[IMPORTANT CORRECTION, January 4th 2016: THIS AQA KEY POEM LIST WAS ONLY RELEVANT TO THE ENGLISH LITERATURE A SPECIFICATION (2701) THAT ENDED IN JULY 2015. THOSE STUDYING THE CURRENT ENGLISH LITERATURE A SPECIFICATION (7712) ARE ADVISED TO IGNORE THIS LIST AS OBSOLETE.]

Panic on the streets of London, panic on the streets of Birmingham,
I wonder to myself– will life ever be sane again?

[IMPORTANT CORRECTION: 9th May 2012]

In the post below, this blog originally stated (on 5th May) that ONLY the AQA Key Poems listed below could be selected for the ‘Remind yourself of the poem(s)…’ question in part 1b of the exam. 

This is NOT the case. ANY poem may be examined from the anthology WWI selection. To be clear: AQA have only ever chosen poems from this Key Poems list for their January and Summer examinations. This is NOT, however, a matter of policy for the board. To repeat: ANY poem may be examined from the anthology WWI selection. 

The full clarification from AQA is as follows: 

“To be clear, when the key poems lists were originally disseminated, it was with the clear statement that they were intended as a guidance document for teachers to offer a ‘likely starting point’ when approaching the set texts. Students are expected to have read the whole text. [My emboldening here].

I’m sure you will appreciate that we cannot state that the named poem question will come from this list, despite the fact that it has done so to date.”

Apologies, then, to all of you for disseminating the wrong information about this list of Key Poems. 

I have now corrected the article below. You would still be wise to use the list below strategically when revising: after all, if they’re ‘Key Poems’, and in the past every poem-based question in 1b has come from this list, you would presume that the poems on this list are likely to come up in the exam– wouldn’t you?

[ENDS: ORIGINAL ARTICLE BEGINS WITH CORRECTIONS]

Exam time draws near for students studying the AQA English Literature Specification A exam. Panic is in the air: the faces may change, but it’s the same story every year. There’s panic from the students who skived all year, who now know they need a miracle to get that ‘C’. There’s panic amongst the students who’ve worked hard all year and really want to make the right choices in revising for the exam. There is even– whisper it– sometimes panic amongst teachers, who worry whether they’ve prepared their students as best they can. Let’s face it, exam time is stressful for nearly everyone. As a sixth form tutor as well as an A-level teacher, I see the effects all around me: the most rational people get snappy, and lack sleep, or haven’t seen the sun in weeks, and indulge in over-eating, or fall into under-eating… there’s avoidance, confrontation, aggression, exhaustion. And that’s just the teachers. (boom-TISH!)

Anyway, this post is in answer to concerns expressed by one Move Him Into The Sun reader who is fearful that their teacher hasn’t taught them every poem from the WWI selection in the Stallworthy anthology. I think there’s probably a good reason for this, and the information I supply here in answer might help iron out a few creased brows for other students too.

Here’s one big worry for those sitting the exam. In part 1b, students are typically given the option of choosing a thematic question or a question centred on one or two poems (in both, of course, you have to bring in your wider reading). This latter question often begins, “Remind yourself of the poem(s)…’. A big worry with the exam is that, should you for whatever reason have missed reading a poem, that this poem will come up as a question, and you’ll have to fall back on the thematic question to show off what you do know.

This is when narrowing down the poems that you must revise becomes a big help for students. Now, the AQA board supplied teachers with a list of key poems from the Oxford Book of War Poetry when they set out the specification (though it is almost impossible to find this list online– a flaw that AQA should amend quickly, if they truly believe, as they say they do, that transparency with students about assessment is the key to success).

What this means for you is that, crucially, not all the WWI poems in the Stallworthy anthology will be the subject of a question in part 1b. All the poems in Stallworthy’s selection will be rewarded in marking, so if you’ve studied all the poems for the exam, don’t fret, you haven’t wasted your time. [This is an AQA expectation.] Only select Key Poems, however, will form the basis of an essay question. [Any poem may be selected for examination– nonetheless the poems examined thus far have all come from this Key Poems list.] These are the Key Poems given to me by AQA:

