When it comes to studying a text for the text response section of Year 12 English, what may seem like an obvious point is often overlooked: it is essential to know your text. This doesn’t just mean having read it a few times either – in order to write well on it, a high level of familiarity with the text’s structure, context, themes, and characters is paramount.
Authors structure their texts in a certain way for a reason, so it’s important to pick up on how they’ve used this to impart a message or emphasise a point. Additionally, being highly familiar with the plot or order of events will give you a better grasp of narrative and character development.
It’s also a good idea to research the life of the author, as this can sometimes explain why certain elements or events were included in the text. Researching the social and historical setting of your text will further help you to understand characters’ behaviour, and generally gives you a clearer ‘image’ of the text in your mind.
The overarching themes of a text usually only become apparent once you know the text as a whole. Moreover, once you are very familiar with a text, you will find that you can link up events or ideas that seemed unrelated at first, and use them to support your views on the text.
For each character, it is important to understand how they developed, what their key characteristics are and the nature of their relationships with other characters in the text. This is especially crucial since many essay questions are based solely on characters.
With all this said, what methods can you use to get to know your text?
Reading the text itself: while this may seem obvious, it’s important to do it right! Read it for the first time as you would a normal book, then increase the level of detail and intricacy you look for on each consecutive re-read. Making notes, annotating and highlighting as you go is also highly important. If you find reading challenging, try breaking the text down into small sections to read at a time.
Discussion: talk about the text! Nothing develops opinions better than arguing your point with teachers, friends, or parents – whoever is around. Not only does this introduce you to other ways of looking at the text, it helps you to cement your ideas, which will in turn greatly improve your essay writing.
External resources: it’s a good idea to read widely about your text, through other people’s essays, study guides, articles, and reviews. Your teacher may provide you with some of these, but don’t be afraid to search for your own material!