Close Reading or Reading for Understanding, Analysis and Evaluation is an important part of the external assessment in both the National 5 and Higher English courses. This article looks at how to answer closer reading questions at both National 5 and Higher.

In both National 5 and Higher English, close reading is the first paper of the examination.

What does close reading involve?

Assessment in this area involves reading a previously unseen passage – usually an extract from a broadsheet newspaper) and answering a selection of questions. The process of close reading requires that you closely examine a piece of writing.

But even though the passage you are required to read may be unfamiliar, we can still prepare very effectively for this part of the exam.

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Close Reading Question Types

The first key to your close reading success is the realisation that the questions can be divided into three main types:

U – Understanding Questions

These questions are testing your understanding of WHAT is in the text

A – Analysis Questions

These questions assess whether you have grasped HOW meaning has been conveyed

E – Evaluation Questions

These questions expect comment on HOW WELL meaning has been conveyed or impact has been created.

Recognising close reading question types

We can usually tell what type of question it is by the language used.

Understanding questions will often ask you to explain or summarise part of the text, and they mostly ask you to use your own words.

Analysis questions will ask you to analyse how the writer uses language or they might state: by referring to word choice or sentence structure, analyse how the writer…

The numbers help too!

The number of marks for each answer is also given and this varies from question to question. The language of the question, combined with the number of marks, gives a clear indication of how to respond to a question, as well as how much you might be expected to write in your answer.

Unless specifically asked to quote, you will be expected to answer the question in your own words.

Getting Started!

Always look at any italicised writing at the start of the passage. This is given by the exam board and may prove very useful in helping you appreciate the writer’s point of view, or just understanding the passage more easily. If they have given you the information, there is a reason for it!

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Close Reading Questions Types: An In-Depth Look

What follows is a brief summary and set of guidelines. If there is anything you are not sure of, ask your teacher to go over it, or if you are already part of Saturday School, send us a question online.

1) Understanding Close Reading Questions

Always try to answer in your own words — you need to prove that you have understood the vocabulary

You do not have to write in sentences – for some you might be able to use   bullet points (make sure the number of points you make matches the marks available).

Context

The context of something is what surrounds it, its setting if you like. When you are asked to derive the meaning of a word or an expression from its context, you need to look at what surrounds that word or phrase in the passage. Your answer should offer a meaning for the word or the phrase and then an explanation of how someone might have been able to work out –even guess! — the meaning from what was round about it.

Link

These questions don’t just test your understanding meaning, but also the structure of the sentence, — so it can be both an Understanding and an Analysis type of question!

You will be asked to show how the sentence joins two paragraphs together. What you must do is pick out some word(s) from the sentence that refer back to what was said in the previous paragraph, then pick out some other word(s) that refer to what follows in the next paragraph. You will be quoting from the sentence as well as summarising what has been said.

E.g. Making new friends, is not the only benefit of going hill walking, it has health benefits too. For example, regular exercise can improve fitness, burn of those extra calories and improve circulation.

In this example the writer had previously being talking about the social benefits of hill-walking, shown when they refer to ‘making new friends’ but the sentence then introduces ‘health benefits’ to explore how this activity can improve our fitness, which the writer goes on to discuss in the rest of the passage.

Summary

Here you will be asked to list or sum up all of the points that have been made in a given section or paragraph. You need to show the examiner that you have understood what has been said as well as perhaps identifying the particular point of view that the writer has taken (e.g. being for or against a particular idea).

2) Analysis Close Reading Questions

Any Analysis question means that you have to take something apart and show how and why it has been put together in that particular way. Before you even begin to answer an Analysis question, you have to be sure that you fully understand what is being asked — and that is usually something about what the writer was trying to achieve.

This means you need to be able to identify then technique that has been used as well as the effect that it has on you as a reader. Just make sure you read the question carefully before you start!

Structure

These questions look at how sentences have been put together, how they have been built. They are not simply about what the sentence means!! Take a good look at the sentence; is there anything unusual about it?  Think about the following….

