How to best prepare for an unseen poem question on a GCSE English Literature paper?

Firstly, it is important to remember that with this and every English Literature question there is no one right or wrong answer! The study of English is about expressing your own personal thoughts and ideas in regards to a particular text, so there is no one perfect answer that any examiner is looking for! That being said, approaching an unseen poem in exam conditions can be particularly daunting. I have always found it helpful to prepare a checklist of a few key areas which I will discuss in my answer regardless of the poem in front of me. As a starter, I advise all students to look at the title. This sounds an obvious first step but is often overlooked in the panic of exam conditions. Jot down a few key words/themes/ideas that spring to mind when you read the title- it helps to set the scene for the tone of the poem, and can hint to a few things to look out for. After reading through the poem in full- I would then recommend that the students look at the poem’s structure (how many stanzas/paragraphs is it broken into?), language (what patterns of vocabulary are used?) and rhyme (does the poem use a regular or irregular rhyme scheme?). Whilst this list is not exhaustive, it shows students that a poet uses various techniques to express the themes and ideas of any given text, not simply their choice of words. Engaging with this checklist and the student's own imaginative ideas promises a sophisticated exam response for GCSE papers and beyond.

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