Essay writing

The second section of the exam requires you to write an essay. There will be two questions, usually one character-based and the other theme-based. You need to choose one of these. The most important thing is to remember to include as much detail as possible, because this tells the examiner that you know the text very well.

AO1

Respond to texts critically and imaginatively; select and evaluate relevant textual detail to illustrate and support interpretations.

AO2

Explain how language, structure and form contribute to writers’ presentation of ideas, themes and settings.

The examiners are looking for you to demonstrate good knowledge of the whole text. You must have a clear idea about:

  • the plot
  • characters
  • themes
  • language, form and structure

In the same way that you wrote a brief plan to help you in the extract question, it is a good idea to write a plan for your essay. This means that you can structure your essay properly so that you do not leave anything out or repeat information. You should include some short, relevant text references, but this is not a memory feat so do not worry about learning a lot of quotes!

Here are examples of essay titles from a higher tier and a foundation tier exam.

Higher tier

To what extent do you find the ending ofHeroesa satisfying conclusion to the novel?

Foundation tier

What do you think of the ending of the novel, from when Francis visits Larry?

Planning your answer

  • Introduction. Explain briefly what has happened to bring Francis into contact with Larry once more
  • Discuss the meeting between Francis and Larry at the end of the novel
  • Discuss the meeting between Francis and Nicole at the end of the novel
  • Discuss the final chapter where Francis is at the station
  • Conclusion. Here you should summarise the points you have made

Higher tier sample answers

Here are two sample responses which address point three of the essay plan:

Sample answer one

When Francis visits Nicole at the end of the novel, the reader is hoping for a happy ending. Francis says that he does not recognise Nicole. Considering that she has been the main thing on his mind for so many years, it is a surprise that he does not know who she is. He says that she looks different and she is wearing the school uniform of her new school, so everything about her has changed. This is effective because it makes her a bit like Francis because since the night of her rape, both she and Francis have changed. They are now two completely different people.

Francis feels unable to tell Nicole the truth – he says his facial injuries are nothing, and he lies about having cosmetic surgery. He evidently still feels that she has not forgiven him for failing to protect her, so he cannot be his true self with her. As they talk, Francis describes the sound of girls playing tennis outside, and even mentions the plopping of the ball, so you can tell that Nicole is among other people all the time.

Cormier describes their awkward silences and the way that Nicole looks at him as a friend. However, there is hope for Francis’ future when Nicole tells him to write about his experiences. I think that the way Cormier treats Francis and Nicole in this chapter is very moving because after all that has happened to them, they cannot rekindle their relationship.

Feedback comments – some focus but needs more detailed analysis

This answer shows that the candidate understands the question and is trying to show how this chapter contributes to a satisfying ending. However, there is not enough discussion of how the writer brings events to a conclusion. The comment about the reader hoping for a happy ending is good, but could have been added to with a discussion about how things are looking at this point. The creation of suspense could be mentioned. There should be more analysis of the ways in which Francis and Nicole have changed, rather than just a sweeping statement about her uniform and looks.

The fact that Nicole apologises to Francis is very important to the ending, coming as it does straight after Larry’s statement that Francis was not to blame, so this should be discussed. The quote about the sound of the ball does not really serve much purpose here, but it could be made relevant by linking it to the games of table tennis at the Wreck Centre when Francis was a child. Finally, the candidate must address the question – to what extent...? – because the examiner will want to know how far the candidate thinks Cormier has created a satisfying ending.

Sample answer two

Cormier keeps the reader guessing about the ending throughout this chapter. When Francis visits Nicole, Cormier keeps the suspense at a high level, with the reader hoping for a happy ending but not able to be very optimistic. Francis admits that just for a brief moment he does not recognise Nicole. Considering that she has been the main thing on his mind for so many years, it is a surprise that he does not know who she is. He explains how her hair is now short, her cheekbones are sticking out, and her eyes seem bigger. He notes that she is wearing the school uniform of her new school, so everything about her has changed. This is effective because it makes her a bit like Francis.

Since the night of her rape, both she and Francis have not just changed inside, but also on the outside. They are now two completely different people and it seems unlikely that they will ever get back together. One sign of this is that Francis feels unable to tell Nicole the truth – he says his facial injuries are nothing, and he lies about having cosmetic surgery. He evidently still feels that she has not forgiven him for failing to protect her, so cannot be his true self yet. However, Nicole tells him that she wants to say sorry to him. This is very effective from the reader’s point of view, as Francis has only just been relieved of his guilt by Larry. Now, with Nicole’s apology, he has nothing to feel bad about at all, and is moving towards his own happy ending.

As they talk, Francis describes the sound of girls playing tennis outside, and even mentions the plopping of the ball, which instantly takes the reader back to the old days at the Wreck Centre, when Francis used to want to impress Nicole so much. I feel that Cormier makes the relationship seem dead, which makes me sad for Francis. He describes their awkward silences – we ran out of words – and the way that Nicole looks at him with affection. But affection is not love.

Most readers want a happy ending, and this does not seem to be going in the right direction. However, there is hope for Francis’ future when Nicole tells him to write about his experiences. I think that the way Cormier treats Francis and Nicole in this chapter is very moving, but also realistic. Some people might find it unsatisfying, but after all that has happened to them, both physically and psychologically, it is clear they cannot rekindle their relationship. However, each of them can be content on their own. Therefore, in my opinion, this chapter does contribute to a very believable and satisfying ending.

Feedback comments – much improved, with plenty of discussion, analysis and focus on the question

This response gets directly to the point, showing that the wording of the question is being focused upon. The candidate discusses the way that Cormier does not give many encouraging signs about a happy ending to the reader. Nicole’s changed appearance is looked at in more detail, and is linked to Francis’ own changed appearance. There is a clear understanding of the fact that both characters have undergone too many changes to be able to resume their relationship.

Nicole’s apology to Francis is analysed, and its importance is recognised, and linked back to the previous chapter when Larry removed guilt from Francis. The candidate points out that a happy ending is not going to involve a renewed relationship, but it is noted that both Francis and Nicole will each be able to find their own happiness. The reference to the tennis game going on outside is relevant because it reminds the reader that those days are gone. Then there is a step back to the present and the candidate analyses the extent to which the ending is satisfying.

To improve further, this response could have looked at Nicole’s explanation of her disappearance from Frenchtown, which clears matters up for Francis, and thus the reader, adding to the satisfying ending.