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The Unseen Prose Passage:

Examination practice

Assessment Objectives

Understanding of the writers use of structure, language and form to create literary effects.


A focused, sensitive, lively and informed personal engagement with literary texts.


The three key words are language, structure and form
The questions are designed to allow you to explore how the writer uses features of language to achieve
effects, for example in descriptions of places or people

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This section links to that on Responding to unseen prose texts (p.145 of the Student Book). It looks at
what you will be asked to do in the examination and analyses some student responses to examinationstyle questions. Examiners will be expecting answers that show the candidates ability to respond with
well-reasoned comments that show their engagement with the text. A successful answer will therefore
show a perceptive grasp of the writers language and effects and show discriminating understanding of
how techniques are used to present themes and ideas. Notice in particular the guidance on AO3 which is
picked up closely in the focus of each of the bullet points.

Successful answers will examine the structure of the extract how the material is organised, use of
paragraphs, opening sentences
It is also important to consider the form in which the extract is presented. Is it a first person narrative
or third person? Is there dialogue? Does the passage all take place at one time or are there different
times, for example using flashbacks?
Personal engagement is shown when you relate and respond to a text in an individual way.
The questions are designed to allow you to explore, in detail, a specific point or technique which
provides a focus for your response.
Successful answers will be clearly structured around the key words of the question
Less successful answers will tend to be over-prepared responses which are not focused on the question.
There is nothing to be gained from learning stock answers to imaginary questions by heart.
The outcome of such an approach will be the opposite of the focused, sensitive, lively and informed
personal engagement required by the Assessment Objective.
The text which you will not have not studied (an unseen prose passage) is printed for you on the paper
with the accompanying question. This is a structured question which states the nature of the response that
students should make. The text will be preceded, where appropriate, with a statement giving the context
and providing any information that is required but not clearly stated in the text. The extract will include
no more than 400 words.

In many ways, practising to write on an unseen prose passage is not entirely different from preparing to
write about prose passages you have already studied. However, it obviously does make an important
difference that you are not expected to have been able to do any preparation on the particular passage, but
only through reading different passages and thinking about how to approach them. Some of the principles
apply to both prepared and unprepared passages, so you may find it helpful to look at the advice on
reading the prepared prose texts which is given in Chapter 2 (p.53 of the Student Book).

Assessment and the mark scheme grid

It is important to be aware of the five levels of performance which are set out for assessment of the
examinations. These levels can be found in the Unseen Poetry practice above.
Think about the following points about assessing students responses when you work through the rest of
the section.

Valid comments and observations must be made which are accompanied by evidence of a degree of
personal response.
It is not sufficient to summarise or paraphrase, nor simply to list literary devices.
This is a new option in the examination, and therefore there have not yet been any actual responses from
students. The pattern of the question is shown below.

Example (A)

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To secure a high grade, the passage must be appreciated in a critical way. That looks at language,
structure and form

Read the following extract from The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.
Kipps (the narrator) has had a terrifying encounter with the woman in black in the past. In this extract he
sees her again just before meeting his wife and child.

I looked directly at her and she at me. There was no mistake. My eyes were not deceiving me. It was she, the
woman in black with the wasted face, the ghost of Jennet Humfrye. For a second, I simply stared in incredulity and
astonishment, then in cold fear. I was paralysed, rooted to the spot on which I stood, and all the world went dark
around me and the shouts and happy cries of all the children faded. I was quite unable to take my eyes away from
her. There was no expression on her face and yet I felt all over again the renewed power emanating from her, the
malevolence and hatred and passionate bitterness. It pierced me through.
At that same moment, to my intense relief, the pony cart came trotting back down the avenue, through the shaft of
sunlight that lay across the grass, with my dear Stella sitting in it and holding up the baby, who was bouncing and
calling and waving his little arms with delight. They were almost back, they had almost reached me, I would retrieve
them and then we would go, for I didnt want to stay here for a second longer. I made ready. They had almost come
to a halt when they passed the tree beside which the woman in black was still standing and, as they did so, she
moved quickly, her skirts rustling as if to step into the ponys path. The animal swerved violently and then reared a
little, its eyes filled with sudden fright, and then it took off and went careering away through the glade between the
trees, whinnying and quite out of control. There was a moment of dreadful confusion, with several people starting
off after it, and women and children shrieking. I began to run crazily and then I heard it, the sickening crack and
thud as the pony and its cart collided with one of the huge tree trunks. And then silence a terrible silence which
can only have lasted for seconds, and seemed to last for years. As I raced towards where it had fallen, I glanced
back over my shoulder. The woman had disappeared.

