English Paper 2 (H) 2016: A paper with remarkably specific and detailed questions


Comment/ analysis of English Paper 2 (Higher Level) by Jim Lusby, English teacher at The Institute of Education.

While nothing unexpected appeared in terms of content, this paper contained remarkably specific and detailed questions. It challenged candidates to display not only a wide knowledge of the prescribed texts, but also an ability to give more of less equal treatment to a variety of aspects.

The character of the paper is best illustrated by the question set on the most widely anticipated poet, Paul Durcan, which required candidates to discuss three distinct aspects: ‘narrative approach’, ‘a variety of issues’ and ‘great emotional honesty’. It must be asked whether this approach is asking too much of 1,000-word essays written in 50 or 60 minutes.

The range of poets set for examination was more or less as expected, but each question contained three or four distinct aspects. For example, ‘memorable characters’, ‘dramatic settings’, ‘meaning in life’ and ‘sense of disillusionment’ all had to be addressed in the discussion of T. S. Eliot’s poetry.

Four distinct aspects were also contained in the questions on Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Bishop. This made for a challenging section, not least in terms of time management. Candidates who had developed the desired skill of close reading would have been rewarded.

The questions here were in line with the remainder of the paper – familiar in content, wide-ranging in scope. Candidates were asked not only to discuss the characters of Lear and Gloucester in King Lear, for instance, but also to evaluate them in terms of relative heroism. The tasks were complex, but not unfair.

The expected modes were examined, but again the questions were less general than in recent years. Close attention to the specific terms of each question was essential. Candidates were specifically directed to discuss characters, settings and moments of crisis, rather than invited to supply merely their own prepared material.