Unfamiliar Texts – Prose

In the end of year exam you will have to answer questions on a prose extract. The purpose of this is to test your ability to analyse an unseen prose passage. You need to demonstrate that you have the ability to read and understand the passage. You will also need to demonstrate that you have the ability to engage with the language and style of the passage. Finally, you need to demonstrate that you know the appropriate terminology to discuss the techniques used in the passage.

The kind of passage you can expect is a piece of prose in which there is an engagement or exchange between the writer and the reader. This exchange is not so much a transaction of ideas as of a memory, a feeling, a sense of place, a moment. Usually, the extract has a New Zealand flavour, with a strong evocation of a person, a place, a time, a memory.

The kind of questions asked tend to get you to comment on specific words or phrases/punctuation/sentence structure. You may also be asked to comment on the meaning and/or intention of specific words and phrases (frequently figurative language) and identify stylistic features.
You need to be able to interpret in your own words what is happening/what is the writer’s attitude etc.
Often you will need to be able to discuss relationships between parts of the passage (eg. beginning and end)
and make connections between the transactional passage and the poetic passage.

When you approach a passage try to have a positive attitude. Make sure that you pay attention to detail
You do not have to answer this standard first, but make sure that you allow at least 40 minutes for Close Reading so that is 20 minutes for the prose passage. Firstly read the passage WITHOUT looking at the questions. Try to make it live in your mind. During this first, quick reading try and establish the general drift of the passage, what it is about. Ask yourself: Who is speaking? Where are we? When was it written? What is being communicated? How would you characterise the general style and tone?
Read the passage slowly a second time paying attention to the finer points of language. Ask yourself questions: What is the tone and style? What is the point of view? What kinds of sentences are used? Is there a noticeable pattern of punctuation? How is the passage paragraphed? Is there figurative language?

When writing your answers here are a few tips to finding success. Write in complete sentences using the words of the question as a lead in. Answer the question with precision, accuracy and economy
Make sure that you leave enough time for proofreading your answers. If you can’t do a particular question leave a gap and move on but do come back to it!

To complete an Unfamiliar Texts paper you need to be able to identify and discuss the following:

  • Sentence structure: length, complexity and main types (minor or incomplete, simple, complex, compound, complex-compound)
  • punctuation: intention, way devices are used to reinforce meaning and effect
  • parts of speech (the standard parts of speech are: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, conjunction, preposition, pronoun, interjection)
  • point of view (particularly: first person, limited third person, eye of God)
  • figures of speech (for example: metaphor, simile, personification, hyperbole, euphemism)
  • tone: attitude of writer to material, colouration
  • style: the manner in which something is expressed, considered as separate from its intrinsic content or meaning
  • language register: forms of language associated with a particular social situation or subject matter
  • typographic conventions (for example: bold, italics, block capitals, underlining)

For how to discuss unfamiliar poetry check out this post from last year.


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