Close Reading – Intermediate 1

For more detailed information on tackling the different types of questions you might be asked in the final exam, check out the Higher and Intermediate pages on Close Reading.

The following information can be found on the SQA official website at

Some facts about the paper


The Close Reading exam paper lasts for one hour.(Date and time for 2011: Friday 13 May, 1.00pm to 2.00pm.)


The exam paper will have one passage. The passage will be selected from a work of non-fiction or from quality journalism. The total length will be in the region of 1,000 words.

The questions will test your ability to understand the writer’s ideas, to analyse the writer’s techniques, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the writing.


The total number of marks available is 30. The number of questions will vary. The number of marks allocated to each question is shown at the end of each question.


As well as an indication of the number of marks allocated, there is a code letter to tell you which skill is being tested in each question. These codes are: U for Understanding, A for Analysis, E for Evaluation. Sometimes these are combined to indicate that there is a focus on more than one skill – for example, U/E indicates that you are being asked to show an understanding of the writer’s ideas and to make an evaluation of them.


Full details of the Arrangements for Intermediate 1 English can be found on SQA’s website.

Some general advice


It is important to use your time wisely so that you answer all the questions and are not rushing to finish the last two or three questions.

Allocation of marks/length of answers

The number of marks allocated to a question will give you a clear idea of the number of points required. A question for 1 mark can probably be answered in very few words, while a 3 mark question (especially if it is coded A or E) will require a detailed answer making a number of points.

A common mistake is to spend too much time on the early questions. Remember that the questions at the end may be quite ‘high value’ ones – so it’s important to give them enough time. Also, don’t waste time writing unnecessarily long answers with introductions which simply repeat the question – get to the point quickly.


Remember to look at the code letter(s) for the question and focus your answer appropriately.

Introduction to the passage

There is usually a brief introduction (printed in italics) just before the passage begins. This can be very important. If the examiners have thought it necessary to provide an introduction, it will be because they think it will help you to understand the passage more easily.

How to prepare/practise for the exam

The general importance of reading

The best preparation for this part of the examination is extensive reading of the types of English from which the passages are usually selected. This should be done over a long period of time – you cannot expect to become familiar with this type of complicated writing by looking at a couple of past papers. The more comfortable you become with the type of writing, the less daunting the passage in the exam will seem. You may even begin to guess the types of questions the examiners will ask.

Types of non-fiction book, newspapers, magazines and periodicals

Regular reading of any of the above should provide you with the quality of reading experience required at this level. The quality of the writing is the main criterion in passage selection and your teacher should be able to guide you towards appropriate materials for use in the classroom and for reading in your leisure time at home.

Past exam papers/SQA’s website

Looking at previous exam papers is the most obvious way of making yourself familiar with the layout of the paper and the style of questioning within it. Recent past papers in Intermediate 1 English are available, published by Bright Red Publishing, and can be purchased in most bookshops.

Some specific advice

Questions on understanding

Answer these as far as possible ‘in your own words’. This means that you have to demonstrate that you understand the more complex words and phrases used in the passage. If you simply quote or use the words already in the passage, the marker won’t know whether you understand what they mean – and will quite reasonably assume that you don’t.

The number of marks allocated to an Understanding question will clearly indicate the number of points you are expected to make.

Try to make your answers to these questions fairly brief.

The link question

This is a common question, although it’s not asked every year.

You must demonstrate an understanding of each of the two paragraphs (or sections) being linked. In addition you must identify the word or words in the link sentence which connect with the preceding paragraph and the word or words in the link sentence which connect with what follows.

So there are four elements in a successful answer:

  • a reference to or quotation from the link sentence which refers to the idea(s) of the preceding paragraph or section;
  • an understanding of the idea(s) of the preceding paragraph or section;
  • a reference to or quotation from the link sentence which refers to the idea(s) of the coming paragraph or section;
  • an understanding of the idea(s) of the coming paragraph or section.

Please note: a full understanding of all four elements is not essential to gain full marks for this question.

Questions on imagery and on word choice

These are questions most English candidates find especially difficult. It’s not easy to ‘learn’ how to do them, since your ability here depends on your sensitivity to language, and this is something that has been growing gradually since you started learning to read. The following bits of advice, however, might help:

  • Some marks may be available for quoting a word or identifying an image, although the marks are usually for the ‘quality of comment’.
  • The comment must be specific to the word or image being asked about – vague remarks which could apply to any word or image will get no marks, and you get no marks for repeating the question.
  • When answering on word choice, try to go beyond what a word means, and explore what it suggests (in technical terms: connotation rather than denotation).
  • When answering on imagery, try to show how the literal root or origin of the image is being used by the writer to express an idea in a metaphorical way.

Questions on sentence structure

Candidates find these questions difficult too. As with questions on imagery and word choice, it’s not easy to ‘learn’ how to answer them. You have to be able to recognise relevant features of sentence structure (eg brevity, length, use of listing, climax, anti-climax, repetition, use of questions, balance, period), and marks are also given for your ability to comment on their effect in context.

Questions on tone

‘Tone’ is possibly the most difficult area of all. You may have to identify the writer’s tone at a particular point in the passage (eg anger, contempt, regret, nostalgia, irony, humour) and you also may have to explain how the writer establishes the tone. The ‘how’ part is often done best by exploring other aspects of language such as sentence structure, imagery, and word choice (see the sections above) since these are often used to convey tone. Also, features such as sound, exaggeration and anti-climax are often used to establish tone.

Questions on ‘the writer’s language’

Sometimes a question simply asks you to show how ‘the writer’s language’ does something or other. This means you’re not being guided towards a specific technique such as sentence structure or tone. For these questions you must find the most appropriate technique(s) and then deal with it/them in the way suggested above. Remember, however, there will usually be no marks for simply identifying a feature or quoting a word or image.

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