Our top 8 tips on how to write your National 5 English Critical Essay

Your critical essay is an essay that allows you to demonstrate your analysis, interpretation and evaluation of pieces of literature. Your national 5 English critical essay is worth 20 marks (or half of the critical reading exam) so it is important to make this count. In this post, we have outlined our top 8 tips on how to write and pass your National 5 English critical essay.

Remember: The N5 English Critical Essay questions are found in Section 2 of the Critical Reading paper. You must only answer one question.

1) Choose the right genre!

Ensure you select the correct genre for your essay. The Critical Essay paper will give you a choice of genres: Drama, Poetry, Prose and Language. You can only write an essay on a novel or short story using one of the Prose questions.

Writing about the wrong genre will stop you getting the grade you deserve.

Remember that your Critical Essay cannot be from the same genre as your Scottish text.

2) Choose the right question!

Under each genre heading, you will have a choice of two questions. Make sure that you read both of them carefully and select the one which you feel you could write about best.

3) Identify the key words in your chosen question! These words will be the focus of your essay.

For example:

Choose a poem in which the poet creates a powerful sense of place

Choose a novel in which there is an interesting character.

In each of these examples, you would use the underlined phrase as your key words.

4) Introduce the text! Your introduction should consist of a brief paragraph consisting of two parts. Firstly, include the title, author, form and subject of your text.

E.g. ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker is a powerful gothic novel based upon an ancient vampire’s attempt to move from Transylvania to England.

The second part of your introduction should be a link to the question – using those key words.

E.g. Throughout the novel, we can clearly see how Stoker portrays Count Dracula as a mysterious and interesting character.

5) Structure your discussion! After your introduction, identify where you first see the key words in your chosen text.

E.g. In the opening stages of the novel, Stoker establishes Count Dracula as an interesting character when the protagonist – Jonathan Harker- is travelling to his castle:

 ‘I was not able to light on any map or work giving the exact locality of the Castle  Dracula…’

Start every other paragraph, with a topic sentence that includes the key words.

Later in the novel, we see Stoker further develop the idea of Count Dracula as an interesting character, when Jonathan meets him in person…

6) Provide analysis of any evidence!

Here, the author makes effective use of setting, when he locates Dracula in a mysterious home. This helps develop the sense of the count being an interesting character.

Note that evidence can be quotations, but it doesn’t need to be – especially if you are writing about drama or prose. You just need to explain what events are significant and why they are effective.

7) Remember to evaluate!

Use phrases throughout your discussion to evaluate the writer’s methods:

E.g. this clearly shows… this is effective in revealing… this provides a vivid image of…

8) End in a proper manner!

Your essay must be complete. This means that you need to include a separate concluding paragraph, which sums up your discussion.

You can start your conclusion with

In conclusion, throughout (name of text) we can clearly see (key words) in terms of…


Ultimately, throughout (name of text) we can clearly see (key words) in terms of…

Just remember to include the key words in your conclusion and include an evaluative term too.

Eg. In conclusion, throughout the novel ‘Dracula’, Bram Stoker has clearly presented Count Dracula as an interesting character. This is evident in his effective use of setting to make Dracula mysterious, and later through the character development where the count changes from a proud Transylvanian to a murderous monster.


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