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Paper 1: Unseen Prose Commentary. Using your planning time effectively…. Writing too precipitously can have disastrous consequences for your commentary!! You should spend a good 30 mins planning to have a confident sense of: What the passage is really about

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paper 1 unseen prose commentary

Paper 1: Unseen Prose Commentary

Using your planning time effectively…

Writing too precipitously can have disastrous consequences for your commentary!!
  • You should spend a good 30 mins planning to have a confident sense of:
  • What the passage is really about
  • The significance of language and literary features
  • Your personal response
  • How you intend to structure your commentary with a sense of purpose and focus, including a key central thesis.
1 understanding the passage
1. Understanding the passage
  • Read through the passage once in its entirety without annotating to get an overall sense of what the passage is about
  • Write a short paragraph summarising the basic narrative of the passage and identifying the key themes / ideas – when you come to write your commentary you can adapt this summary to form the first couple of sentences of your introduction, in which you need to show explicit understanding of the narrative.
2 annotation thinking about how meaning is conveyed through language and literary features
2. Annotation: Thinking about how meaning is conveyed through language and literary features

Read the passage through two more times, thinking carefully about the effects of particular words and literary features.

  • For prose commentary in particular, you need to be alert to:
  • Narrative voice
  • Characterisation
  • Narrative structure
  • Tensions/ oppositions / contrasts
  • Setting
  • Tense and mood
  • Punctuation and syntax
  • Dialogue
  • Reader response
the art of annotation
The art of annotation
  • It is essential to use your planning time to make coherent, detailed and organised annotations.
  • You need to work out an effective method for annotation. You could:
  • Underline key words / ideas/ features
  • Jot down your ideas in the margin
  • Use a highlighter to identify particularly significant aspects of the passage
  • Use a golden pen to identify what is, to you, the key aspect of the passage: this could serve as the point you focus on for your ‘central thesis’
  • Colour coding key themes or literary devices
3 making sense of your annotations organisation and structure
3. Making sense of your annotations: organisation and structure
  • When you have read the passage 3 times and feel your annotations are comprehensive it is vital to think carefully about structure (Criterion D, Presentation).
  • Think carefully about whether you want to structure your commentary chronologically or thematically.
  • If you opt for a chronological structure, avoid adhering strictly to paragraph divisions – rather, see if you can divide the passage into 3 sections (look for shifts in subject matter / tone). A chronological structure can work well but you must avoid the pitfalls of plodding or using formulaic topic sentences at the beginning of paragraphs. You should aim to show how the chronology of the passage builds tension / develops character or plot.
If you opt for a thematic structure ensure that you don’t lose a sense of organisation and end up repeating yourself as you allude to quotations / literary devices which could be relevant to more than one theme.
  • Whatever structure you adopt, you need to be conscious of:
  • The need for a sense of overriding argument, so that your commentary is not a series of isolated points with no sense of cohesion
  • A central thesis which can be articulated in the introduction and returned to in your conclusion: what drives the passage? What is the most striking feature / aspect?
  • Signposting to the examiner what structure you have adopted and where your commentary is headed.
4 writing the introduction
4. Writing the Introduction
  • When you have understood the passage, annotated in detail and organised your notes into a focused structure, you are ready to write your introduction.
  • In your introduction you should:
  • Explicitly show your understanding of the passage (2/3 concise sentences)
  • Assert your key thesis: ‘For me, the most striking aspect of this passage is…’
  • Signpost how you are going to structure your commentary (‘This passage falls into three distinct sections…’; ‘There are four key themes explored in this passage…’)
5 writing the commentary
5. Writing the Commentary
  • Your introduction is crucial in setting up the structure and focus of your main commentary.
  • If you have made thorough annotations and thought carefully about structure, you will be set up for writing an excellent commentary
  • You need to adhere to the structure you have asserted in your introduction and ensure you are rigorously analysing the effects of language and literary features and integrating textual evidence throughout.