Close Reading – Higher

 Changes have been made to the final question in the Higher Close Reading paper for 2012 onwards.

Follow the link to the details from the SQA. Higher Close Reading Comparison Question

The Comparison Question

In and after 2012, the Comparison Question will involve an entirely objective comparison of the similarities and/or differences in the key ideas in the two passages.

The “Evaluation” element, previously bound up with the candidate’s alleged preference, will be contained in the candidate’s judgement of what constitute “key” ideas.

The requirement to use formal continuous prose and the advice to write a “mini-essay” will no longer apply, and candidates will be invited to write, if they wish, using developed bullet points.

Marking Instructions will be less generic than in recent years; specific “key ideas” will be identified.

Still not sure what that means? Ask your teacher.


English Language Skills for Higher English 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.



How to tackle questions which test your understanding of the basic meaning of the passage.

  • Answer as far as possible in your own words.
  • Put figures of speech, slang, old-fashioned terms etc. into simple, formal, modern English.
  • If you simply copy or lift whole phrases or sentences from the passage you will not be awarded any marks.
  • Take into account the number of marks allocated to the question and answer accordingly. The more marks, the more detailed your answer needs to be.
  • Look at the wording of the question carefully and use any guidance it may give you.



In answering the context question you must show that you understand the meaning of particular words/phrases.

You will be asked to explain the meaning of the word/phrase and to show how you deduced its meaning from its placing in the text (its context).

You should write down what you think the word/phrase means and quote the words/phrases which provide the clues to its meaning,explaining briefly how they help to confirm the meaning.

N.B. Always take into account the number of marks allocated to the question and the precise wording of the question itself.



 You will be asked to show how a sentence (or paragraph) provides a link between ideas within the passage.

One way of tackling this question is to think of dominoes.


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.

If the sentence begins with a linking word/phrase such as “but” or “however” which shows a change of direction in the writer’s line of thought, then comment on this also.




In a sentence structure question you are not being asked to show what the sentence means but to show an appreciation of how the sentence is put together.

In order to do this you need to be able to recognise different types of sentences:

  • Statement
  • Question (including the rhetorical question)
  • Exclamation – may convey amazement, shock, strong emotion
  • Command – as used in instructions and persuasive writing
  • Minor sentence (or incomplete/ non-sentence) where the verb is left out for dramatic effect or to suggest informality etc.



A new paragraph indicates a new stage in a narrative or argument. A single sentence paragraph may be used for effect e.g. to emphasise a particular statement or idea or to slow the action and create suspense.

Adverts and tabloid newspapers use short paragraphs for instant impact.

When you see an unusually short paragraph you should consider what particular effect the author was aiming at.



Punctuation is not interesting in itself. It is how it affects style and meaning that is important. As such be aware that you will not get marks for identifying a piece of punctuation or its usual purpose. In order to gain marks you must give valid comments on its effect in the context of the passage.

Inverted commas “  ” / ‘  ’ are used:

  • To indicate the title of a play, book, TV programme etc.
  • To show direct speech.
  • For quotations.
  • To mark off an individual word/phrase from the rest of the sentence (e.g. to indicate a foreign word, slang or technical term, or a sarcastic tone etc).

(Italics might be used instead for most of the reasons above.) 

Colon (:) – introduces a quotation, list, or explanation or expansion of the previous statement.

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.

Single dash (-) – may add on an extra piece of information or indicate a breaking off in a sentence. Use of a series of dashes may suggest informality or convey an outpouring of ideas or emotions.

Two dashes (-   -) – mark off an extra but non-essential piece of information in the middle of a sentence. This is known as parenthesis. (Brackets perform the same function.)



  • Inversion – where the normal sentence order (subject verb (object)) is reversed to change the emphasis within the sentence.
  • Repetition – may be the repetition of single words or phrases or of sentence structure.
  • Climax – the building up of a number of ideas in ascending order of importance with the most important kept to the last.
  • Anti-climax – the author seems to be building up to climax but in the end it comes to nothing.
  • Antithesis – to balance opposites together to create a contrast:
                    e.g. Those that I fight I do not hate
                            Those that I guard I do not love.
The writer may use a variety of sentence lengths to speed up and slow down the narrative and/or to echo in structure what is happening in the story itself.



formalFormal (shirt and tie) – impersonal / factual / no slang or abbreviations / grammatically correct / wide range of word choice including complex and technical vocabulary.


