Unpacking P2 questions
On the Paper 2 exam, you will find 4 unseen questions. Which one should you choose? What should you do with the question that you have selected? For criterion A and B, which account for 20 of the 30 marks, you are assessed on your ability to respond to the question. So how should you 'unpack' your question?
- Unpacking a question is best done by annotating it or creating a mind map around it. Underline the key words in the question and connect those to two of the works that you have read. Here is an example of how The Great Gatsby and The Reluctant Fundamentalist relate to a question about justice.
- Before you can make a mind map, like the one above, you may want to unpack the question by questioning the question. In relation to the question from the mind map about justice, these are some questions that you might ask:
- What is meant by 'struggle'? Physical? Emotional?
- What is meant by 'speak to readers'? Do readers identify with particular struggles?
- What is meant by 'unjust worlds?' Evil? Dystopian? Unfair?
- Should I compare the unjust world or the authors' 'depictions' of these worlds?
- Unpacking an essay question is one skill. Selecting the right question is another skill. If you have not already done so, browse through the practice Paper 2s on this Support Site. Read at least 16 questions to gain a better understanding of the nature of the questions that will be asked on the exam. If you could put these questions into several categories, how would you label these categories? What commonalities do you see among the questions? Do this activity offline by downloading the A6 cards and laminating them. Cluster them according to similarities.
- In the previous activity, were some questions difficult to answer? Some exam questions are nearly impossible to answer, no matter which works you have read. Other questions might be excellent, but not relevant to your works. What makes the following questions difficult to answer? How can you learn to identify such impossible questions?
The meaning of a literary work can change over time. Compare how the meanings of two literary works that you have read have changed over time.
One characteristic of a literary work is that it never stops speaking to audiences. Compare how two literary works have continued to speak to their audiences over time.
How have the writers’ choices of character names and places contributed to the meaning of two works that you have studied?
- Take a practice Paper 2 from this Support Site and create a table to see where you can make connections between the literary works that you have read and the questions that are asked. Write your works in the left column and some key words from only two or three of the exam questions across the top row. Where do you see opportunities to write a coherent comparative essay? The example below is based on questions 3 and 4 of Paper 2 practice exam 3 from this Support Site.
A6 cards: Unpacking Paper 2 questions
Questions to avoid
|Audience wonders if Ariel will go free. Will Caliban exact revenge on Prospero? Prospero will exact revenge on Frederick?
|Caliban's island was taken away unjustly, so was Prospero's dukedom, Miranda nearly raped
|Petrus and his family's presence create suspense. What will David do about Lucy's rape?
|Apartheid was unjust, David feels he has been treated unjustly. There's no justice for Lucy's rape.
|Death & the Maiden
|When will the gun go off? Will Paulina exact her revenge? Is Dr. Miranda really the torturer?
|Paulina's imprisonment was unjust. The country seeks justice. Is Dr. Miranda is unjustly held captive?
|Woman at point zero
|Will Firdaus escape her pimp? Will she be killed for her crimes?
|Is the imprisonment of Firdaus justified?
To what degree can you prepare for Paper 2? Even though you do not know the essay questions in advance, you can still have a thorough understanding of your works. You can also explore very versatile works in class. Making tables like the one above, to see connections between works, and mind mapping questions in relation to your works are great ways to prepare for the unexpected.