how to answer passage based essay questions

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A662, A663, A664: writing passage-based essay questions
This process may need adapting for some passages and you won't necessarily follow it to the letter in every
essay you write; nevertheless, it does give you a very clear framework for answering the passage-based
questions in A662, A663 and on the novel in A664.
1. Planning and annotation
Make sure that you scrutinise the detail of the passage; you need to pick up on all of the major points. Really
close reading, and consideration of every line in the passage, is key. Try to divide the passage up into a
number of obvious episodes where something different happens. Three would be ideal. For each, highlight
the best quotations that you will be able to use in your essay. You might annotate the passage as shown on
the diagram below:
Highlighted quotation
Episode 1 Highlighted quotation
Highlighted quotation
Highlighted quotation
Episode 2 Highlighted quotation
Highlighted quotation
Highlighted quotation
Episode 3 Highlighted quotation
Highlighted quotation
2. Writing the introduction
You should aim to follow a formula which runs something like this:
This passage comes immediately after [tell us what happens as succinctly as possible] and it precedes [tell us
what happens after this passage]. The passage is structurally important in terms of the narrative of the novel/
dramatic movement of the play because [a brief reason]. The writer [insert name] makes this passage
particularly [insert word from the question such as `dramatic'/ `important'] through his presentation of: [what
happens in episode 1 ­ with a couple of appropriate adjectives], [what happens in episode 2 ­ with a couple of
appropriate adjectives] and [what happens in episode 3 ­ with a couple of appropriate adjectives].
Remember that the question might also ask about presentation of character(s), relationships, or;
nevertheless, the thesis would look very similar: This passage is important in terms of the portrayal of
character(s)/ relationships/ settings because...

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Writing body paragraphs
You should aim to write at least 3 body paragraphs (one on each episode). However, you might choose to
write 2 paragraphs on some of the episodes, if you have time. You should aim to work through the passage
in a chronological order. You should aim to structure each paragraph like this:
DO DON'T Example
This is something that Don't use
actually happens in the technical
WHAT passage.…read more

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Every paragraph must have at least one quotation.
Some paragraph structures will be: what ­ quote ­ how ­ why ­ link ­ quote ­ how ­ why.
If you read your topic sentences one after the other they should summarize the key narrative
moments of the passage.
What should you write in your conclusion?
Restate thesis.
Return to contextualising the significance of the passage to the greater thematic aims of the
novel/play (political satire, allegory, corruption of power, etc.…read more


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