Men Who March Away; In the Time of the Breaking of Nations; Peace; The Dead; The Soldier; The Volunteer; Into Battle; In Flanders Fields; ‘All the Hills and Vales Along’; ‘When you see millions of the mouthless dead’; Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries; Another Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries; An Irish Airman foresees his death; ‘They’; The Hero; the Rear-Guard; The General; Glory of Women; Rain; As the Team’s Head Brass; To His Love; Ballad of the Three Spectres; The Silent One; On Receiving News of the War; August 1914; Break of Day in the Trenches; Dead Man’s Dump; Returning, We Hear the Larks; Anthem for Doomed Youth; Dulce et Decorum Est; Exposure; Insensibility; The Send-Off; Futility; Strange Meeting; Sergeant-Major Money; The Zonnebeke Road; Winter Warfare; ‘my sweet old etcetera’; ‘next to of course god america i’; For The Fallen; from Hugh Selwyn Mauberley; Triumphal March; Elegy in a Country Churchyard; Epitaphs of War; Subalterns; Rouen; MCMXIV; The Great War; Six Dead Men.

To state again, you will be able to use the other WWI poems in the anthology in question 1b, and these will be rewarded; but only the poems above can be [have historically been] the subject of one of those ‘Remind yourself of…’ questions.

Hopefully, this little bit of information will help the more strategically-minded among you plan for the exam– and set to rest some who are worried that they haven’t been taught the whole anthology. [My greatest regret here is that while I hoped to bring some clarity to the examination and reduce anxiety amongst all you who are sitting the exam next week, I fear I may have muddied the waters and raised nervousness amongst some of you. To be clear: this list of poems remains a good guide to the poems that the AQA prefer to examine candidates on. It is so good, in fact, that it has had a 100% hit-rate so far. It is simply that I cannot categorically say that the poem(s) in 1b you are asked to write on will come from this list. But let’s say this: it’s highly likely.]

Good luck– and don’t waste the Bank Holiday weekend! Find time for revision- and rest.

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“Look, I’m telling you, I started at ‘A’ and went right through to ‘Z’, and I’m stuffed if I can find it.”

January nears: and that means A-level exams. It struck me that I haven’t posted on the ways that this site might help you prepare for your exams.

One of the nice features of a blog like this is the category cloud that you’ll find in the column to the left of this posting (just scroll down). In the exam– especially those of you sitting the AQA AS exam– you will be asked questions or given texts that ask you to link that text (be it a poem, play, fiction or non-fiction) to your wider reading. So it’s always a good plan to have an idea of those poems that have common themes. The category cloud (and the Themes, Issues and Events box beneath) allows you to find poems and posts that I have linked by category.

For example: say you want to link war poems which prominently feature nature and natural imagery. Go down to the Category Cloud and you’ll find a category called ‘Pastoral/Natural Themes’. Click on this and it will bring up a number of posts and poems that feature this theme: ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’, ‘War Horse-Review’, ‘On Receiving News of the War’, ‘To His Love’, ‘As the Team’s Head Brass’, ‘Rain’… and so on. You can use this list to analyse just what kind of natural imagery is found in the poems: the similarities and difference found in Thomas’ ‘As the Team’s Head Brass’, say, and Hardy’s ‘In Time of the Breaking of Nations’. The list isn’t exhaustive, of course (I’ve only got as far as Rosenberg so far) and you shouldn’t rely on my categorisation alone! But this may be useful for you to make simple mind maps about the relationships between poems.

You can also do the same when reading individual poems: zip up to the top and you’ll find the categories each poem is failed under just underneath the post title. Click on a category and it’ll bring up all the other posts linked to that theme (be careful when you choose a large category like Pastoral / Natural Themes– there may be more than one page).

If you’re feeling a little shaky about historical context, check out the category, ‘History’: it’ll bring up a number of posts, some of which may be useful to you. There are, among other subjects, posts that link to articles about about life in the infantry, zeppellins, popular culture and so on. Even if you can’t find a post about your concern, there may be links to other sites that will help you. Give it a try.

Finally, if you’re puzzling about a reading or a revision issue, you might click on ‘Ask Mr. Griffiths’ at the top of the blog. I can’t guarantee that I can help you– and I’m afraid I’ll never do your work for you– but if I can point you in the right direction, I will.

Good luck!

So, there we have it. Another year’s summer examination over. What did you think of the exam this year?

I’m so-so on it. I think it’s hard to deny that question 1a was excellent; a letter from Lt. Colonel Rowland Fielding to his wife expressing his affection for his trench comrades, and alienation from the folks at home. If you couldn’t answer this question and link it to your wider reading, you really had no right to be in the examination at all.

Question 1b, however, was much more tricky and debatable as a test offering.

