I remember opening the paper and thinking ‘OH NO’ as I hurried to race through all of the passages and decide what to write on. All of the words and sentences merged into one and I couldn’t understand what any of them meant, let alone write an essay on them. The thought of making a run for it seemed oh so tempting but instead I took a moment to breathe...
The likelihood is you won’t have read or probably even heard of any the texts you’re faced with analysing in the ELAT. Under the pressure of the exam scenario, it can feel so overwhelming but everyone is in the same position. That is the whole point of the ELAT; Joe Blogs sitting next to you may well have read the whole works of Shakespeare but in the exam he’ll probably have to write on something totally different.
Once I calmed down, everything began to make a bit more sense and I recalled a little method I’d come up with in the run up to the exam:
1.Read the question carefully and circle the key words.
2.Write down your tick list of things to look for and tick them off:
Content, form, structure, punctuation, adjectives, rhyme, similes, metaphors, verbs, symbolism, context, perspective, story, characters, caesura, enjambment, stanzas, contrast.
3.Read all of the texts and decide which you feel most comfortable analysing and comparing
4.Pick out key points which can be compared/contrasted across the passages.
5.Make a brief plan to make sure you cover all of the passages in a structured manner.
6.Ensure that your introduction is snappy; this is the first thing the examiner will read so try to wow them!
7.Start writing but continue to reflect on the question and check that you’ve included your key points.
8.Don’t feel you have to cover everything, an in depth analysis of a few points will be far more impressive than a surface level view of everything in the texts.
So how did I come up with this method? Practice! Although Oxford claim you can’t really prepare for the ELAT, you can prepare being faced with the unknown….
Have a look at some practice papers: http://www.admissionstestingservice.org/for-test-takers/elat/preparing-for-elat/
Print off poems, prose, newspaper articles, play scripts, journal entries, factual writing, basically anything at all with words in and give yourself a limited amount of time in which to annotate them.
Write a list of things which repeatedly come up in the texts and write them in your planning booklet in the exam; it’s always easier when you know what you’re looking for.
See how these unknown texts relate to other pieces of literature that you have read; making educated comparisons will help to make you stand out.
Practice writing essays in timed conditions; you don’t want the stress of not finishing your paper.
Read, read, read ; what can be better practice for a literary exam than reading anything you can get your hands on?
Make sure you’re familiar with different forms of literature and always think about WHY the author has chosen that particular form.
Read passages from a variety of time periods and get used to the sort of language used at different points in history.
Remember that catchy little phrase WHY? JUSTIFY! Well it’s pretty important here too. It’s no good just noticing that the poet has put a full stop at the end of the line, you need to think about WHY he has done this; what effect does it have on the text?
Look at some literary theories that you might be able to apply to your texts.