Tag Archives: English Literature Paper 1

The Sign of Four – Revising Characters

You should be well aware by now that understanding characters is crucial for your exam success.

You might be asked a question about a character, a theme, or a combination of the two. Remember though, a question about a character will include lots of ideas about themes. For example, if you are asked about Watson, you will be discussing his friendship with Holmes, his significance to the theme of love, and his significance to ideas of ’emotion vs. rationality’.

Use these sheets to help collect all your ideas about characters onto one helpful sheet of A4. For key quotations, see the resources attached to this postIf you want a practice with specific past paper questions, click here.


Sign of Four Key Quotes

This is a short post sharing a really useful, important resource.

Remember, for a closed book exam, you will need to make sure you have a number of quotes at your disposal to discuss all the themes and characters in The Sign of the Four.

The document below can help you do this. It might be useful to decide a specific character or theme you would like to revise, then select quotations from the document to help make a revision resource, such as a mind-map, an essay plan or flashcards. Remember, knowing quotations is not enough on it’s own. You also need to know:

  • What the quotation is linked to. Who says it? To Who? At what part of the novel?
  • How the quotations works. What are the interesting words? What techniques (if any) is Doyle using?
  • Why Doyle has chosen the specific line. What is the wider point? What is being revealed about the significance of certain characters, themes, or ideas?

The Sign of the Four- Key Quotes A3 version

The Sign of the Four- Key Quotes A4 version


Blood Brothers Key Quotes

If you don’t have your own copy of the play, or are struggling to find key quotes online, the document below should have plenty of key quotes to get you started:

Blood Brothers High Utility Quotes

You could use this document in lots of ways. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Pick a character or theme. Make a list of 5-6 important quotes for that character or theme. Explain why they are important and analyse the language choices made by the writer.
  2. Take a past paper essay question (from here) and use the key quotes sheet to make an essay plan.
  3. Pick a key character and make a revision mind map using the key quotes provided.
  4. Create flash cards to help you learn key quotes. You should consider what the quotes mean, what language choices are present and how each quote links to wider themes of the novel.
  5. Practice writing full essays or paragraphs using these quotes as a starting point.

Romeo and Juliet: Past Paper Questions

Here are a range of past papers you could attempt for Romeo and Juliet.  Remember, these questions will be on the same paper as your The Sign of the Four exam – English Literature Paper 1. For each question, you will be given an extract and be asked to discuss the extract and the whole text. You could be asked about a key theme, a particular character, or a mixture of both.

For more information and guidance about focussing your Romeo and Juliet revision, please visit this post:


Romeo and Juliet Past Paper Questions:


The Sign of the Four: Past Paper Questions

Here are a range of past papers you could attempt for The Sign of the Four. Remember, these questions will be on the same paper as your Romeo and Juliet exam – English Literature Paper 1.

For more information and guidance about focussing your revision whilst revising The Sign of the Four, please visit this post:


Past Papers:

The Presentation of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is obviously a very important character in The Sign of the Four. When revising his character, however, you must think carefully about the different sides of his character and how he matches to different key themes in the novel.

Here are some ideas you might want to consider when revising:

  1. Sherlock Holmes is central to the theme of duality. He fluctuates between states of extreme depression and listlessness, which he uses to justify his drug use, to states of extreme action and obsession when working on a case.
  2. He is central to theme of emotion vs. rationality. Unlike Watson, he is totally rational and does not indulge in any emotional response to his clients or their problems.
  3. He is a unique detective – the only ‘consulting detective’ and has developed his own method of detection, focussing on deductive reasoning and inference.
  4. He is an interesting and eccentric individual. He is able to take on elaborate disguises, can play the violin and was a talented amateur boxer. He also uses unusual methods to aid his investigations, such as The Baker Street Irregulars and Toby the dog.

Writing about Sherlock Holmes:

All of the ideas above could be incorporated into an essay about Sherlock Holmes. Remember, though we can’t guess what the essay question will be, you need to be confident in adapting your existing knowledge to whatever question you are given.

Here are some possible questions you may be asked (remember, you will be given an extract as a starting point).

  • Sherlock Holmes is a brilliant example of an early fictional detective. To what extent do you agree?
  • Explore how Conan Doyle presents Sherlock Holmes as an interesting character.
  • Sherlock Holmes is a great detective, but not a perfect person. To what extent do you agree?
  • Explore how Conan Doyle presents Sherlock Holmes as a dedicated and interesting detective character.

Key Quotes:

Ch. 1. Trying to justify his drug use to Watson: ‘I abhor the dull routine of existence’
Ch. 2. When listening to Mary’s case: ‘He leaned forward in his chair with an expression of extraordinary concentration upon his clear-cut, hawklike features’
Ch. 1. Watson talking to Holmes: ‘You really are an automaton,—a calculating-machine!”
Ch. 12. After Watson announces his wedding: “He gave a most dismal groan. “I feared as much,” said he.”
Ch. 1. Describing his method to Watson: “eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.”
Ch. 6. Examining the crime scene: He whipped out his lens and a tape measure, and hurried about the room on his knees, measuring, comparing, examining,
Ch. 5. When McMurdo grants them entrance to Pondicherry Lodge: “Ah, you’re one that has wasted your gifts, you have! You might have aimed high.”
Ch. 9. When Holmes fools Watson and Jones with his disguise: “Ah, you rogue!” cried Jones, highly delighted. “You would have made an actor, and a rare one.”

Some useful documents:

The presentation of Sherlock Holmes (revision)

Paper 1 Past Paper


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.


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


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


  • 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: