English Comparative: Approaching The Question

English Comparative: Approaching The Question

Before looking at the comparative genres with regard to your texts we are going to look at how to structure your answer appropriately so it adheres to the PCLM marking scheme that the marker will use to grade your answer. Questions in the comparative section ask you to respond to a statement about a comparative genre with reference to texts you have studied, so here is how each part of your answer should deal with this task. The answer structure we will look at comprises of an introduction, main body and conclusion, each of which deals with the task as follows:

  1. Introduction: introduces your response to the statement and indicates to the marker what topics you will you use to show that your response can be made, as well as mentioning the texts you have studied/ will focus on.
  2. Main body: various topics concerning the comparative genre are focused on, with examples from your texts as evidence of this, are focused on so as to provide proof that the response to the statement made in the introduction is factual.
  3. Conclusion: sums up the significance of your answer, in other words what has been learnt from your responding to the statement as you did.

With this in mind, you can consider the majority of your answer as so:

Introduction (of answer) ≤ Main body (of answer)

Your introduction and main body are similar in that the main body of your answer is the proof that the response you make in your introduction can be given as an answer. The difference is that while your introduction will respond to a statement about a comparative genre or one of its elements in general, your main body will focus on specific areas to prove your introduction is correct. An example would be that your introduction will respond to a statement by saying that the general vision of texts provide us with bleak and bright outlooks on life, and then in your main body you focus on various parts of general vision to show that it does show the audience these viewpoints, such as the subject matter of the texts, the areas of life they focus on etc.

When writing your conclusion, think of this:

Introduction + Main body = ?

If we continue the question we just referred to, you began by stating that the general vision of texts provided the reader with bleak and bright outlooks on life, and then showed this with various topics and evidence from your texts. So what was learnt from this in-depth look at how general vision gives us different outlooks on life? This might be something such as that we see that one’s world viewpoint is affected by a variety of issues, or that it is not just the central character who gives us a sense of life in the world of the texts, but secondary characters and the make-up of the world. With this in mind, let’s look at how to make sure this basic structure adheres to the PCLM marking scheme.

What are you being asked to do?

The marker is told to view each question as a task to be solved, and here this is to compare your texts under a certain mode of comparison. Regardless of the mode of comparison the emphasis is always on comparing your three texts. Past questions on exams illustrate this:

 ‘Important themes are often expressed in key moments in texts.’

Compare how the authors of the comparative texts studied by you used key moments to heighten your awareness of an important theme. 

‘The main characters in texts are often in conflict with the world or culture they inhabit.’

In the light of the above statement, compare how the main characters interact with the cultural contexts of the texts you have studied for your comparative course. 

You are always asked to compare your three texts, using one of three modes of comparison to do so.

What do you need to have in these answers?

Regardless of what mode of comparison you compare your texts under, the marker is told to ensure you have a minimum of eight comparisons in your answer. In addition to this, your answer (as with all other sections) must include the qualities of Clarity of Purpose, Efficiency of Language Use, Coherence of Delivery and Accuracy of Mechanics. As your answer will always require these elements you can prepare an answer structure before the exam for this section that includes the aforementioned and thus can be used regardless of the question asked of you (what will change are the topics you focus on, which will shall look at later).

The introduction allows you to include the first quality needed in your answer:

Efficiency of Language Use

This involves using your language suitably for the task at hand. As well as your phrasing/ writing this focuses on the manner in which you structure your answer and as shown the introduction is an important part of this. An introduction should inform its reader what the remainder of the piece is about, and as said here you should respond to the statement in the question; as the main body will expand on your response and focus on it in-depth this will thus indicate what the rest of your piece will comprise of. You should also include the paragraph topics you will use to expand on and prove your response is factual, as well as the texts you studied and will focus on.

Let’s take the following question to illustrate a suitable introduction:

‘Each text we read presents us with an outlook on life that may be bright or dark, or a combination of brightness and darkness.’ In the light of the above statement, compare the general vision and viewpoint in at least two texts you have studied in your comparative course.

A suitable introduction would contain something such as:

‘Each text we read presents us with an outlook on life that may be bright or dark, or a combination of brightness and darkness. This outlook is created as characters embark on their various journeys, introducing such elements of the text as its subject matter, its characters and their vision of life, the aspects of life they focus on, as well as the closing scenes of the text. These elements reveal a general vision and viewpoint of a text which is either bright, dark or a combination of both, as can be seen when comparing the texts I have studied on my comparative course, the novel The Secret Life of Bees by Susan Monk Kidd (SLB) the novel Lies of Silence (LS) by Brian Moore and the film Billy Elliot (BE), directed by Stephen Daldry.’

Immediately the marker knows how you have responded to the statement and what topics you will focus on to prove this statement can be made; this will comprise of the majority of your answer. S/he also knows what texts you will focus on to provide evidence of this.

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About the Author

John Ryan

John has a Masters in Modern English Literature and is the founder of RyJoLC, an educational consultancy based in Dublin that provides English language and curriculum resources to educational institutions worldwide.
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