higher english critical essay

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Critical essay

Critical analysis is where you make an argument about a text you have read, providing points to support your case.

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 .

Colloquial language

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.

Word choice

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.

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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!!)

higher english critical essay

higher english critical essay

higher english critical essay

higher english critical essay

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  1. Structure of a critical essay

    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,...

  2. Language

    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)

  3. Practice Critical Essay Questions

    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.