If you studied the Stallworthy anthology, you were offered a two choices. The first question asked candidates, ‘How far would you agree that the poems by women in this selection present significantly different views from those written by men?’. This is a nice but problematic question, given that there are only two poems written by women in the entire selection of sixty-eight poems. If a candidate doesn’t know at least one of these poems, he or she is, to put it frankly, stuffed. If they do, the world is their oyster. It’s a massive shame, I think, that the examiners decided to examine a fundamental question about gendered perspectives on the war through what are undoubtedly peripheral poems in the selection. Better to test on Sassoon’s ‘Glory of Women’ and allow the better candidates to reach out to ‘Subalterns’ and ‘Rouen’.

The second option in Question 1b was based on Yeats’ ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’, asking students to contrast attitudes in the poem to those elsewhere in the selection. Now, in terms of commenting on form, structure and language, this is great selection. The eulogising of Gregory’s death, along Yeats’ attribution to Gregory a higher impulse than patriotism, makes this a good poem to compare to other poems that indulge in either. Yeats’ later ‘Reprisals’ can be referenced and contrasted. Moreover, in his editorial choices, Yeats also links directly to Owen and the whole question of the viability of war poetry. On the surface of things, this seems a cracking selection.

Yet I think there is a problem with this question too. Our group spent just under two weeks studying Yeats and the five poems in the selection; more than enough time, you might think, to get to grip with his poems. Yet the profoundly important Irish context makes these poems difficult and daunting for students already getting to grips with the massive historical challenge that is the European theatre of the First World War.

Difficult is fine, of course. Accessible is another. The problem with question 1b in this exam, I think, is its accessibility to A-level students studying First World War poetry through the Stallworthy anthology. When viewed in combination, the questions selected should have allowed all students to display their knowledge, at the high and low ends. And when viewed in combination, I think it is hard to argue that that Question 1b allowed students to do this.

Was this was a fair examination, then? I’m not sure. In some ways I think that this was a good exam that was unnecessarily obscure in at least one of its questions for section 1b. Personally I’m tired of the needless obscurity that examiners seem to habitually indulge in: but I’m not sure that this is a prime example of this habit since this exam began three years ago.

I’m going to throw this question out to others– to you, the students who sat it.

As we move along I’ll be posting some links to online resources on the poets that we study. Why? Well, the first rule about becoming an A-level student is: if you want to succeed, you better study independently. Read about your subject on your own time.

Get to know writers and what other people think of them. Believe it or not, your ideas about literature probably aren’t unique– someone will often have written similar opinions to your own about this or that writer or poem before. Don’t despair  that you’re not  a total original, though. The truth is, no-one is. Moreover, those people who beat you to publication are in fact your friends when you enter a literary debate; they’re on your side. Quote them!

Even better, there’ll be people whose ideas about literature are completely different from you. These are the really interesting articles to read. Some arguments will seem so unbelievably stupid to you that you’ll want to scream while you read, ‘you’re a moron!’. Others will seem odd or irrelevant or just plain wrong. But some of these arguments, even although you don’t agree with them, will stick with you, like a bit of grit in your shoe. You’ll find yourself thinking about them– either deciding just exactly why your original rejection was correct or, against your own will sometimes, seeing the other’s point of view.

The thing is that changing your mind about books or poems is a good thing. It shows mental flexibility. It means you’re learning, broadening your horizons.

So the first rule of becoming an A-level student is independent study. Here’s the second: ‘independent study’ does not mean ‘looking things up on Wikipedia’. Sure, Wikipedia is useful. It’s an amazing resource. Go have  a look. Use it as your first port of call, if you like. But Wikipedia can be boring, badly written and wrong. It’s a collaborative encyclopedia– not always a place for interesting points of view. You’ve got to spend time finding the kind of critical voices that I’ve already talked about: this turns you from being a mere fact-checker to a literary student, involved in debates. So: no links to Wikipedia from here, I’m afraid!

Anyway. The first of the poets represented in our selection is Thomas Hardy– a writer  better known today for his novels than the poetry he produced later on in his life. GCSE students, though, will probably be familiar with his war poem ‘The Man He Killed’; while A-level students might know novels like ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ better. As a much respected novelist and poet, his life and works are well represented on the net, and you can find some excellent stuff about him online. I’ll update as and when I find good sites or essays, but to start with, you might want to look here. Both these sites have compendious links to decent sources on Hardy:

http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/hardy/index.html

http://www.literaryhistory.com/19thC/HARDY.htm

Happy hunting!