English Language Skills for Intermediate Level takes you through all the different types of questions you will encounter in the Close Reading NAB and exam and provides practice questions and passages.
Below is a summary of the main points made in the early sections of the book.
- Find the answer within the lines / paragraphs you are directed to in the text.
- The number of marks allocated to the question will give you a clue as to how detailed your answer should be. The more marks: the more detailed the answer.
- Read the question carefully and follow the instructions given. Watch out for questions that call for more than one piece of information and / or give two or more different instructions.
- If you are asked to quote or find information directly from the passage then simply lift or copy the word(s)/phrase(s) from the passage.
- Unless you are asked to quote, use your own words as far as possible. There will be some words for which you cannot find alternatives but the whole point of the exercise is to show that you understand what the writer is saying. Lifting chunks of text from the passage is not enough.
U = UNDERSTANDING (what is being said)
- A = ANALYSIS (how it is said)
- E = EVALUATION (how effectively it is said)
The Factual Question
The most common task is to be asked to pick out a fact from the passage and explain it in your own words.
- Look at the section of text referred to in the question. If a word/ phrase is quoted in the question, make sure you find it in the passage.
- Put the relevant information into your own words. If you simply lift information from the passage you will not get any marks. The trick is to keep it simple. (You do not have to use complicated vocabulary in order to prove that you understand the passage.)
Alternatively you may be asked to “summarise” points made in the passage. This is just another way of asking you to pick out facts and put them in your own words. Simply follow the two steps outlined above.
REMEMBER: One of the easiest ways to pick up marks is to take account of the marks allocated to the questions. Save time by keeping your answers to 1-mark questions short and make sure you give lots of detail where lots of marks are up for grabs.
The Meaning of Words
You may be asked to explain the meaning of a word or phrase as it is used in the text. You may also be asked to show how the context (the part of the text where the word / phrase is used) gives you a clue to its meaning.
Follow these two simple steps:
- Explain the meaning of the word. (Use your own words, of course.)
- Show how the rest of the text makes this clear by quoting the word(s) which provide clues, explaining briefly how they helped you to arrive at a meaning for the word / phrase.
Analysis questions ask you to think about how the writer is expressing his ideas.
These questions deal with aspects of the writer’s style: sentence structure, punctuation, expression, word choice, figures of speech, the structure of the argument and tone.
As always, look at the question itself carefully to find out what you are being asked to do. You will usually be expected to quote something and provide an explanation in your own words.
The structure of a sentence means the way in which it is made up and the way the various elements are arranged. The punctuation can be helpful in giving clues to the structure.
In order to answer sentence structure questions you need to be able to recognise the main types of sentence although you will never be asked simply to identify types of sentence in a close reading exercise.
- Question (The use of a ? is a bit of a clue.) The writer may use questions to involve the reader in some way or suggest uncertainty. Watch out for the rhetorical question.
- Command – tells you to do something (instructions). Often used in advertisements and other forms of persuasive writing.
- Exclamation – expresses excitement, surprise or strength of emotion. Often begins with “What” or “How” and may end in an !
- Minor sentence – does not contain a verb. Very short, may create a tense or dramatic mood. Typical of informal language.
Long sentences containing several verbs and therefore several clauses are called complex. Usually, the more complex the sentences, the more formal the language.
Sentences with only one verb are called simple and are typical of speech and types of language that aim to communicate quickly and directly.
The normal word order in a sentence is: subject verb (object). Anything unusual about the word order of a sentence probably deserves a comment.
Reversal of the normal word order (inversion) emphasises a particular word or part of the sentence e.g. “back we went” instead of the more normal order “we went back” throws the emphasis on to the word “back”.
Make sure you can recognise when the writer uses a list, repetition (of a single word or phrase or structure) and climax (a build up of ideas with the most important being kept till last).
You must also be able to recognise the difference between past and present tense verbs and comment on the effect of any change in tenses.
1st Person / 3rd Person
I /me/us/ we – first person: He/she/it/they/them – third person.
If a passage is written in the first person, the writer is describing his own personal experiences. (If it helps, think of the difference between a first person and third person shooter game.)
Comma (,) – separates phrases and clauses within a sentence. A number of commas may indicate a list.
Colon (:) – introduces a quote or a list, an explanation, elaboration or a summing up. There will often be a balance between the two parts of the sentence it divides.
Semi-colon (;) – often comes between two statements which are closely connected or which balance or contrast one another. It may also be used to separate a list of phrases.
Inverted commas (“ ”) – mark quotations, direct speech, foreign words or words used in an unusual way.(Italics may be used similarly.)
Dash – can act like a colon to introduce a quote, list, explanation etc; two dashes = parenthesis.
Hyphen (-) joins two words to make a compound word, or indicates a split word at the end of a line.
Parenthesis refers to a piece of extra information inserted into a sentence and enclosed by a pair of commas, brackets or dashes. If you were to remove this information the sentence would still make perfect sense but the parenthesis does add something significant. It may make the writer’s meaning clearer by adding an explanation or example, or by giving more detail or allow the writer to make a personal observation or even affect the tone of the piece.
Expression and Word Choice
Questions relating to expression and word choice look at the effect created by the particular choices of the writer. (In simple terms, if a writer has a positive attitude towards a subject he will choose words that reflect that.)
The particular style a writer chooses is known as the register. This includes grammar, word choice and all aspects of style.
A writer may choose to write informally or colloquially. This is a style more typical of speaking than writing and may include slang and abbreviations and loose grammar.
