GCSE Poetry Exam – Covering all the Bases

Do you struggle to remember what sort of things you should be writing about poems in the exam? Well the number one thing is that you should write about what your answer to the question is. As I tell my classes until they’re sick of hearing it, ‘Answer the question, the whole question and nothing but the question.’

But in answering the question, you need to show WHY yours is  a reasonable answer, by referring a to a full range of things to do with language, form, structure, issues and ideas.

English teacher colleagues are incredibly creative and come up with all sorts of mnemonics to help their students remember what they need to consider to make sure they are addressing all the assessment objectives.

Maybe you could remember like this:

“S – ubject matter
P – purpose
E – motion
C – raftsmanship – > SLIMS ( Sounds Language Imagery Movement Structure)
S – summary

SPECS & SLIMS – v easy to remember”

or like this:

“You can use your own writing hand as a visual aid in the exam:

Thumb = subject of the poem – what is actually “there under your thumb” ? Storyline etc etc [Jab down with the thumb on the copy of the text, to reinforce the point]
Index finger = theme(s) – what might the poem be “pointing to” that goes beyond the basic content ? [Use the finger as a pointer away from the copy of the text, to reinforce]

You can suggest that it might be worth thinking about the “pinch factor” at this point – is the poet in any way using the relationship between the immediate content and wider implications to “get a hold of the reader” [demonstrated by thumb and index finger pinching together, to reinforce]

Middle finger = organisation/structure; you have to think of this finger as representing the central column supporting a building.
(This is just a starter to a potentially huge topic of course: how it starts; how it ends; stanza structure; rhyme scheme; lineation etc etc)
Ring finger = language use (the one your English teacher is so obviously “in love with”) detailed analysis of register; word-choice; imagery etc etc etc
Little finger = effect (crook the pinkie in the way social snobs are supposed to drink a cup of tea to show that they are upper class) what is the poet trying to achieve overall in terms of effect on the reader, and how far has this worked in your case ?

also spells “STOLE” if that’s any help.”

or like this:


A ttitude – poet to reader and poet to subject
S ubject Matter/Structure
T heme
R hythm/Rhyme
I magery
D iction
E ffect on reader”

or like this:

“I use TRIED

Rhyme / rhythm

The idea is that they have TRIED in the exam – of course some change it to Tired because they’ve had enough of poetry by then!…..”

or like this:

“We use Flirt which is memorable for the students in the exam…

F orm
L anguage
I magery
R hyme/ rhythm
T one”

or like this:

“I say this to my students…or something to this effect. I’m pretty sure in this order (doing it from memory):

Read the poem
Read it again – what do you think it’s about? What’s the big picture?
Who is speaking? Who are they speaking to?
Look at the language – what words does the poet use to convey meaning?
Look at the structure – how does this add to the meaning?
Personal response – how does it make you feel? “

But however you remember, make sure you do remember, but DON’T just follow a rigid formula. Have the confidence to respond to the particular poems and the specific question in your own unique way.

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