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Maximising success in your N5 or Higher English folio

Kenny, our Subject Leader at Saturday School has put together this brilliant blog to help and support Higher and National 5 English students with their all-important folio. We hope you find it useful!

As I am sure you will know, the folio is of huge importance, it accounts for 30 percent of your final award. Consequently, it can help to compensate for any deficiencies you may have elsewhere. Indeed, a score of 24 in your folio would allow you to “scrape” a pass in the RUAE and Critical Reading papers and still receive a B as your final grade; it would also allow you to score (just) underneath 70 percent for every other element and still receive an A!

This year (2021/22), you will only have to submit one folio piece. It will be scored out of 15 and then doubled. As a result, it would be wise to spend some time considering where your strengths lie and focus on channelling them towards the type of writing that will secure you the best mark, regardless of whether your teacher forces you to write two or not.

Broadly Creative

This refers to:

Personal/ reflective

This involves looking at an event(s) or experience(s) in your life and/ or an aspect of your personality and/ or an aspect of your life that is of huge importance.

Choosing your topic:

A timeline of the major events in your life - making sure you only list things of which you have a vivid memory.

A mind map of all the main relationships in your life and your interests.

A mind map of your personality- introvert, extrovert, shy etc.


Once you have your topic, the next thing you need is a theme. A theme is, ‘THE BIGGER PICTURE,’ the part of human existence you are going to write about. Examples would be bullying, change, love, relationships, death, pressure, confidence. You should talk about theme in a general sense by using the word we.


Feelings should be explored on 3 levels:

Stated: ‘I felt…’

Explained/ explored: ‘I felt…because…’

Compared: ‘while most people would feel… I …’


I have found the “We I We” structure to be highly effective. This involves the following:

We: start with a paragraph exploring your theme in general using the word We instead of I.

I: how does this theme relate to your experience? Tell your story.

We: reflect on how the experiences you have described and explored link to the theme in general.


A good technique to secure a high mark is the inclusion of an extended metaphor. For example, use water imagery for feelings: stream, river, sea, ocean, swamped, drowning, flooded, etc.


A symbol of something or an object used to communicate an idea. For example, you can mention something that connected you to another person early in the essay and return to it at the end.

Short Story Writing

I would personally avoid this unless you actually enjoy reading and perhaps do this in your spare time. It tends to receive little focus in class teaching after second year. If you are going to attempt it, here are some top tips:

· Use 3rd person instead of 1st as this gives you more scope and prevents it from reading like an outlandish personal/ reflective essay

· Don’t try to do too much with your essay. As many candidates often do not read much, they attempt to base their narrative on some film that they have watched. The result is an often-undeveloped series of huge events that have global significance yet the story lacks any real setting or character development.

· Try to focus your events on a select group of people and a limited time frame. For example, I have read great essays on a person who lost their sight going outside for the first time since this happened; I have read a great essay on a president about to make a huge yet unnamed decision; I have read a great essay about a pupil returning to school for the first time since being disfigured in an assault. All of these short stories took place over a few hours, made use of flashbacks/ memories and had a maximum of three big things happening.

· Have your characters face internal and external obstacles and overcome them. Internal obstacles are human flaws such as greed, jealousy, indecision, uncertainty, fear. External obstacles are things outside of the character’s control such as a car crash or a flood.

· Play about with the chronology of your story. It can be a highly effective strategy to begin your story at the end of the events and ten work your way back to it.

Broadly Discursive

For most candidates, this means either an argumentative or persuasive essay. The following are tips for ensuring a quality piece of work:

· Try to select a topic that is not overdone or overly simplistic UNLESS you genuinely believe there is something new and different you can bring to the argument. It is worth noting that this is less true for National 5 than Higher. Indeed, at N5 level, you would be given more leniency with regards to the selection of your topic. That said, there are exceptions. For example, I would caution most pupils against doing an essay on capital punishment; however, three years ago I marked a persuasive essay with this as its topic that scored 13/15.

· Topics that might be considered overdone/ too simplistic (especially at Higher) are as follows: school uniform, banning boxing, legalising cannabis, freeing Orcas, capital punishment, size zero/ body image, the negative effects of social media.

· Another thing to guard against is essays that focus on America such as gun control or racism in this country. You are better focusing on British/ Scottish issues

· Try to select a topic that is current. You can keep abreast of issues by reading the comment/ opinion sections of quality broadsheet newspapers such as The Guardian and The Scotsman.

· Here are some examples to consider: we need to embrace technology, the treatment of the elderly, profiteering from COVID, sex and gender in sports, funding for music, climate change, the cost of pharmaceuticals, how do we adapt to a post-covid world? Do Disney princesses have a negative effect upon young girls?

· Make sure your introductions clearly show what you are going to be writing about. In a persuasive essay, use a range of persuasive techniques to get your points across. In an argumentative piece it is okay to make it clear what your thoughts are/ position is.

· Avoid ‘In this essay I will…’

· In the body of the essay, try to have 5-6 paragraphs for a persuasive essay and 6 for an argumentative essay.

· Try to link your paragraphs and sentences using words such as Furthermore, Indeed, However, Despite this…

· Get the structure of your paragraphs right: have a topic sentence, present your evidence, react to this. In a persuasive essay, react by persuading using a variety of techniques; in an argumentative, weigh up and evaluate the evidence as you consider its implications.

· Finish strongly. In a persuasive essay, drive home your point using persuasive language. Inclusive language such as we and our is particularly effective. In an argumentative essay, go over the main points but don’t feel that you have to come to a decision upon which side you agree with - you might still be undecided.


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