Sign of the Four: Exam Tips and Revision

Key Information:

The Sign of the Four exam is the second part of your English Literature Paper 1 (the other half is on Romeo and Juliet) There will be one question for you to answer. You will be given an extract from the story and one question. The question will ask you to discuss the presentation of a particular theme, character, or idea in the extract and in the novel as a whole. (Click here for an example)

The question is worth 30 marks and is half of the available marks in the English Literature exam,  so 45 minutes would be a good amount of time to spend on this question.

The exam questions could be about characters, themes or a another key idea in the novel Have a look through these two examples:

Starting with this extract, explore how Conan Doyle creates a sense of mystery. Write about:

  • how Conan Doyle uses places to create a sense of mystery in this extract
  • how Conan Doyle creates a sense of mystery in the novel as a whole.

‘Sherlock Holmes is a brilliant early example of a fictional detective.’ Starting with this extract, how far do you agree with this statement? Write about:

  • how Conan Doyle presents Holmes in this extract
  • how Conan Doyle presents Holmes in the novel as a whole.

You can from these examples that the questions can be worded in quite interesting ways and can focus on characters, themes ask you to respond to a statement. Remember, there is no specific right answer here. So long as you explore and analyse the extract and bring in your wider knowledge of the novel, you will be fine. The examiners want to read the work of people who have clearly read the book carefully and have interesting ideas to share.

Revision:

You need to have a good knowledge of the following themes and charcaters:

Themes:

  • Duality
  • Love and Friendship
  • Englishness and Foreignness
  • Crime & Punishment
  • Wealth & Treasure
  • Justice vs.Evil
  • Emotion vs. Rationality.

Characters:

  • Sherlock
  • Watson
  • Mary Morstan
  • Tonga
  • Jonathan Small
  • Athelney Jones
  • Thaddeus Sholto
  • Captain Morstan,

When revising, it’s a good idea to focus on one area at a time, and try to tackle areas you may not feel to comfortable with.

There are lots of different ways to revise, but whatever you do, you should be aiming to practise answering essay questions in timed conditions.

Let’s say you wanted to revise the character of Mary Morstan. I would start by going over your notes, or using the internet to find out a few key things:

  • What parts of the play do the appear in?
  • What do they do / say?
  • Why are they important? What themes do they link to?
  • What key quotes could I remember?
  • What is Conan Doyle using this character to tell me?

When finding this information, you could record it in your book, or using flash cards, or a mind map. Then, imagine you were preparing an essay on these two characters. Try devising a specific exam question and adapting the information you have gathered into an essay plan. (sign-of-four-essay-planning)

10 essays I could revise / plan / attempt:

  1. How does Conan Doyle use the character Tonga to present ideas about Foreignness?  
  2. How does Conan Doyle present the relationship between Holmes and Watson
  3. How does Conan Doyle present female characters and attitudes towards women?
  4. How does Conan Doyle contrast Sherlock Holmes with the Athelney Jones?
  5. How does Conan Doyle present the character Jonathan Small?
  6. How does Conan Doyle present different ideas about Justice and evil?
  7. How does Conan Doyle use the characters of Watson and Holmes to present contrasting characters?
  8. How does Conan Doyle present wealth as and treasure as an important element of the plot?
  9. How does Conan Doyle present ideas about love and friendship in the novel?
  10. How does Conan Doyle create a sense of adventure in  The Sign of the Four?

Useful Links and Resources:

Comparing Poems: Power and Conflict

For your English Literature exam, you will be asked to write a comparative essay on the poems from the AQA Anthology. This question is worth 30 marks, so should take you around 40 minutes.

You will always be given one poem from the anthology as a starting point and this poem will be printed in the exam paper. It’s then up to you to choose a poem to compare the printed one with.  Remember, a list of the poems will be printed in the anthology, so use this list to decide which poem to select.

Revision:

It is absolutely crucial that you have a good knowledge of all 15 poems in the anthology and how they link. There are lots and lots of videos on youtube analysing each poem, as well as other websites which have detailed analyses of the poems. Remember, lots of these poems are very famous and have been discussed for years.

It’s also really important to remember that you have to be in a position to discuss poems from memory. This doesn’t mean you need to memorise all 15 poems, but knowing parts of them off by heart is absolutely vital. For instance, have a look at the list below:

  • A shattered visage lies
  • Sneer of cold command
  • Look on my works ye mighty and despair
  • colossal wreck
  • the lone and level sands stretch far away.

