Section Two - Critical Essay

(20 marks)

As with National 5, the second half of the Critical Reading exam requires you to write a critical essay on a text you have studied in class. The texts that you encounter in this element will be more challenging than those you faced at National 5.

This component is worth 20% of your overall grade.

You will not have a copy of the text in front of you in the exam, nor will you have access to any notes or essay plans.

In the exam you will turn to the section appropriate to the text you have studied (prose, poetry, drama, film and television or language).

You have the choice of two questions: pick one question that you feel most comfortable answering.

The questions at Higher are more specific and complex than those you might have faced at National 5. Therefore, it might be helpful to read each question two or three times before settling on the most appropriate question.

At Higher it is important that you engage analytically with relevant features of the genre that you have studied. Helpfully, for each section of the Critical Essay paper, the examiner has listed key features relevant to genre. Make sure that you incorporate these features into your essay.

You only have 45 minutes – so be realistic about what can be achieved in this time:

  • introduction (refer to author, title, task, techniques)
  • summary of text (concise, focusing on the bits of the poem/story/play/film relevant to your question)
  • main paragraphs (4/5 paragraphs where you analyse and evaluate in a detailed and insightful way the writer’s use of literary techniques. Make concrete links back to the question.)
  • conclusion

You should try to avoid guessing which essay questions might come up in the exam. This approach might leave you exposed if a question that you haven’t planned for comes up on the day. However, during the course of the year you will have comprehensively studied your essay text – you should know this piece very well.

For example, if you have studied a play or a novel/short story you should be familiar with aspects of:

You might also have examined:

Essay questions at Higher require you to consider not only how a writer examines setting/characters/theme etc. but also ask you to make an evaluative judgement on the wider impact or effectiveness of these aspects of the text.

Read more about the Critical Essay section of Higher English here.