Explain how the writer uses language to create a frightening atmosphere in this extract.
In your answer you should consider:

the writers descriptive skills

the writers choice of language

the writers use of structure and form

Support your answer with examples from the extract.

Think about how you would approach this extract in an examination. After reading it through carefully at
least twice (which is what you should always do), write down a number of points about what you would
wish to include in an answer on this poem. You may be able to compare your points with those of a
partner or discuss them in a group.

Student response
The writer of this passage is an expert at descriptions that really make you think about
the atmosphere. Right from the start, the short sentences draw the reader into the
scene, so that you feel like you are actually there. The phrases for the womans
appearance are like a snapshot: the woman in black with the wasted face. This is a
classic gothic description. The writer also uses a tricolon to show the effect of the
womans appearance: malevolence and hatred and passionate bitterness. The clever thing
about the first paragraph is that not only does the reader focus on the woman but on the
narrator, who shows dramatically and in great the powerful effect of her appearance on
him, with such words as I simply stared in incredulity and astonishment, then in cold fear.
I was paralysed, rooted to the spot unable to take my eyes away from herI felt all
over again the renewed power emanating from her. This gives the reader a strong
awareness of just what a terrible effect her appearance could have on a man. The sense of
despair is caught in all the world went dark around me and the shouts and happy cries of
all the children faded.
Part of the writers skill is to create sudden changes in the atmosphere, and, at the
start of the second paragraph the languages changes into an idyllic scene, There is the
alliterative shaft of sunlight, contrasting with the way the world had gone dark, and yet
even here the reader feels uncomfortable that the idyll will not last, with the ominous
repetition of almost. It seems like only a few seconds before the sight of the woman in
black caused the animal to swerve and career off. The pony, its eyes filled with sudden
fright, also experienced the fear felt by the narrator. The pace of the description again
quickens, with confusion and a lack of control as people are shrieking and running
crazily.. Again, the narrator uses all his descriptive powers, especially in the contrast of
sound and silence, which is so effective. First there is onomatopoeia in the sickening
crack and thud, and then the silence the terrible silence, with the repetition

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Now compare your responses with the following sample student response, noting down points which you
made but the student did not and ones the student made that you may have missed. Think about why the
examiners comment indicates that this is a very good response to the question.

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underlining that there may be worse to follow, as well as the idea of time standing still
seemed to last for years. The final short sentence might be seen as something of relief,
yet the whole passage makes the reader suspect that this will not be the womans last
The structure of the passage, with its graphic first-person, eye witness narrative, is
defined by the woman in black. It is presented as a self-contained episode, like a scene in a
play, by her entrances and exits. When the spotlight switches to the return of the pony
and cart, the woman remains a powerful, haunting presence, just out of range of the
narrators camera. The writer also cleverly uses the two paragraphs to create his
contrast: the opening of the first is cold, dark and chilling; the opening of the second is
light, warm and cosy, with the description of the childs happy actions providing a moment
of dramatic relief. Yet this is a false dawn, and there is a stark inevitability in the
intervention of the woman to create further fear and confusion: her power over both men
and animals is indeed very frightening, and the atmosphere created, not only by what is
said but also by what is unsaid (we do not know from the passage what happened to the
occupants of the cart). The woodland setting adds to the horror: a lovely avenue and
glade are transformed to a dark, horrific scene in a threatening forest.
The writer has used every weapon in the armoury to create the sense of fear and
terror, with strong contrasts, changes of pace, noise and silence. But above it all is the
haunting picture of the woman: from this passage we know nothing of her except her
appearance and clothes; but she is certainly capable of inducing great fear!