  1. The length of the sentence
  2. The type of sentence it is
  3. The punctuation that is used
  4. Are there patterns within the sentence?
  5. Is there anything unusual about the word order used in the sentence?
1) The length of the sentence
  • Is it longer or shorter than those around it?
  • Does it stand out for this reason?
2) The type of sentence that it is
  • Is it a statement? (e.g. It was very quiet)
  • Is it a question? (e.g. Was it  quiet?)
  • Is it an exclamation (e.g. Isn’t it quiet!)
  • Is it a command? (e.g. Be quiet!)
  • Is it a minor sentence? (e.g. He went int the room. ( a statement)  Total quietness. (a minor sentence)
Each of these types of sentence is used to create a particular effect
  • The statement is generally found in narrative or factual writing
  • The question may be to try to involve the reader more directly in the subject
  • The exclamation is designed to suggest shock or surprise
  • The command is found in instructions or perhaps in advertising or persuasive writing
  • The minor sentence omits the verb to create a dramatic effect, often in a tense situation.  It can also be used to create a closer bond with the reader by being more informal.
3) The punctuation that is used
  • Comma – used to separate a number of things on a list, or to create a pause in a lengthy sentence – the pause might be there to create impact too.
  • Inverted commas – are usually used for a quotation but can also be used for the titles of books, plays, films, television programmes etc. You may also find a writer using them because he wants to suggest that he is not taking something too seriously.
  • Colon – mostly used to introduce a list or perhaps a quotation, but it can also be used to introduce an explanation of a point that has been made.
  • Semi-colon – this separates longer phrases within a list in a sentence, or it can be used to join two ideas together, ideas which could be expressed as separate sentences but are too closely linked to be separated by a full stop.
  • Single dash – used to add extra information about a point that has been made
  • Pair of dashes  – the writer might use these or might use a pair of brackets  and they contain extra information on a given point. You should be able to take out of the sentence what is between the dashes or brackets and the sentence will still make sense
  • Ellipsis – is a row of dots (…..) which allows a sentence to trail off, as though there might be more that could be said
4) Are there patterns within the sentence?
  • Inversion – this means changing the normal word order, so that what might normally be at the beginning of a sentence could be left to the end. It is done to create impact
  • Repetition  — this is where words or even whole phrases are repeated within the sentence, again to create impact
  • Climax – the building up of ideas in ascending order with the most important one being kept to the last
  • Anti-climax – again building up the ideas in ascending order but the (anticipated) most important one never happens, which creates a feeling of deflation
  • Sentence length – (referred to also in Understanding)  You need to look at the lengths of the sentences around the given sentence as well as the sentence itself. Be on the lookout for contrasts

REMEMBER  A question on sentence structure is NOT about meaning! You MUST discuss how the sentence has been put together and the impact of that. The best marks are awarded for answers that focus on the effect of the structure within the given context.

Imagery

Questions on imagery are exploring the way in which a writer has put a picture, or image, into your head. There are many different techniques that writers use, but it is not enough that you simply name the technique in your answer. You have to show the effect that the writer was trying to achieve. When writing about imagery, you will identify the technique and go on to explain the literal meaning of the words as well as the picture that it creates in your head.

Some terms you should know:
  • Simile – This is a comparison of two things which will ALWAYS involve the use of the words ‘as’ or ‘like’ – for example “ my brother is as greedy as a pig when it comes to chips”
  • Metaphor – This is also a comparison but this time one thing is said to BE the thing it is compared to – for example “ my brother is a pig when it comes to chips”
  • Personification – this is where a thing, or an object is described as though it was a human being – for example – “ the sun came creeping in through the curtains”
  • Onomatopoeia – this is where a word sounds like the thing that it represents – for example – “ feet squelching through mud, meowing of cats, booming of guns

Word choice

Despite the fact that each and every word will have been chosen by the writer, there are likely to be questions that explore specific examples and you will be required to explain why you think these particular words have been used — i.e. the effect that they have. In answering these questions you might have to think about the connotations of certain words, that is, the ideas that come into your head when you think of that word. For example, the word ‘dove’ is associated with — or has connotations of — peace

Tone

Many candidates find this difficult. You should try to imagine how something might be said, the tone of voice that might be used. There is a huge range of possibilities but some that you might be expected to meet in the exam are…

  • Humorous
  • Angry
  • Sarcastic
  • Critical etc.

When answering a question on tone, you need to be able to show how it has been achieved and this will involve looking at the word choice, the structure and type of sentence(s) used, as well as any imagery.

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3) Evaluation Close Reading Questions

Remember that any question involving Evaluation requires that you also offer some analysis.

It is simply not enough to say that something has been well or badly done! You must provide the evidence to support your point of view.

To do this you need to comment on any techniques that may have been used – imagery, word choice, sentence structures etc.  — as well as the impact that these have had on your reading.

In Evaluation answers, you may well find that you have to use quotations from the passage, but make sure that you also comment, offering your perspective on the effectiveness of the technique or feature you have identified.

Final Tips

Read

Make sure that you are reading regularly. Netflix is nice and Fortnite is fun, but one of the best things you can read to help with Close Reading is a quality such as The Scotsman, The Glasgow Herald, The Independent etc.

If you look at Past Papers, you will see that many of the extracts have been taken from these newspapers. Reading them on a regular basis will help you get to grips with the kind of language that they use.  Many of these newspapers have online content available for free too.

The best way to use them is to read an article then identify:

  • the subject
  • how the writer feels about it
  • language features which show this
  • Practice Papers

Practice

Practice Papers are available from bookshops and on from SQA.org for free!

Using these provides the real key to effective preparation because you learn how to respond to the questions (they do follow patterns!) and knowing what is expected helps to relieve some of the stress and understand how to answer them.

Be prepared and you will have nothing to fear!