- Skip to content
- Accessibility Help
Critical analysis is where you make an argument about a text you have read, providing points to support your case.
- Read more about sharing
You should be able to write about key language features used in novels, short stories, plays and poems. Here's a reminder of what they are and how they work:
This is where the first letter of a word is repeated in words that follow. For example, the cold, crisp, crust of clean, clear ice .
This is where the same vowel sound is repeated but the consonants are different. For example, he passed her a sharp, dark glance, she shot a cool, foolish look across the room .
This is language used in speech with an informal meaning. For example, chill , out of this world , take a rain check
This is a version of a language spoken by people in a particular geographical area.
This is a conversation between two or more people - sometimes an imagined conversation between the narrator and the reader. Dialogue is important in drama and can show conflict through a series of statements and challenges, or intimacy where characters mirror the content and style of each other's speech. It can also be found in the conversational style of a poem.
This is discordant combinations of sounds. For example, the clash, spew and slow pang of grinding waves against the quay .
This is device used in poetry where a sentence continues beyond the end of the line or verse. This technique is often used to maintain a sense of continuation from one stanza to another.
This is exaggerating for a purpose – it is not meant to be taken literally. For example, we gorged on the banquet of beans on toast .
This is where strong pictures or ideas are created in the mind of the reader. Similes, metaphors and personification can all be used to achieve this - they all compare something 'real' with something 'imagined'.
This is where words or ideas are used humorously or sarcastically, to imply the opposite of what they mean.
This is where a word or phrase is used to imply figurative resemblance, not a literal or 'actual' one. For example, he flew into the room.
An uninterrupted monologue can show a character's importance or state of mind. Monologue can be in speech form, delivered in front of other characters and having great thematic importance, or as a soliloquy where we see the character laying bare their soul and thinking aloud.
This is a word that sounds like the noise it is describing. For example, splash , bang , pop , hiss .
This is where two words normally not associated are brought together. For example, cold heat , bitter sweet .
This is language that evokes feelings of pity or sorrow.
This is where a human quality is attributed to a thing or idea. For example, the moon calls me to her darkened world .
This is where a word or phrase is repeated to achieve a particular effect.
Poems often have a fixed rhyme scheme. For example, sonnets have 14 lines with the fixed rhyme scheme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. Try to comment on what contribution the rhyme scheme is making to the text as a whole. Why do you think the poet has chosen it? Does it add control or perhaps imitate the ideas in the poem in some way?
Many poems contain a repetitive beat or metre. Tennyson's poem The Lady of Shalott uses a strong internal rhythm to build up the sense of unrelenting monotony in the poem.
quote There she weaves by night and day/A magic web with colours gay./She has heard a whisper say,/A curse is on her if she stay/To look down to Camelot./She knows not what the curse may be,/And so she weaveth steadily,/And little other care hath she,/The Lady of Shalott."
This is where a phrase establishes similarity between two things. Similes usually involve the words 'like' or 'as'- he is as quick as an arrow in flight , as white as snow , like a burning star .
Objects, colours, sounds and places may work as symbols. They can sometimes give us an insight into the themes. So, snakes are often symbols of temptation as in the story of Adam and Eve, white usually symbolises innocence and a ringing bell can be a symbol for impending doom.
Tone is the creation of mood in a text, such as sadness, gloom, celebration, joy, anxiety, dissatisfaction, regret or anger. Different elements of writing can help to create these moods. For example, long sentences or verses, with assonance, tend to create a sad, melancholic mood. But short syllabic, alliterative lines can create an upbeat and pacy atmosphere.
This can also be referred to as 'register'. It refers to an author's choice of language. Authors may use words commonly associated with a certain subject, experience or state of mind.
Higher Subjects Higher Subjects up down
- Art and Design
- Business management
- Computing Science
- Design and manufacture
- Engineering science
- Fashion and textile technology
- Gaelic (Learners)
- Graphic communication
- Health and food technology
- Human Biology
- Modern Languages
- Modern Studies
- Music Technology
- Physical Education
- Religious, moral and philosophical studies
Hillhead High School English Department
Practice critical essay questions.
Here are some critical essay questions organised by genre. Take time to plan out the structure of your essay, consider key quotations/features of your text. To challenge yourself, try a question under timed conditions (without notes!!)
- Choose a novel of short story in which setting in time and/or place is an important feature. By referring to appropriate techniques, show how the author has portrayed this setting and how this has influenced your response to the text.
- Choose a novel or a short story which presents a theme that is relevant to you. By referring to appropriate techniques, show how the author has explored this theme.
- Choose a novel or a short story where an important character clearly shows development of change . By referring to appropriate techniques, show how the author has portrayed development and how this influences your response to the text.
- Choose a novel or a short story where you can identify a key moment such as a turning point or climax. By referring to appropriate techniques, describe the key moment and then go on to discuss its importance to the text as a whole.
- Choose a novel in which a character makes a decision which you consider unexpected or unwise or unworthy. Explain the circumstances surrounding the decision and discuss its importance to your understanding of character and theme in the novel as a whole.
- Choose a novel which explores conflict . Explain the events which lead to the conflict and how the conflict is (or is not resolved).
- Choose a play in which you feel sympathy for a character.
- Choose from a play which explores an important issue/issues within society
- Choose a play in which a power struggle is central to the action.
- Choose a play in which there is an important theme such as love, hate, betrayal, friendship, loyalty etc.
- Choose a play that builds to a climax . Describe how the playwright build up to the climax and then, by referring to appropriate techniques, go on to explain why the climax is vital to the play as a whole.
- Choose a play where your attitude to the main character changes as the play progresses . By referring to appropriate techniques, show how the character’s nature is portrayed, then go on to show how our attitude changes towards him/her.
