes of the boys to
YYY (an incident, a moment, a situation, an event, an idea) in the novel.
How does Golding make different reactions to YYY (e.g the death of Simon) so memorable in
the novel? Support your ideas with details from the story.
QUESTIONS THAT FOCUS ON THEME:
Question Phrasing 1:
What do you think is the significance/ importance to the novel of Jacks leadership on the
island. Support your ideas with details from the novel. (THEME: LEADERSHIP)
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Think about the significance of the period he was in power When did Jack win over the
boys? What happened during the time when he was in power? What did the shift in power
symbolize/ signify?
Explore what Goldings PURPOSE is in having the boys move over from Ralphs tribe to
Jacks tribe What does this tell you about their values, about Jacks character/ his strategy in
winning them over, Ralphs leadership, etc.
You need excellent textual detail to support your points.
This essay is NOT a retelling about what Jack did while he was in power.
It is a discussion of the IMPACT of Jacks leadership and power on the boys behaviour,
values, on what life on the island is becoming, on your understanding of Umuofia, on your
understanding of Goldings premise that all of us have a beast within (are innately savage),
etc.

Question Phrasing 2:
[PBQ] What do you think is the importance of this passage in the novel as a whole? Refer to
events outside this passage in your answer.
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This requires an analysis of the writers intention/ purpose in the writing of this novel and also
what effect the passage has in highlighting/ contributing to this purpose.
You also have to see how the passage functions in the areas of plot development, theme
development/ exploration and character development/ exploration.

Question Phrasing 3:
What do you think are some of the important lessons that you can learn from the novel as a
whole? Support your ideas with details from the novel.
How does the novel encourage you to agree with XXX that
Support your ideas with details from the novel.

[quote from the text]

Question Phrasing 4:
Explore the ways in which Golding vividly presents savagery in the novel.
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During the brainstorming stage, unpack the key

Explore the ways in which Golding vividly presents civilization in the novel.
QUESTIONS THAT FOCUS ON PLOT/ WRITERS CRAFT/ PERSONAL RESPONSE:
Question Phrasing 1:
How does the writer make you feel particularly angry about . Choose two incidents
which
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During the brainstorming stage, unpack the concept of being angry when one is angry, it
may stem from an immense dissatisfaction about something. It may be because the situation
is unjust and unfair. It may be because someone has been very unreasonable. It may be
because someone has been so disadvantaged that it creates such strong feelings of
indignance in you.
In your essay, you have to explore the reasons why you feel the abovementioned way. State
clearly the reasons why you feel this way.
You also have to explore the techniques used by the writer to make you feel this way.
Support with rich and relevant textual detail but do not just narrate the incident.

Question Phrasing 2:
What do you find powerful about the way in which the writer writes about
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During the brainstorming stage, unpack what powerful means


Something is powerful if it strikes you as being unusual, special, significant, etc.
Something is powerful if it has made a very great impact on you in a positive or negative
way or both.
Something is powerful if it evokes strong feelings in you; and you have to explore what these
strong feelings are (e.g anger, hate, indignation, great joy, great relief, etc).
Something is powerful if it has something important to say about a particular issue, topic and
this affects/ changes your attitude towards this issue/ topic.
Your discussion in the essay should explore the abovementioned aspects (pick out the
relevant aspects) in which the passage is powerful.

Question Phrasing 3:
What is dramatic about this passage/ this incident/ this moment?
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See the passage play out before your eyes, as if it were a performance.
Is it the tone/ mood/ atmosphere of the piece that is dramatic it could be a very emotional
piece (identify the emotions).
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It could be that there is tension, suspense, excitement.


It could be that the actions, speech, thoughts of the characters are delivered in a powerful
way that evokes strong emotions in you.
It could be that it affects the plot in a very significant way tables are turned, there is a plot
twist, etc.
It could open your eyes to a very radical view/ opinion/ attitude that the writer has towards a
particular topic and issue identify this view/ opinion/ attitude of the writer.
It could produce a very profound/ deep understanding of the characters in the passage/
incident/ moment.
Your discussion in the essay should explore the abovementioned aspects (pick out the
relevant aspects) in which the passage is dramatic.

How does the writer make this passage such a dramatic moment in the novel?
Question Phrasing 4:
How does the writer make this a disturbing moment for you.
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During the brainstorming stage, unpack what disturbing is when something is disturbing, it
makes you feel uncomfortable, it stirs up negative feelings which may include any of these
feelings: disgust, disappointment, frustration, anger, horror, confusion, etc.
Think about how the moment is presented to you. Does the theme (idea/ issue) make you
feel disturbed? Is the portrayal of the character and/ or his relationship to others particularly
disturbing?
Your essay should contain a discussion as to how this moment/ this incident/ this scene
EVOKES such negative feelings in you.
We all have certain expectations about society, about the way people should behave, what is
moral, etc. When dealing with what is disturbing, think about the culture and the value and
belief system of the people that the novel/ poem/ passage is dealing with.
You should not say Jacks killing of the pig is disturbing for you because in Singapore, no
teenager has to hunt and kill for his own meat.
Instead, you must explain why it is disturbing in the context of life on the island. So you
say, Jacks killing of the pig in Painted Faces and Long Hair is disturbing because the
bloodlust in Jack is evident he gloats in his ability to outwit a life: the pigs; he deems
himself all-powerful by glorifying the hunt and his efforts in the hunt. That it is his first kill
makes it more disturbing because his reaction to his success is so devoid of any sympathy
and compassion for the pig. To kill for meat is understandable. However, to kill for meat and
then boast about the attack removes the innocence of the hunt for just meat and instead,
ushers in the unacceptable desire for blood. It is a grim reminder that their being on an
island results in a lack of proximity to civilization and this kill signifies a shift away from
what is deemed acceptable by a civilized people.