Examiners comment
If this answer were submitted in an examination it would merit a level 5, as the writing shows very good
control and uses the text well I support of clearly-made, perceptive points which show the ability to
analyse effectively.

Example (B)
The following is a further example of an unprepared passage along the lines of what will be included in
the examination. It is again followed by a student response together with an examiners comment. Think
about the level awarded and the comments made by the examiner, as a way of helping you to assess the
quality of the students response.

Read the following extract from The Trout by Sean O'Faolain.

One of the first places Julia always ran to when they arrived in
G--- was The Dark Walk. It is a laurel walk, very old, almost gone wild, a lofty midnight tunnel of smooth, sinewy
branches. Underfoot the tough brown leaves are never dry enough to crackle: there is always a suggestion of
damp and cool trickle.
She raced right into it. For the first few yards she always had the memory of the sun behind her, then she felt the
dusk closing swiftly down on her so that she screamed with pleasure and raced on to reach the light at the far end;
and it was always just a little too long in coming so that she emerged gasping, clasping her hands, laughing,
drinking in the sun. When she was filled with the heat and glare she would turn and consider the ordeal again.
This year she had the extra joy of showing it to her small brother, and of terrifying him as well as herself. And for
him the fear lasted longer because his legs were so short and she had gone out at the far end while he was still
screaming and racing.
When they had done this many times they came back to the house to tell everybody that they had done it. He
boasted. She mocked. They squabbled

But she went back, pretending to be going somewhere else, and she found a hole scooped in the rock at the side
of the walk, choked with damp leaves, so shrouded by ferns that she only uncovered it after much searching. At the
back of this little cavern there was about a quart of water. In the water she suddenly perceived a panting trout. She
rushed for Stephen and dragged him to see, and they were both so excited that they were no longer afraid of the
darkness as they hunched down and peered in at the fish panting in his tiny prison, his silver stomach going up and
down like an engine.

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Tears were threatening so somebody said, `Did you see the well?' She opened her eyes at that and held up her
long lovely neck suspiciously and decided to be incredulous How could there be a well! In The Dark Walk! That
she had visited year after year? Haughtily she said, `Nonsense.'

Explain how the writer uses language to give the feelings of the girl and her brother in this extract.
In your answer you should consider:

the writers descriptive skills

the writers choice of language

the writers use of structure and form

Support your answer with examples from the extract.

(20 marks)

Student response
This extract is about a twelve year old girl arriving at a place, just called G---, that she
had visited several times before, perhaps on holiday. She used to like to run down the Dark
Walk just before it was completely dark, to scare herself. She also got her younger brother
to join her. You can see the different emotions she felt by the language the writer uses.
The writer is also clever in using the contrast of light and dark to show how the walk could
be a bit spooky but when she got to the end she felt better.

Examiners comment
Level 3
This answer is a low Level 3. It shows a sound grasp of the material and the writers techniques. It is
mostly secure in its expression, but with occasional errors. Evidence from the extract is used, but there
are only a few examples quoted of the writers language.

English Literature

The passage has a kind of three part structure because the girl and her brother go to
the Walk at the start and then go back home, where they meet the rest of the family,
then finally she goes back another time, again with her brother, and they find the trout.
So the picture of the Walk is developed by the writer from being just a place for a scary
adeventure to a place which is worth visiting because it has the extra excitement of
having a living creature in it.
I like the way the writer shows the girls different feelings throughout, and how you can
see her being the older sister introducing her younger brother into her scary world. It uses
words like screamed with pleasure and excited to show how much this meant to the girl.
The writer also varies the tone. When the children go home, there are three very short
sentences, like a quickfire argument between the sibblings. The discovery of the hole in the
rock is good, because the description has a sense of mystery, and the children spend a
long time in one place, which is different because before they had always just rushed
through it, not interested in what might be in the Dark Walk. The passage has a good
sense of childhood excitement and discovery.

