bac to basicsTomorrow, and for the remainder of the short time I have with my progressively fatigued Year 11 class, I will be going back to basics. By basics I mean simple, linear strategies that increase accuracy in exam responses. This largely involves reading and annotating. That’s it.

Like the rest of my Year 11 class, I can get swept away in our super human attempts to analyse structure, language, perceptively evaluate perception, infer and compare all whilst checking we haven’t gone over precisely timed efforts to beat our exam PB: because god forbid we drop the ball and take 13 not 10 minutes to answer question 2 on Paper 1. Sweat bands, anyone?

But engaging with this very impressive English based skill set ( and stamina) means nowt if you haven’t read the source material and the question paper methodically and annotate it with precision.

So, in the name of accuracy, I’ll endeavour to -one last time- go over reading strategies that see them through:

  • Read the exam paper questions first and underline the key words: make sure you know what you’re looking for before you read the source material.
  • Read the source material. As you read, note emotions experienced by the character/narrator/writer and those you, as the reader, experience. Annotate the margin accordingly.
  • Make further annotations that flag up significant structural methods: shifts in focus, introductions of characters, settings and emerging semantic fields.
  • At the end of the source material make 2 or 3 bullet point notes regarding what the text is about.
  • If you need to, skim and scan again and check you’ve got it right.


It might sound like over-kill but get the reading bit wrong, be it reading the questions or the source material, and the rest of exam goes to pot.

So, for the short time I have left with my Year 11 students this week, I won’t be whizzing through papers or timing their efforts to pen stories worthy of being short listed  for the Man Booker prize:  we’ll be carrying out some basic reading strategies because going back to basics does not mean going backwords.

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