- Choose a play in which the main character experiences conflict. By referring to appropriate techniques, explain what the conflict is, then go on to show how the playwright’s portrayal of the conflict influences our response to the play.
- Choose a poem in which the poet creates a vivid sense of a particular time or a particular place . Discuss how the poet’s vivid depiction of time or place adds to your appreciation of the central concern(s) of the poem.
- Choose a poem with a moral or social or political theme . Discuss, with reference to appropriate techniques, how the poet’s presentation of the theme deepens your understanding of the poem as a whole.
- C hoose a poem in which the poet effectively creates a character or persona . Discuss, with reference to appropriate techniques, how the poet’s effective
- Choose a poem which takes as its starting point a memorable experience. Discuss how the poet’s presentation of the experience helps you to appreciate its significance
- Choose a poem which is written in a particular poetic form or which has a particularly effective structure.
- Choose a piece of writing in which the writer’s use of language engages your interest in his/her portrayal of a country or culture. Discuss how the writer uses language to successfully engage your interest in this portrayal.
- Choose a work of non-fiction in which the writer’s description of an emotional experience creates a powerful impression. Briefly explain the emotional experience and then discuss how the writer’s description of this experience creates this powerful impression.
- Choose a piece of journalism in which the writer persuades his or her reader to a point of view by effective use of language. Briefly explain the writer’s point of view, and then discuss how the writer’s use of language is effective in persuading the reader.
- Choose a non-fiction text which recreates a moment in time. Discuss how the description effectively recreates this moment and show how important this is to your appreciation of the text as a whole
- Choose a non-fiction text which is structured in a particularly effective way. Explain how the structure enhances the impact of the writer’s message.
- Choose a non-fiction text which made you consider your views about a social or political or ethical issue. Explain what the issue is and how the writer uses language effectively to engage you.
- Choose a piece of writing which engages you not only intellectually but also emotionally. Explain how the writer successfully engages both your mind and your emotions.
- Choose a work of writing in which the writer brings a key incident vividly to life. Explain how the writer brings the incident vividly to life and how they contribute to your understanding of the person involved.
- Choose a work of non-fiction in which the writer expresses outrage or shock about an issue which you feel is important. Explain how the writer conveys the emotion and discuss to what extent this emotional appeal enhances your understanding of the issue.
- Choose a piece of travel writing in which the writer’s own personality emerges as a significant feature. Explain how the style of writing conveys a sense of the writer’s personality and discuss what extent this is important to your understanding to the key idea(s) of the text.
- Choose a non-fiction text which is written in the specific form of a diary or a journal or a letter. Discuss to what extent the writer’s exploration of specific features of the chosen form is important in conveying key idea(s) of the text.
- Choose a piece of journalism which, in your opinion, deals with a fundamental truth about human nature. Explain how the writer’s presentation of key ideas enhances your understanding of this fundamental truth.
- Choose a work of non-fiction in which vivid description is an important feature. Explain in detail how the vivid impression is created and discuss how it contributes to your appreciation of the text as a whole.
- Choose a work of biography or autobiography which you feel is inspirational or moving. Explain how the writer evokes this response and discuss why you find the text inspirational or moving.
- Choose a piece of journalism which presents difficult or challenging ideas in an accessible way. Explain what is difficult or challenging about the writer’s ideas and discuss how she or he presents them in an accessible way
- Choose a piece of non-fiction writing in which the writer’s presentation of an experience triggers an emotional response from you. Give a brief description of the experience and then, in more detail, discuss how the writer’s presentation of this description evokes this strong emotional response.
- Choose a non-fiction text which explores a significant aspect of political or cultural life. Discuss how the writer’s presentation enhances your understanding of the chosen aspect of political or cultural life and how this impacts on your appreciation of the text as a whole.
- Choose an example of biography or autobiography which gives you a detailed insight into a person’s life. Explain how the writer’s presentation made you think deeply about the person and his or her life, enhancing your overall appreciation of the text.
- Choose a non-fiction text which is set in a society that is different to the one in which we live. Briefly explain what is significantly different and discuss how the writer made you aware of this.
- Choose a non-fiction text in which the writer’s ability to evoke a sense of place is very important to the success of the text. Show how the writer’s presentation of the location(s) enhanced your appreciation of the text.
- Choose a non-fiction text in which the writer presents a strong point of view on a particular subject. Briefly explain what the writer’s view is and discuss in detail how this view is presented convincingly.
- Choose a work of biography and autobiography which you feel is written with great insight and/or sensitivity. Discuss, in detail, how the writer’s presentation of this life leads you to this conclusion.
- Choose a non-fiction text in which the writer puts forward a view of a social issue. Briefly explain what the issue is and discuss how effective the writer is in influencing you to share his or her point of view.
- Choose a non-fiction text in which the style of writing is an important factor in your appreciation of the writer’s ideas. Discuss in detail how features of this style enhanced your appreciation of the text as a whole.
Structure of a critical essay - Critical essay - Higher English Revision - BBC Bitesize Critical essay Critical analysis is where you make an argument about a text you have read,...
Higher English - critical reading Critical reading | 2022 (All links open as PDF files) Question paper (External link to SQA website) Finalised marking instructions (External link to SQA website) Candidate 1 1984 (Novel) Candidate 2 Smeddum (Short story) Candidate 3 The Catcher in the Rye (Novel) Candidate 4 Exposure (Poem)
Explain the events which lead to the conflict and how the conflict is (or is not resolved). Choose a play in which you feel sympathy for a character. Choose from a play which explores an important issue/issues within society Choose a play in which a power struggle is central to the action.