SQA Higher English: an expert guide to RUAE

Updated: Mar 31

Note: the techniques and approaches listed are not exhaustive and definitive. Rather, they are based on analysis of the last 7 years of SQA RUAE papers and are only suggestions.

Before beginning the questions:

Before you begin the passage, always ask yourself two questions:

· what is the passage about?

· how does the writer feel about the subject?

The answer to the first question helps you with context and answering the 5-mark question (more on that later), whilst the answer to the second question will help you identify the types of words, sentence structure, images and tone the writer will use. The italics before the passage will often offer a guide to these questions but do not always offer definitive answers.

An effective strategy is to read the last question before you begin to read the passage. You then highlight the quotations required for the last question as you read the passage thereby ensuring that you read with a purpose. It also means that you are not left in a panic with 5 minutes left as you desperately try to find quotes for the last question.



Types of question

Understanding questions:

For the most part, these questions involve putting information into YOUR OWN WORDS.

For a number of years this has been signposted in the question with use your own words in your answer.

Your basic approach to doing this should be:

· Find the information

· Highlight it

· Put it in your own words

How do I put things into my own words?

There are a number of strategies for this:

· Substitute one word for another

· Substitute a phrase for a word

· Ask yourself: what idea is the writer communicating?

· Interpret/ quantify numbers and dates. This is something that candidates often fail to do but it is quite simple. For example, 1920 becomes over 100 years ago and 140, 000 000 becomes an enormous number.


Whilst the vast majority of understanding questions simply ask you to put things in your own words, occasionally the question includes the phrase, ‘supported by the example.’ Here you are being asked to summarise the importance of the example at least partially, rather than simply substituting one word for another.

An example of this would be the 2019 Higher English paper where the question reads ‘Explain how the writer’s argument about fake news is supported by the example of the Paris attack.’ In the answer to this question, you can gain marks for substituting incredibly fast for ‘quickly’ but you can also gain marks for summarising. The passage contains the following extract: ‘during the November 2015 Paris terror attacks, rumours quickly spread on social media that the Louvre and the Pompidou Centre had been hit, and that the French president had suffered a stroke.’ Rather than attempting to find other words for ‘Paris’, ‘Louvre’, ‘president’ you should respond to the question by saying the example shows that stories can become exaggerated.

Developing an argument questions:

These questions are about how a paragraph or a sentence move the writer’s argument/ topic from one aspect of the argument/ topic to another. They seem to have replaced the Link Question which has not featured since the inception of the new Higher in 2015. They have appeared in the 2015, 2017 and 2021. You must quote and explain how the quote reveals that the writer is using it to move from one topic to the other.

Think: before and after.

Example: Explain the function of these lines in the development of the writer’s argument. You should make close reference to the passage in your answer.

Answer: ‘could the British… look like this? Signals the writer’s change of focus from the USA to the UK (1 mark).


Analysis questions:

These questions involve looking at techniques, using quotes, and offering explanations. When answering, think:

· what does it mean?

· Why is it being used?

One quote and explanation will get you one mark unless it is imagery you have commented on. Language or style questions mean you can comment on any of the following.

Sentence Structure

Remember to be detailed - what is being emphasised? Also, you should remember to quote at all times. The underlined parts should always be used when answering these questions. Remember to quantify - ‘the amount…’ is not enough; you must say ‘the huge amount…’ etc.

Short sentence: bluntly emphasises its content, adds drama.


The short sentence ‘There is a lot to be done.’ bluntly emphasises the writer’s belief that there is much work to be completed in combating these industries.

List: emphasises variety and number of things.


The list ‘other cultures… climates’ emphasises the huge number of things that air travel allows people to experience.

Repetition: emphasise something - say what is being emphasised.


The repetition of ‘We need’ emphasises the idea that society as a whole must come together and fight these companies.

The above are the most likely features of sentence structure. Indeed, knowledge of the three techniques listed above would enable you to answer any analysis question from the past 7 years, allowing you to comment on sentence structure.

However, you might also comment on topic sentences - the first sentence in a paragraph - which might bluntly introduce the topic.

You might comment on how sentences start ‘Originally… After that’ which might communicate a sequence.

You might also be asked about parallelism - where sentences are repeatedly structured/ balanced in the same way.

Example: ‘Don’t buy a baby walker, your toddlers might brain themselves. Don’t buy plastic baby teethers, your baby might suck in harmful chemicals.’

