Practice Exam Questions: GCSE English Literature

Hi gang,

Here are the practice exam questions on your set texts for the Literature exam.




Enjoy (?!?) having a go at them.

Please don’t time yourselves for this; I want to see your best work when you’re NOT up against the clock.

Have a great half term!

Mrs. B


Love/Hate in Romeo and Juliet

Write about how Shakespeare presents the theme of love and hate in Romeo and Juliet.

Introduction: Ask key questions that the essay will answer, for example, how does love affect the characters in the play? How does hate affect their behavior? What are the similarities between love and hate? What does the language suggest about love and hate?

Key points to include:

  • Love seems to make characters behave irrationally. (Romeo and Juliet in Act 2 scene 2, Friar Lawrence in Act 3 and the Nurse in Act 3).
  • There are different types of love (romantic, maternal, spiritual) which all appear impetuous.
  • Hate is powerful and triumphs over love at various points. (Act 3 scenes 1 and 5).
  • Shakespeare uses oxymorons and metaphors to suggest that love and hate are two sides of the same coin.

Conclusion: Love and hate are not opposites! They are closely related and equally powerful.



It’s a start…

Dear Year 10,

Here is the start to our past exam question on Calpurnia:

How is the character of Calpurnia important to the novel as a whole?

Calpurnia is important to the novel as a whole for a variety of reasons. Lee uses her to add detail and depth to the novel’s main themes, such as (in)justice, family, equality and personal change. Furthermore, she is used as a representative of the black community in a Southern town in 1930s Alabama. Like Atticus, Calpurnia is used by Lee as a mouthpiece through which she expresses moral and ethical views.

Firstly, Calpurnia plays a significant part in Lee’s exploration of the theme of injustice. Whenever she has to discipline Scout, she does so in a way which is appropriate and fair. For example…

Over to you!

How to Write an Essay

This post uses a sample essay on To Kill a Mockingbird to guide you step by step through the process of writing an essay. Follow the 8 steps below and essays will become a walk in the park.


1. Write the essay title at the top of the page (2 minutes)
(This sounds obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how many people forget to do it.) Why not underline it with a ruler, just for good measure? It’s always good to start off on the right foot.

What do you learn about the character of Calpurnia in chapter 12?


2. Plan your answer (10-15 minutes)
Quotations can be very helpful when it comes to planning. Collect quotations from chapter 12 relating to Calpurnia. You can use them to get ideas about what to put in your essay. But don’t just go through them one by one in the order they happen to be in. Think about it. You want to put them into different groups, so that your essay isn’t jumping around all over the place. It will make it much easier if you spend some time doing this before you start writing. So spend 10 – 15 minutes putting them into groups. Use the headings below. They will be the different sections of your essay.
• Quotations about Calpurnia’s life in the past.
• Quotations about Calpurnia’s life now.
• Quotations that show Calpurnia’s relationship with Scout and Jem.
• Quotations that show Calpurnia’s personality.
(You can’t do this quickly. Once you start thinking about it, you’ll realise that there are lots of different ways of grouping the quotations. Don’t worry – just spend a bit of time on it.)


3. Write an introduction (5-10 minutes)
In your introduction, it’s a good idea to give the reader an idea of what the essay is going to be about. The problem is, you don’t want to give too much away. So keep it short, and explain very simply what happens in chapter 12, and whereabouts in the novel it is. You could also write a sentence about who Calpurnia is, but you should keep this very general for the moment.


4. Make a point (2 minutes)
This is going to much easier because of your plan. Look at the first heading– Calpurnia’s life in the past. You could just copy it out, a bit like a subheading:

Calpurnia’s life in the past.

But it’s much better if you can turn it into a sentence. Something like this:

One of the things we learn about in chapter 12 is Calpurnia’s life before she came to Maycomb.

You should always start the different sections of your essay like this. It helps the reader keep track of where you are. (It helps you, too.)