Dialect is the name given to the style of language spoken in a particular geographical area or by members of a particular social class or occupational group, distinguished by its vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation.
The style of English understood everywhere and generally accepted as the norm is referred to as Standard English.
Shades of Meaning
Sometimes you may be asked to explain a particular shade of meaning of a word / phrase.
Unless you are simply asked to quote a word or expression you will be expected to explain in your own words the reason behind the writer’s choice of this particular word / phrase.
A good way to approach this type of question is to consider what would have been lost if the writer had used a more neutral word or phrase instead.
Word Choice to Create Atmosphere
It is important to bear in mind the writer’s purpose and his intended audience when looking at his word choice.
Where a writer uses words to stir up strong emotions, this is called emotive language. For example, the words ‘shocking’, ‘horrifying’ and ‘appalling’ express much stronger feelings than words such as ‘disturbing’, ‘worrying’ or ‘upsetting’.
A writer would use emotive language deliberately to play on the emotions of his readers.
Old, New and Specialised Forms of Language
Writers may use technical, formal language if they wish to appear particularly knowledgeable about a subject. This is sometimes known as jargon, especially when it is used to excess.
An archaism is an old-fashioned word or expression that is no longer in common use.
Figures of Speech
Literal – the words are being used to mean exactly what they say.
Figurative – the language is not to be taken literally (at face value). Figures of speech e.g. simile, metaphor, exaggeration etc. are being used to create a particular effect.
Simile – a comparison in which one thing is said to be like (or as) something else. (A is like B.)
Metaphor – a comparison where one thing is said to be another. Where the comparison is sustained and developed this is an extended metaphor.
Personification – an inanimate (non-living) object is given human characteristics, moods, reactions etc.
Imagery – a general term for figurative or descriptive language in a literary work and includes simile, metaphor, personification etc.
Alliteration – repetition of consonant sounds e.g. the snake slithered
Assonance – repetition of vowel sounds
Onomatopoeia – words that imitate the sound they are describing e.g. hiss, buzz
Hyperbole – deliberate exaggeration, often for comic effect.
Understatement (litotes) – the opposite of hyperbole
Euphemism – a way of expressing something in a gentler way than the harsh truth. Associated often with subjects like death and war.
When asked to comment on the effectiveness of the writer’s use of imagery ask yourself: in what respects are the two things similar and how does the comparison help you to understand the subject better?
Structure of a Text
The structure of the text refers to how the different parts – the introduction, the main text and the conclusion – are put together.
The purpose of any introduction is to give the reader a general idea of the topic to be explored. If the topic is introduced in a straightforward manner you are unlikely to be asked to comment upon it. If, however, the passage begins with a question or a single word or with an anecdote etc. then you may be asked to comment upon the effectiveness of the opening and/or its impact.
Words or phrases like ‘but’, ‘yet’ or ‘on the other hand’ mark a change in the direction of the argument or line of thought whilst ‘furthermore’, moreover’, ‘in addition’ etc. mark further examples of, or additions to, the point being made.
Sometimes a whole sentence will be used to mark a turning point and you may be asked a question on this. You may simply be expected to identify the sentence as a link but you might also be asked to show how it forms a link. Often (though not always) the first part of the “link” sentence will refer back, in some way, to the previous topic and another part of the sentence will introduce the new topic which follows.
You need to a) quote the part of the link sentence which refers back to the earlier topic, saying what this topic is then b) quote the part of the link sentence which looks forward to the next topic, explaining what this new topic is.
The tone of a piece of writing reflects the attitude of the writer to his subject.
In speech the tone of voice used would make the speaker’s feelings clear. In writing, you must look at the word choice to find clues as to the feelings or attitude of the writer. It is also helpful to try to decide what the writer’s purpose is. Is he being serious or funny? Is he trying to stir up some sort of feeling in his reader? Is he trying to persuade the reader to believe in a point of view?
Examples of Tone
Humorous / light-hearted – the writer may make jokes (perhaps at his own expense) or use techniques such as hyperbole (deliberate exaggeration). The purpose is to amuse the reader.
Ironic – where the writer wishes to criticise or mock something in a humorous way, he may say the opposite of what he really means.
Emotive – uses strong, emotional words to stir up emotions such as anger, pity or sympathy.
Colloquial / chatty – the writer uses slang, abbreviations and short sentences as if he is chatting to the reader.
Persuasive / argumentative – uses positive expressions, emotive language, rhetorical questions, first person etc. to persuade the reader to his point of view.
To answer Evaluation questions, you must consider how effectively the writer has presented his information and express your personal response to the text.
You can express your judgement by using words like effective, moving, satisfying, exciting, interesting, amusing, humorous, convincing, persuasive, shocking, disturbing, entertaining, enjoyable etc.
You might be asked to consider features such as word choice, structure, tone etc.
To show how a conclusion rounds off a text consider:
- The ideas: pick out references to stages in the argument. Is the argument clearly resolved, or is the outcome undecided?
- The style: does the style remain the same or change? Does the conclusion return to the wording of the opening? You might also discuss word choice and sentence structure.
- The tone: does the tone remain the same or change from serious to light-hearted or vice versa?
- The punch line: does it end with a joke or perhaps with a quotation or even introduce a new idea that leaves food for thought?
- Take note of the number of marks and tailor your answer to suit.
- Follow the instructions given in the question.
- Use quotations and / or examples to illustrate your answer.