This emphasises all the things they discourage you from buying and underscore their idea that there is threat everywhere/ everything is dangerous/ has consequences.

Word Choice:

You should try to say what the definition/ connotations of these words are and why they are used. Try to keep your quotes to 1 word if possible

Follow this structure:

1. ‘Quote’

2. Suggests

3. Context (he, she they, it)

4. Two connotations


‘Crammed’ suggests they were kept in claustrophobic, unpleasant conditions.


If you are dealing with imagery – usually a simile, personification or a metaphor – then there are two stages:

1. say what the connotations of the image are - give two connotations

2. say what connotations the subject shares with the image, again giving two but using different words.


Just as a tumour is unhealthy, ugly and can lead to serious illness or death (stage 1) 1st mark, so too was London destructive to the country, filled with disease and unpleasant to look at. (stage 2) 2nd mark.


Often a part of sentence structure but not the first thing you should look at. Look out for colons and dashes that come before an explanation - they introduce an expansion or explanation, a list or extra information. Say what it is a list of or extra info about. To find out what is being introduced, look just before the dash or colon.

Semi-colons split up a list, creating a definite break between each item. They also set up a contrast.

Inverted commas show speech. The writer might use them to show they are someone else’s words and not the writers, to show a quote, or show the writer doubts what is being said. It might also be used to mock an idea

Parenthesis is a regularly used feature - it is information contained within two rackets, two dashes, or two commas. You should say that parenthesis is used to emphasise the extra information contained within the punctuation.


You should try to quote with these questions. They are similar to analysis questions but you should say how effective something is - say it is effective and why, using quotes as evidence.

Mostly, they ask you about how effective a sentence or a paragraph is as a conclusion - look for links to ideas earlier in the passage or even the title and state what they are. This gives a sense that the writer is summing up/ emphasising a point. Also look for them to drive a point home with a powerful topic sentence, an angry tone or a mocking tone, or repetition.


How effective do you find lines 36-39 as a conclusion to the writer’s condemnation of video gaming in the passage as a whole?


‘So I say now’ is effective because it is a powerful start signalling he will sum up his thoughts.

‘yank out that plug’ is effective as he commands parents to stop their children playing these games. This reinforces the point he has been making throughout, especially in the second paragraph when he commands that parents ‘just say no to Nintendo’.

‘strike a blow for literacy’ returns to the titles giving a sense of summing up and reinforcing the central idea of the passage - cutting down on gaming will improve school performance.

Last Question:

For a number of years, the last question in an RUAE paper is a 5-mark question that asks you to look at how the writers agree and/ or disagree on a topic. To get 5 marks you must find 3 areas of agreement and/ or disagreement. Most of the time the paper only asks for agreement or disagreement.

From my experience as an SQA marker, I would say that this is the question that is most poorly done, which is silly when I would consider it the easiest question to score highest in. I would recommend the following approach:

· read the last question BEFORE you read the passage

· with a specific colour, highlight the point the writer makes about the topic

· do all the questions up to the last question

· read the second passage up until you have at least three areas of agreement and/ or disagreement (if you have time, do four and use one as a back up in case one of the first three points is wrong)

· stop reading

· begin answering the question

Template for the 5-mark question:

· Point of agreement/ disagreement

· Passage one states ‘quote’ which shows ____________________- this should be a summary of how the quote links to the point of agreement/ disagreement. Try the drag it out a little/ not make it too brief or you run the risk of receiving 4 marks instead of 5.

· Passage two states ‘quote’ which shows__________________________- same as above but for passage two.

· You should do the above 3 times to receive 5 marks.


This was from a paper where the question asked about how the writers disagreed on the experience of shopping.


Passage 1 states that shopping is ‘the heroin of human happiness’ which shows she thinks it is damaging and harmful to both the individual and society.

Passage 2 states that shoppers are ‘doing something important’ which shows he thinks that it benefits both society and the individual.


Passage 1 states that ‘our needs are never satisfied’ which shows she thinks that long term happiness cannot be achieved through shopping no matter how hard we try.

Passage 2 states that ‘shopping is enormous fun and profoundly satisfying’ which shows he thinks the experience can be emotionally beneficial and bring real, lasting happiness.


Passage 1 states that shopping has created a ‘mainstream monoculture’ which shows she thinks that the obsession with shopping means towns and city centres all look the same.

Passage 2 states that ‘malls are marble-floored temples’ which shows he thinks they are visually stunning.


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