Informal  (t-shirt and shorts) – colloquial / conversational / contains slang and abbreviations / looser sentence structures / more simple vocabulary / more personal and subjective.

Jargon – a specialised type of formal language including technical terms relating to a particular subject or occupation e.g. law, medicine etc. The term “jargon” itself may be used in a negative way to suggest that the language is unnecessarily complex.

Rhetorical Language – formal, most often used in the course of a formal speech. The rhetorical question is a favourite technique used in such speeches.

Dialect and Slang – informal / conversational. Dialect is the way of speaking in a town or district; slang the use of non-standard conversational word choice.


 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 any language technique that involves figurative or descriptive language and includes simile, metaphor, personification etc.

When asked to comment on the effectiveness of the writer’s use of imagery ask yourself:

  • What is being compared to what?
  • In what respects are the two things similar?
  • How does the comparison help you to understand the subject better?



Alliteration – deliberate use of a series of words beginning with the same letter or sound for effect.

Archaism – an old-fashioned word, no longer in current use; Neologism – coining of a new word.

Circumlocution – to state something in a long, roundabout way instead of getting straight to the point.

Cliché – an overused phrase to be avoided like the plague!

Euphemism – a way of making unpleasant subjects such as death and war seem less harsh by dressing them up in inoffensive/pleasant/vague language e.g. “passed away” for “died”.

Hyperbole – a deliberate exaggeration (often for humorous effect).

Juxtaposition – simply means placing side by side e.g. in oxymoron the two opposites are placed in juxtaposition.

Litotes – (the opposite of hyperbole) – deliberate understatement.

Onomatopoeia – words that imitate the sound they are describing. (Alliteration also helps create an onomatopoeic effect.)

Oxymoron – a condensed form of paradox where two opposites are placed side by side to heighten the effect of contrast.

Paradox – a statement that appears to be a contradiction but does indeed contain a truth.

Pun – a play on words involving words that sound similar but have different meanings.



TONE refers to the way in which something is said. It refers to a particular attitude or feeling conveyed by the writer.

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.

 Ask yourself:

  • Is the writer being serious or humorous? (If serious, the language is more likely to be formal; a light-hearted tone will often include informal and conversational language.)
  • Is the writer being ironic or even sarcastic or satirical?
  • Is the tone of the piece dictated by the nature of the purpose e.g. a serious tone for a funeral speech; an enthusiastic tone, full of praise in a piece of persuasive writing?

IRONY – The most common form of irony is to say the opposite of what you really mean.

EMOTIVE LANGUAGE – the use of words/expressions to convey extreme/strong emotions. Rhetorical questions, exclamations, similes and metaphors are frequently used in emotive writing. Emotive language is used to stir strong emotions in the reader, by deliberately shocking, angering or disturbing him/her.


8 Responses to “Close Reading – Higher”

  1. Craig Says:

    Thank you!

    This helped a lot

  2. Lauren Says:

    Thank you very very very very much.

    I have searched the whole web for notes like these.
    Absolutley Brilliant.

    I cannot thank you enough 🙂

  3. Lauren Says:

    Hi, excuse me, do you reckon this is all that is needed to revise for close reading? It’s just I’m really looking for a good mark in the exam when I come to it. Thanks again 😀

    • Mrs C Johnston Says:

      It will certainly help you to do well in close reading if you can recognise the different types of questions and know how to go about answering them. However, as well as practising using past papers – in class and at home – you should read articles from good quality newspapers such as ‘The Scotsman’ and ‘The Herald’ on a regular basis. If you are interested in science, there are some very interesting articles to be found in ‘The New Scientist’. You might even try writing your own questions (and answers) for an article you have read and get someone on the course with you to answer them. If you buy or borrow a set of past papers, look carefully at the marking schemes. You may be surprised to see that, more often than not, there is more than one way to get full marks for any question. The SQA website is worth looking at for hints and tips on all aspects of the course. There is a link to it on this blog.
      I hope this helps. Please get back to me at any time if you have any more questions.

      • leanne Says:

        thats a good idea – in our english class we were given homework each week to analyze an article of our choice in as much detail as we could then we swapped them around the class and the other person would look for any points we had missed. it was a great exercise which got us thinking regularly about textual analysis.

        a great place to find articles is the guardian website – their editorials are especially worth a look.

  4. sdsdadsd Says:

    great help for an english nab

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