Write down some notes, having read the examiners comment, on how this could have been improved to
a secure Level 3. In particular suggest how the comment on language to describe the childrens feelings
could have been developed.
How this answer could be improved

Example (C)
Now look at the following two extracts from students responses to another question. Using the level
descriptors, try to assess which level they should be put into and write a comment.
Remember that these are the opening sections of the answers, not the whole essay, so make allowances
for the fact that not everything will be covered.
Decide which level you think they should fall into, assuming the rest of the answer was about the same
Share your ideas with a partner, if possible.
Read the following passage from Fair Dos by David Nobbs.
The church clock proclaimed the quarter. Several people on Gerrys side frowned. While a bride was expected to
be late, a politicians wife was expected to be punctual enough to be only slightly late.
Leslie Horton, water-bailiff and organist, who hated to be called Les, thundered through his limited repertoire
Gerry smiled serenely at the new young vicar, who had not yet won the hearts of his congregation.
The long-haired Carol Fordinbridge was the first to mouth the possibility that had begun to form in a hundred
barely credulous minds.
Wouldnt it be awful if she didnt turn up? she whispered.
The moment Leslie Horton dreaded arrived. He had exhausted his programme of suitable pieces. The buzz of
speculation in the congregation was growing steadily louder. Hats bobbled in horrified excitement. The new young
vicar looked at Leslie Horton and shrugged with his eyes. Leslie Horton sighed with his shoulders and returned to

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without subtlety.

the beginning of his repertoire.

The huge ribbed radiators had to fight valiantly against the stony chill of the abbey, even on this unseasonable
day. With no joyous emotion to warm them, the ladies began to shiver. One of Ritas uncles had a sneezing fit.
The vicar advanced on Gerry, who tried to smile confidently. His smile curled at the edges like a slice of tongue
approaching its sell-by date. The eyes of the congregation were upon them.
If she isnt here soon, whispered the vicar, Ill have to truncate the ceremony.
Truncate the ceremony? hissed Gerry Lansdown. I dont want a truncated ceremony. I havent paid a truncated
licence fee.
The vicar continued, I have another wedding later, the groom is a councilor, and I do not intend to have to delay
an important wedding in my very first wedding here.
Gerry Lansdowns hackles rose. His back arched. He was an insulted cat, ready for battle. But the vicar had
The clock struck the half hour.
Five more minutes, whispered the vicar.
Gerrys lips twitched. Your precious councilor will have to wait, vicar, he hissed. I think you should know that I
just happen to be the prospective Social Liberal Democratic parliamentary candidate for Hindhead.
The vicar smiled thinly. Hes a serving councilor, not prospective. And hes chairman of the Tower Appeal Fund
Committee. Five minutes.

Explain how the writer uses language in this extract to bring interest to the late arrival of the bride for her
In your answer you should consider:
the writers descriptive skills and use of humour
the writers choice of language
the writers use of structure and form
Support your answer with examples from the extract.
(20 marks)

The situation of a bride being late for her own wedding is something of a clich. It has been
used in many sit coms, for example, and when you start to read you may feel that it is
not exactly an original idea. However, Dobbss brilliant handling of the scene through his
clever characterisation in particular brings it to life. The three key male participants, the
groom, the vicar and the organist, add interest and tension, as well as humour.
The presentation of Leslie Horton is particularly effective. The fact that he hated to be
called Les makes him seem rather self important and he is obviously not a great organist,
since he has a limited number of pieces. But you do feel for him, since while everyone is
waiting the organ music is all there is. The exchange of looks between him and the vicar is
quite amusing, because of the writers language.

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Student A

Level ________
How this answer could be improved

Student B
This is a very funny piece of prose. We can all immagine the sene very clearly. You can see
the packed church, with the woman in there hats and the vicar getting very impatiant
about the hold up. It is very well described. I liked the bit were the organist runs out of
music to play. Also the discription of the ribbed radiators, it makes them like a person
with ribs, and there is illiteration aswell. The vicar is very funny becase he is new but still
tells off the bridegroom who thinks hes so important.
Level ________

How this answer could be improved

Think about how you would open your answer in an examination, to take account of the suggestions you
have made above.
My own opening:

If possible, exchange your answer with a partner and decide which Level to put each others answer into.
Then discuss how each of you could have done even better. Think about the following points as a
checklist of what you might have covered:

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