5. Use a quotation (or reference) to back up your point (3 minutes)
Now then. You could just whack it in, like this:

One of the things we learn about in chapter 12 is Calpurnia’s life before she came to Maycomb: ‘”I’ve spent all my days working for the Finches or the Bufords, an’ I moved to Maycomb when your daddy and your mamma married.” (p. 138)

But it’s much better if you can introduce it. Something like this:

One of the things we learn about in chapter 12 is Calpurnia’s life before she came to Maycomb. On the way home from church, she tells Jem and Scout: ‘”I’ve spent all my days working for the Finches or the Bufords, an’ I moved to Maycomb when your daddy and your mamma married.” (p. 138)


6. Pick out words or phrases from the quotation and say something about them (5 minutes)
This is the bit that most people find the most difficult. Don’t worry – it’ll get easier the more you do it. If you’re not sure which words to pick out, try some out and see if you can think of anything to say. Something like this:

One of the things we learn about in chapter 12 is Calpurnia’s life before she came to Maycomb. On the way home from church, she tells Jem and Scout: ‘”I’ve spent all my days working for the Finches or the Bufords, an’ I moved to Maycomb when your daddy and your mamma married.” (p. 138) The phrase ‘all my days’ tells us that Calpurnia has spent her whole life working for Atticus and his ancestors – perhaps she even grew up working for them. It would not have been uncommon for servants to spend their whole lives working for the same family. Calpurnia must have grown up with Atticus, and probably knows him better than anyone. She would also have known Scout’s mother. We realise just how much a part of the family she is.


7. Repeat numbers 4 – 6 until you have reached the end of your plan (30 – 40 minutes)


8. Write a conclusion (10 minutes)

A bit like the introduction, there is no need for this to be very long. Don’t include any quotations. Don’t just repeat everything you’ve said. You want to answer the question, as plainly and simply as you can, with one big answer. Using the words from the title will help. Something like this:

In chapter 12, we learn a number of things about Calpurnia that we didn’t know previously. All of these give us a greater sense of who she is as a person – her personality, her past and her present. It is interesting that Harper Lee waits this long (almost half the novel). Perhaps it is because Scout is the narrator – and it is not until she begins to grow up that she really begins to see Calpurnia for who she is. Until now, she has viewed Calpurnia as the cook, and little more. But now she begins to realise that she has a history – a unique personality, and so do we.



Mrs Dubose and the Camelias

This sounds like the name of a band.
It’s not (I don’t think…) it’s a reference to chapter 11 of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, in which the antaganistic, crumbly old Mrs Dubose from down the road forces poor Jem to read Ivanhoe (and such like) to her as she dribbles her way through the sticky Maycomb afternoons.

Once you get into Part 2 of the novel, when the trial of Tom Robinson begins to dominate the narrative, you’ll forget all about the funny little goings-on of Part 1. The rabid Tim Johnson, lolloping his way down the road, the summer games with Dill and adventures into the Radley territory and, indeed, Mrs. Dubose and her camelias… these will all seem like minor, insignificant happenings, in comparison with the drama of Tom Robinson’s trial.

So let’s pause before we embark on the heady adventures of Part 2, to reflect on why Part 1 is so important. Because it is, actually.

The themes that are explored in these little stories are exactly those that Harper Lee will explore in the rest of the book. The prejudice against Boo Radley that we see in Part 1 will re-emerge as the prejudice against Tom Robinson (and Mayella Ewell) in Part 2. The empathy that Atticus tells Scout is so important in Part 1 (‘You never really know a person… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it’) is the same empathy required of Jem as he learns more about the trial in Part 2. The courage of Mrs. Dubose in Part 1 is the same courage required of Atticus as he defends Tom Robinson in Part 2. It’s all very clever, you see.

Have a look at this:

Mrs Dubose - themes

It shows some of the themes prevalent in chapter 11.

Re-read chapter 11, and make notes on moments where one of the themes seems to be important.

Use your notes, and the diagram, to answer the following essay question:

How does Harper Lee use the story of Mrs Dubose in chapter 11 to explore some of the novel’s key themes?

Due: Monday 14th October


Language in Much Ado About Nothing: puns, double-entendre and malapropisms

Messina is a wordy world. Its inhabitants like to chatter. Language matters, and right from the get-go. Not even the messenger, whose sole task is to deliver news of Don Pedro’s success in battle and imminent arrival, is exempt from the wit that flows so freely on Leonato’s estate. Words are not merely a means of communication, but a source of entertainment and delight. They are an art. It is no surprise then, that much of the play’s humour is the result of wordplay. From the exaggerated and elaborate epithets of Benedick to the witty ‘poinards’ of Beatrice (not to mention the ridiculous malapropisms of Dogberry and Verges) wordplay is never far away. We should not underestimate its importance.