These are all quotes from Ozymandias. If you could remember these five, you would probably be able to write a pretty good essay about this poem, and compare it to other poems confidently.

What 5 lines could you memorise from My Last Duchess? What about London? Remains? War Photographer?

Developing Comparisons

Once you have a good knowledge of each poem, you need to start practising comparing them. You can use this document (poetry-pc-compare-themes) as a guide to which poems link and how.

Once you have selected two poems that you think go together, devise a question to help focus your ideas. The question should take this form.

Compare how the writers of …………… and  ……………. present ideas about …………..

Then you can use this planning document to plan how exactly these poems compare. You can see an example below where I have planned an essay on how the authors of Remains and War Photographer present ideas about conflict.

When comparing poems, you should think about the poet’s choices of language, structure and form. The questions below should help guide your thinking:

  • Who is the ‘voice’ of each poem? Are they similar? Different?
  • What mood / atmosphere does the poet create? How do they compare?
  • Do the poets convey any similar ideas? Do they do this using different techniques?
  • How do language choices contribute to the mood or tone of the poems? Does this mood change at any point?
  • Do the poets use any poetic techniques? Do they use similar techniques or different ones?
  • How are the poems structured? How does this support their messages?
  • Are there any clear similarities in structure or form?

Useful Links and Resources

 

 

Blood Brothers: Exam Tips and Revision

Key Information:

The Blood Brothers exam is the first part of your English Literature Paper 2. You will be given a choice of questions, and only need to answer one. (Click here for an example paper) Unlike literature paper one, there will be no extract to use as a starting point

The question is worth 30 marks, with an extra four marks given for accuracy of spelling punctuation and grammar. This is roughly 1/3 of the marks for the entire paper, so 45 minutes would be a good amount of time to spend on this question.

The exam questions could be about characters, themes or a combination of both. Have a look through these examples:

  1. How does Rusell present ideas about social class?
  2. How does Russell use the characters of Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons in Blood Brothers to explore ideas about class?
  3. How does Russell present the Mrs Johnstone as a significant character?

You can from these examples that the questions can be worded differently and can focus on characters, themes or a combination. It’s worth remember though, that characters and themes are interlinked. For instance, you could focus totally on Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons for question 1, even if they are not mentioned in the question. Or, you could focus on Edward and Mickey. The key thing is to bring your own knowledge to the question and answer it in an interesting way.

Revision:

You need to have a good knowledge of the following themes and charcaters:

Themes:

  • Social Class and money.
  • Fate and Superstition
  • Childhood and Growing up
  • Friendship
  • Identity and Nature vs. Nurture.
  • Gender

Characters:

  • Mrs Johnstone
  • Mrs Lyons
  • Edward
  • Mickey
  • The Narrator
  • Sammy
  • Linda
  • Mr Lyons (and Mrs Lyons)

When revising, it’s a good idea to focus on one area at a time, and try to tackle areas you may not feel to comfortable with.

There are lots of different ways to revise, but whatever you do, you should be aiming to practise answering essay questions in timed conditions.

Let’s say you wanted to revise the characters of Edward and Mickey. I would start by going over your notes, or using the internet to find out a few key things:

  • What parts of the play do the appear in?
  • What do they do / say?
  • Why are they important? What themes do they link to?
  • What key quotes could I remember?
  • What is Russell using these characters to tell me?

When finding this information, you could record it in your book, or using flash cards, or a mind map. Then, imagine you were preparing an essay on these two characters. Try devising a specific exam question and adapting the information you have gathered into an essay plan. (Download an blood-brothers-generic-essay-plan-class)

10 essays I could revise / plan / attempt:

  1. How does Russell use Edward and Mickey to present ideas about social class?
  2. How does Russell use the Narrator and other characters to explore ideas about fate and superstition?
  3. How does Russell use different characters to explore ideas about gender?
  4. How does Russell use the characters of Mr and Mrs Lyons to present ideas about social class?
  5. How does Russell use Mickey and Edward to explore ideas about identity?
  6. How does Russell present ideas about childhood and growing up in Blood Brothers?
  7. How does Russell present the importance of power and money in Blood Brothers?
  8. How does Russell use the characters of Mickey and Sammy to present ideas about crime?
  9. How does Russell use the characters of Linda and Mrs Johnstone to present ideas about gender?
  10. How does Russell use the characters of Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons to explore ideas about family?

Useful Links and Resources: