The Level Three Exam

I don’t want to freak you out but the Level Three English Exam is on Wednesday afternoon and it consists of the following papers:

3.2 Respond critically to written text(s) studied

This achievement standard involves a previous reading and study of written text(s), and developing a critical response, using supporting evidence. We of course studied a novel.

3.4 Respond critically to oral or visual text studied

This achievement standard involves a previous viewing and study of a film (or films) and developing a critical response, using supporting evidence.

3.5 Read and respond critically to unfamiliar prose and poetry texts

This achievement standard requires responding critically to ideas and language features in unfamiliar prose and poetry texts.

Assessment will require students to respond to at least one of each of the following text types:

  • prose, such as persuasive, journalistic, or literary


  • poetry.

Free Verse and other terms

Check out the Glossary of Poetic Terms at the Poetry Archive to help you revise for Unfamiliar Texts. Look here for answers to your questions on the language we use to talk about poetry.

Like art, sport, business, music, and every other complex human activity, poetry has developed its own specialist vocabulary. It can be daunting to come across, for the first time, someone talking about a “bear market”, a “pas de deux”, or the “offside rule”… but these terms are useful tools, and worth acquiring so that you can talk and write about your subject with confidence.

You can use this glossary to check how to pronounce a word or phrase, find out what it means and learn how to use it in a sentence. You can explore some of the ways in which poets use language, the choices they make and the effects those choices create. There are examples to read and listen to, in poems specially chosen from the Poetry Archive.

Free Rice


I thought I’d remind you about Free Rice as many of you enjoyed playing it last year. Free Rice is an online vocabulary building game. The site not only helps you to improve your vocabulary but it also helps to end world hunger by providing rice to people who need it. For each word you get right the site sponsors will donate 20 grains of rice through the UN World Food Programme.

Randle Patrick McMurphy


He is a man who has consistently resisted the strictures of society. At the hospital McMurphy’s animal vitality manifests itself, rage and sexual energy form a two-pronged threat to the dual repressive roles of the Combine- its mechanistic order and matriarchal emasculation.

McMurphy recognises Nurse Ratched’s methods immediately, “What she is, is a ball cutter…I’ve seen a thousand of ‘em, old and young, men and women … people who try to make you weak so they can get you to … live like they want you to …”

Central to McMurphy’s ethic is the distinction between winning by making one’s opponent weaker as opposed to making oneself stronger. Obviously the reader can see which one Nurse Ratched is.

Mac is a compelling figure and when he enters the sterile world of the Chief and the stifling American society he brings a breath, a breeze, a wind of change. In the wasteland of the ward his sexual vitality makes him loom as a figure of mythic proportions. Yet the most important part of the legacy that he has left the Chief and the others is that he was just a man. And that, finally, is enough.

Some critics view ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ as a western novel reflecting characters, language and values associated with the American frontier. As Richard Blessing noted, “the McMurphy who enters the ward is a frontier hero, an anachronistic paragon of rugged individualism, relentless energy, capitalistic shrewdness, virile coarseness and productive strength. He is Huck Finn with muscles, Natty Bumppo with pubic hair. He is the descendent of the pioneer who continually fled civilisation and its feminising and gentling influence.

The significance of Moira


In ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Moira represents strength and hope for Offred (and for the reader, too) as she rebels against the totalitarian system under which she is forced to live. She is also a link with the old days at college, and Offred recalls her rebellion against the rules then, too. She seems to epitomise a woman who has rejected Gilead’s philosophy in a variety of ways.

Moira never becomes a handmaid; so she retains her own name, and hence she seems less subservient and more individualised.

She is bisexual and a staunch feminist. These firmly help views allow her to defy the role of women and offer a small token of resistance to Gilead. Her views and preferences also mean that she rejects male/female interaction.

Moira is self-deprecating, amusing and outrageous – certainly not fitting into the role of passive and accepting ‘vessel’ for the production of the next generation.

Her escape attempts show her to be resourceful and clever. By stealing a uniform she could be seen as offering another act of defiance to the suffocating society in which she is living, as clothing is used to define the lack of identity and “typing” into roles.

Her final subjugation and disappearance in the later stages of the novel are also significant symbols, but of defeat. They demonstrate that one person cannot succeed in such a crushing regime, and she becomes one fragmentary part of the history of Gilead.

Identity in The Handmaid’s Tale


A key theme in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is that of identity. Atwood’s central concern is how women are defined by their traditional roles in society. In ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, people, and women in particular, are reduced to serving a function in society rather than living as free thinking individuals with an identity.

Offred clearly shines through as an individual in the text. Her narrative voice is often humorous (albeit in a sardonic way) and she is able to reflect some optimism about the good things she finds around her. Clearly, she is more of an individual than simply the contribution of her ovaries!

We are given a sense of individuality through Offred’s referral to those in authority as ‘they’ or ‘them’. We do not know much more about them but this gives us the sense that they are the faceless, nameless ones and that they should be feared.

Identity is thus addressed as a key theme of the text and also through the narrative voice of Offred.

Get connected


Good writers stitch their clauses, sentences and paragraphs together with helpful connective words. The number of these is few in relation to the half million words in an average dictionary. In fact, the following list contains most of the best ones. Go over them again and again till your mind is so saturated with them that it will toss them up automatically when needed. A curious fact is that apart from the ‘Big Seven’ small connectives (and, but, yet, or, not, so, for) we don’t use many of them in speaking, but nearly all of them find their way, not infrequently, into written English.

(Remember the general rule: Where possible prefer a shorter, plainer alternative to a longer, more formal-sounding one.)

and … but … yet … or … not … so … for

above all





as a result







first … second

for example

for instance

for this reason




in addition

in conclusion


in fact

in particular

in short


in summary





more specifically



not only … but also

not surprisingly


of course

one … two (other)

on the contrary

on the other hand









to sum up


Other connective devices

As well as the ‘connective words’ writers use two other important connective devices. They repeat ‘key words’ and they use ‘reference words’ (such as it, that, this, then).

How a paragraph is stitched together

Look deeply into the construction of the following paragraph to find, apart from the logical order of the ideas, some of the ‘stitching’ devices that have produced writing with good ‘connectedness’…

Good health depends on a number of factors. Obviously it requires fresh air, free from the pollutants generated by industrial society. But while the air comes to us easily, we must make a conscious effort to secure two other physical factors that are scarcely less essential. One is regular exercise, and it should be backed by good posture and sufficient rest. The other is a good diet which guarantees regular intake of the basic food elements while avoiding over-indulgence in sugar, salt, fats and drugs. In addition to these there is a factor that is often forgotten because it is not physical: we need a positive attitude, an interest or zest in living, without which we would soon lose the will to maintain either. In short, health is wholeness, a combination of at least these four essentials: air, exercise, diet and attitude.

Preparing for unfamiliar poetry


Remember that the two key questions to ask about any poem are:

  • What is the poet saying?
  • How is it being said?

The themes are what the poet is saying

How it is said comes from various combinations of:

  • Words
  • Sounds
  • Form
  • Movement
  • Ideas
  • Allusions
  • Audience
  • Poetic voice
  • Imagery

When answering the questions, especially when quoting, identify:

  • The significance of a section of a poem – for example – is it a turning point?
  • Who is speaking – and who are they addressing?
  • How does the language evoke a mood or perhaps suggest a conflict?
  • Look for images, colours, movement, rhythm – especially patterns/clusters of images
  • Are there repetitions or echoes of other poems?
  • Does the passage makes you want to ask any questions?

If, for example, you are writing about a poem that explores a speaker’s need for control, you could focus on the images that convey this to structure your answer. Or you might focus on the attitudes of the poet/persona towards the subject.

Your interpretation needs to convey to the examiner your sense of the poet at work.

You can do this by using sentences like, “In ‘Tulips’, Plath contrasts the images of anaesthesia and effacement with the blood red tulips and red sinkers to reveal that the speaker is torn between the pain of living and the ease of death.”

Support your interpretation with textual detail. Quote from the poems – appropriately selected quotations will illustrate your discussion.

Convey your understanding of how the poet constructed the poem to position us to read it a certain way.

Express your response fluently and expressively. Use the appropriate terms for the poetic devices and effects you are commenting on, but remember that a list of poetic devices is not a response to what the poetry says to us. The devices show us HOW the poet conveys an attitude, evokes a mood or explore an experience.