Firstly, wordplay is one of Shakespeare’s chief methods of characterisation. Let us first consider the character of Beatrice. Her first line: ‘I pray you, is Signior Montanto returned from the wars, or no?’ uses wordplay to undermine Benedick, by playing on the sexual innuendo of ‘montanto’, a fencing term for an ‘upright blow or thrust’. She is then quick to turn the messenger’s words into something altogether different when she quips: ‘A good soldier to a lady, but what is he to a lord?’ again hinting at Benedick’s apparently infamous ways with women. The messenger’s words are a further source of punning in line 53: ‘It is so indeed, he is no less than a stuffed man’, where the original compliment (‘a man, stuffed with all honourable virtues’) is transformed into the stuff(ing) of an insult: ‘but for the stuffing – well, we are all mortal.’ Only seconds before the man himself arrives, Beatrice finds time for another pun, when she responds to the messenger’s diplomatic understatement that ‘the gentleman is not in [her] books’ with: ‘No; and he were, I would burn my study (I.i.73). Such a profound and insistent use of double-entendre establishes Beatrice’s quick-witted nature (in contrast with Don John, who is ‘not of many words’) and we may well admire her for it, as well as anticipate with delight the ‘skirmish of wits’ that will no doubt ensue when ‘Signior Montato’ does indeed arrive. The messenger, with his elaborate formality (‘badge of bitterness’) perhaps serves as a prologue for what is to come later in the scene, with Benedick. He is no match for Beatrice’s sharp wit, and we look forward to meeting the man who is.

When Benedick does arrive, Shakespeare does not disappoint:

Benedick: What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?
Beatrice: Is it possible disdain should die, while she hath such meet food to feed it, as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come in her presence.

The insult does more than simply pun on his original pejorative; it adds a fresh insult to the mix. In this ‘skirmish of wit’ Beatrice has both seen and raised her opponent’s hand. However, unlike the messenger, Benedick is undefeated:

Benedick: Then is courtesy a turncoat.

The dramatic impact of this is significant, for we all love a ‘merry war’, but so is its comic effect. Whilst their sparring is based in wordplay, it remains merry indeed, for it is just that: play. Thus it is essential not only in its establishing characters, but, moreover, in establishing the relationship between those characters. Their ‘war’ can never end in tragedy whilst it is so firmly rooted in wordplay, for play is, by its very nature, a game, a bit of fun. We would be wrong to take it too seriously when they themselves are not.

If we are to believe in the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick, it is essential that we like them. For a modern audience, Benedick’s views on women may prove something of an obstacle in this regard, perhaps in the same way that Kate’s eventual submission at the end of The Taming of the Shrew seems a rather dissatisfying conclusion to the play. In this respect, Benedick’s use of language is certainly worth exploring, for it is difficult to take his views on women seriously when they are littered with hyperbole such as: ‘I will die in it at the stake.’ Don Pedro’s response: ‘Thou wast ever an obstinate heretic in the despite of beauty’ (I.i.217-8 – my emphasis) serves to mock such an oath – only a matter as serious as heresy could result in one’s pledging to be burned at the stake for their beliefs. Interestingly, Benedick continues in a religious vein when he responds: ‘That a woman conceived me, I thank her…’ Ketteredge has suggested that here, ‘Benedick speaks with mock solemnity, as if he were reciting his heretical confessional of faith.’ The point is clear: we would be wrong to take Benedick’s views on women (like his views on Beatrice) too seriously. He certainly isn’t, and later on admits that they were nothing other than ‘paper bullets of the brain’. They are insubstantial, weightless; they do not hit the mark. Nor are they from the heart, but the ‘brain’; such is clear from the language. We would do well to agree with Don Pedro when he declares that, before he dies, he will see Benedick ‘look pale with love’. He is certainly not taken in by Benedick’s exaggerated oaths to remain a bachelor. Neither should we be.

(By means of contrast, it is interesting to note the way the form shifts from prose to verse when Benedick leaves this scene. It is almost as if, now that the frivolous and lighthearted comedy of Bachelor Benedick is over, the mood grows, by contrast, far more solemn. Shakespeare indicates this by adopting the use of verse for the more serious discussion between Don Pedro and Claudio which follows.)

Finally, a note on structure. We cannot underestimate how important this is to the success of the comedy. If we are to fully appreciate the lighter scenes, it is important that they are thrown into relief by those of a darker, more serious nature. (The opposite is also true, of course.) This is where Dogberry and Verges play a role that is of the utmost importance.