Always base your analysis on your understanding of the culture, context, situation of
the people you are reading about. Do not base your feelings on what is normal to you
in Singapores context or even modern day context, if your text is based on a past
period of colonization for example.

[PBQ] How does the writer make this passage so very disturbing?

Question Phrasing 5:
What is striking about this moment/ incident for you?
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The term striking requires a discussion as to why the moment is powerful, memorable and
significant (read up on what these terms mean in this handout).

What makes the decision to . Such a memorable turning point in the novel? Support your
answer by close reference to other parts of the novel.
Question Phrasing 6:
How does the writer allow the reader to understand and enjoy/ appreciate the novel/ play
more?
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This is a question that addresses mainly the themes in the novel/ play/ passage/ poem.
How can we better understand the writers message to us about the issues in the novel/ play/
passage/ poem?
How can we better appreciate the issues in the novel/ play/ passage/ poem.
How can we better appreciate the characters in the novel/ play/ passage/ poem.
Enjoyment can be an intellectual enjoyment (I appreciate this . I understand this better
I am made to question my beliefs ) or an emotional enjoyment (Feelings: I like this, I find it
interesting, etc)

How does the writer make the descriptions of AAA and BBB so entertaining in this passage?
By close reference to two incidents, show how Golding vividly brings to life the .. (e.g
character/ them ).
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Knowledge of the text is very important although the answer cannot and should not be a
mere narration of the two incidents.
Students essays should also not consist of just 2 paragraphs. There must be brainstorming
done on each incident to pick out the methods/ techniques/ strategies used by Golding to
vividly make the issue/ theme/ character come alive. The guide would be 2-3 methods/
strategies/ techniques adopted by Golding for EACH incident and thus EACH incident would
require 2-3 paragraphs of analysis of these methods/ strategies/ techniques.
What does it mean to vividly bring something to life? Vividly means clearly and
convincingly; bringing something to life is to present a character that is realistic, multifaceted, whose actions/ speech/ interactions with other characters evoke emotions and
feelings in the reader. The reader must feel for the character for it to have been brought
successfully to life.
With regard to theme, the writer is able to bring the theme to life by also evoking emotions
and feelings in the reader.
Thus with this question, you will need to identify the means in which Golding makes us feel
for the characters/ themes.

Explore in detail two incidents which you think are both amusing and sad at the same time in
the way that they depict YYY [a theme/ character]. Support your answer by close reference to
the novel.
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[PBQ] Do you think that Golding makes this passage an effective ending to the novel?
[PBQ] How far does Golding make you think that the move to get back Piggys spectacles will
be a good thing for Piggy?
What do you find striking and effective about the way in which the writer uses language in
the poem?
WRITERS CRAFT
Techniques used by writers vary. What is important when you are asked HOW the writer achieves
a particular impact or evokes a particular feeling is to be very sensitive to the language (words
and images) used in the passage/ poem.
Do not start your paragraph like this:
The writer uses words, imagery, metaphor, personification and contrast to evoke feelings of anger in
me.
There is no need to list down an entire list of literary terms especially since your job is not to just
merely identify the techniques, but MORE IMPORTANTLY it is to EXPLAIN how these techniques
WORK to create a particular effect.
Some techniques that are especially popular are the use of contrast. When you put good against
bad, it shows good up even more clearly and it shows up bad even more starkly. A character can be
a foil to another character, for example.
Pay attention to not just the denotative (dictionary) definition of the word, but also the
CONNOTATIVE, SUGGESTIVE meaning of words. Certain words are associated with certain
ideas because they have been so often used in a particular way. Be sensitive to what words
suggest. Choice of adjectives, adverbs, verbs are often significant. Words paint pictures; they
form IMAGES in our mind. For example, why does the writer say raced instead of ran? Why does
he say desperately raced instead of just ran? Why does the writer describe a house as a shabby,
dilapidated hut rather than just an old house? Why does he say that a character wore a
depressing countenance like black, heavy thunderclouds in an overcast sky rather than just saying
that the character was unhappy? Your job is to intelligently and diligently explain why the writer
has made such choices what EFFECT does he want to create, in relation to his overall
purpose/ intention in the piece?
Think about/ be sensitive to:
- the tone/ mood/ atmosphere of the piece
- the tone of the characters, conveyed through the words in their speech, the punctuation, etc
- contrast
- irony (if it is present)
- unusual punctuation in the piece (e.g excessive use of exclamation marks)
- the structure of the piece poem in one chunk ~ for what purpose/ effect? One line that
stands on its own ~ for what purpose/ effect?
- the choice of words
- the images in the piece
- patterns
- repetition for emphasis (and emphasis of what??? Must say what the emphasis is on)
- structure of the sentences (long sentences followed by an extremely short sentence of two
words ~ for what purpose/ effect?)
Always analyse and interpret the effect in a balanced way, that is, after a complete understanding of
the poem/ passage. Do not analyse and interpret the effect out of context. ALWAYS INTERPRET
AND ANALYSE EFFECT AND PURPOSE IN THE CONTEXT OF THE NOVEL/ PLAY/ POEM/
PASSAGE.
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