Great Expectations - Preparing your answer

Before beginning an answer, it is important that you plan it properly so that it is structured to answering the question. The bullet points that go with the question will help you to do this. You must also refer to the examiner's assessment objectives to ensure you have met the criteria.

Below is a structure that you could use for your answer:

  1. Introduction. Pip's character up to this point.
  2. What Pip has learned in this extract and why this is important to him.
  3. In what ways this has affected Pip.
  4. How Pip is presented in the rest of the novel.
  5. How this affects the reader's view of Pip.
  6. Conclusion. This extract marks the start of Pip really becoming mature.

Sample answers

Point 3 from the above would form the main part of your answer and would be looking in detail at the extract.

Sample answer 1

Pip has a realisation at this point in the book. His realisation is that the money he has been given comes from a criminal background and that means he cannot belong to the upper class anymore and this means he will not be happy anymore. He will also not be able to marry Estella which would have probably upset his Victorian readers who liked happy endings. The word he uses to describe all this is 'stunned'. Dickens also writes a literary device about a shipwreck to explain Pip’s feelings which are not good at this point. All of this makes me feel very sorry for Pip because he has lost everything he cares about.

Feedback comments – not bad but room for improvement!

  • This answer shows a reasonable level of understanding of the text and a development of a personal response. However, there is not enough supportive evidence quoted or analysis of the language attempted.
  • There is a limited attempt to analyse key vocabulary or literary devices. The word 'stunned' is identified as important but it is not explained why. There is an attempt to recognise the importance of the 'shipwreck' metaphor but it is not analysed.
  • Although there is a mention of Victorian readers, the claim made that an unhappy ending would not be well received is not supported.
  • There are some awkward uses of vocabulary. Sentences are correctly constructed and punctuated but not always phrased well.

Sample answer 2

The older and wiser Pip (the narrator) looks back at a key moment in his younger life and development and uses a first person perspective to draw us and his original Victorian readers into Pip's moment of shock and realisation; his initial reaction is summed up in the verb 'stunned'. Pip gradually realises, however, that what Magwitch has revealed to him has changed his world completely. He begins to feel a sense of hopelessness and despair. The extended metaphor of a shipwreck is very effective in getting this across and helps us to sympathise with Pip's predicament that he will no longer be able to be part of the social class that he has longed to join. It also reminds us of the time when Pip was a boy and he watched the boats going out to sea while daydreaming about his future with Estella. He now realises that he has been fooling himself and that everything he has hoped and wished for is all a 'mere dream'.

Feedback comments – much better!

  • There is strong evidence here of a very good understanding of the text and an informed personal response to the way Dickens has written the piece. References are skilfully woven into the answer and are linked to the wider text as a whole. The important image of the shipwreck is cleverly dealt with and linked to the novel as a whole.
  • There is clear evidence of language analysis and ability to use correct terminology (verb, extended metaphor). There is a recognition of the effect of choosing a first person narrative perspective. There could have been some comment on sentence structure to further improve the answer.
  • Some reference to the Victorian audience is made but the context of the novel might have been more fully explored.
  • A well-written answer which uses correct spelling, grammar and punctuation and which aims to develop complex written sentences and use advanced vocabulary.

Using the skills you have learned and revised, try answering the Great Expectations question. Time yourself and make sure you are meeting the examiner's assessment objectives.