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A Teacher’s Guide to OCR AS F661 Section A: Poetry

Paul Merrell | Tuesday December 03, 2013

Categories: Hot Entries, Poetry, Dickinson, The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Writing, Analytical Writing, Poetry Analysis, OCR A Level English Literature, F661, KS5 Archive, OCR A Level

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In theory, answering Section A – the Poetry question – of F661 should be a fairly straightforward affair. After all, the pupils have had the opportunity to prepare the poems in advance and, as the life of the specification rolls on, the number of potential poems left to be chosen decreases. Likewise, the actual poem is published for the pupils in the examination – there are no hours upon countless hours of ‘quotation memorization’ required. Finally, with some judicious revision and consideration of past papers, it is not all that difficult to predict the questions which are likely to be asked of each poem.

Indeed, in preparing pupils for the recent Summer examination, I went through all the past questions for the last four years for F661 and put together a list of all the themes that had been selected, see OCR Past Themes for ALL Poetry.docx in Associated Resources. I encouraged pupils who were keen to be as prepared as possible to try all of these out in connection with their own poet. It is not that difficult to spot the patterns OCR use in their question setting. For a comparison, you can also find the Prose version of this in the Associated Resources, see OCR Past Themes for ALL Prose.docx .

  • However, despite all of this, OCR acknowledges that of the two questions on F661, it is the Poetry that is more likely to trip up the pupils than the Prose question.

How can that be?

I would suggest that the problem here is that pupils (and, perhaps more crucially, teachers) can be tempted to over-complicate this part of the exam. What should be a simple case of old-fashioned close reading and analytical writing on one primary text seems to have become, in some people’s minds, a complex, wide-ranging response on multiple texts.

The idea of this guide is to give you, as the teacher, some clarity on what is required by the examination board in order to succeed on the poetry question – and...

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