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English - New Higher

Higher English

The s
tructure of the new Higher is very similar to National 5 and is designed to further your language skills both in your understanding of how writers produce text and manipulate language to create effects (This unit is called 'Reading for Understanding, Analysis and Evaluation) and in your ability to produce texts for yourself (This unit is called Creation and Production). Throughout this course you will be challenged and helped to listen, talk, read and write in such a way that you will be better prepared either for the world of further education or of work.

Like National 5 there is an external assessment in two components:

Component 1: The exam (70% of your overall grade)

30% a one hour and thirty minute paper which will test your skills in reading for understanding, analysis and evaluation by answering questions on a non fiction paper you will not have seen before. The step up from national 5 is that once you have answered questions on the first paper there is a second paper you will be required to read. This is then followed by a question asking you to explain in a developed answer in what ways the second paper is similar and / or different to the first one.

The second paper is one hour and forty-five minutes and has two parts:

20% a critical essay answering an unseen question on a text you will have studied in class.

20% answering questions on a Scottish Text (this year we have chosen Norman MacCaig poetry ) then going on to write an extended answer relating the ideas and / or themes in that text to other poems or to other parts of the novel. The step up from National 5 is that the comparative question is worth 10 marks, and not 8.

Component 2: The folio (30% of your overall grade)

This will consist of two pieces of writing in two genres: one broadly creative and the other broadly discursive. 15 marks will be awarded to each essay. As you will have opportunities to draft and redraft these essays there is a very high expectation that they will be submitted free from technical errors.

In order to be entered for the exam you will need to complete and pass two mandatory units:

Unit 1: Analysis and Evaluation

Outcome 1: You will demonstrate an ability to analyse and evaluate detailed written textsdemonstrating that you understand purpose, audience, main ideas, supporting details and literary techniques including critical terminology. This is demonstrated by passing a close reading assessment.

Outcome 2: You will demonstrate an ability to analyse and evaluate detailed spoken languagedemonstrating that you understand purpose, audience, main ideas, supporting details and how speakers use language to create spoken effects. This is demonstrated through listening assessments.

Unit 2: Creation and Production

Outcome 1: You will produce detailed written texts in a variety of genres (creative and discursive). Our aim is to improve essay writing skills which respect the expectations of the various genres.

Outcome 2: You will take part in detailed spoken interactions selecting significant ideas and content which pay attention to purpose and audience. You will demonstrate an ability to communicate meaning at first hearing using both language and non verbal communication.

       Essential Links:

        SQA Higher English
        BBC Bitesize Higher English

        BBC Bitesize N5 Norman MacCaig
        The Scottish Poetry Library - Norman MacCaig

            Higher English Critical Reading Specimen Question Paper.

            Higher English Reading for Understanding, Analysis and Evaluation Specimen Question Paper.    

             Guidance on the use of past paper questions for Higher English


   New Higher English -
a Study Guide

 You can get to grips with the different parts of the exam, how to  prepare and practise as well as common faults to avoid by clicking  here. This is a Kilmarnock Academy English Department resource  that has been created to help you pass your Higher.
                               Use it! Learn it!

Homework and Study October/November 2014

S6 - Higher Class


Complete the following tasks by the given date or by 30th November 2014 where no date is given. Where appropriate, links are provided:

Revision of MacCaig - reading all the poems (including the extras) at least once a week. (Ongoing                                Reading and Research Homework)

Close Reading - Study and answer National 5 (Reading for Understanding, Analysis and Evaluation)                        Specimen Question Paper due 31st October. (Formal Homework 1)

                       Study and answer 2014 Higher Close Reading Paper.
(Formal Homework 3) due
                       November 14th.

The Folio
- continue to practise writing skills and develop both pieces of writing.

First draft piece 1 due November 7th. (Formal Homework 2)

First draft piece 2 due November 21st. (Formal Homework 4)

Read and revise punctuation and grammar book one. (Technical Homework 1)

Read and revise punctuation and grammar book two. (Technical Homework 2)

Learn the Higher Critical Terminology List. (Analysis Homework 1)

Learn and Revise aspects of style in writing (1, 2, 3 ) and figures of speech. (Analysis Homework 2)

Learn Bitesize section on Imagery.
(Analysis Homework 3)

Learn Bitesize section on Sentence Structure and Linking.  (Technical Homework 3)

Learn Bitesize section on Word Choice.
(Analysis Homework 4)

Personal Reading (fiction) focus on setting, character and dialogue. (Ongoing Reading and                                      Research Homework)

Personal Reading (non-fiction) focus on structure, tone, development of ideas, linking of ideas.                                     (Ongoing Reading and Research Homework)

Homework and Study - December 2014

Complete the following tasks by the given date or by 19th December 2014 where no date is given.

Revise and practise creating complex sentences featuring a) conjunctions b)relative pronouns
c) present and past participles - as covered in class.  (Technical Homework 4)

Revise and learn the uses of the colon and semi-colon - as covered in class. Revise all other aspects of punctuation. (Technical Homework 5)

Develop and add to the list of "signpost" words started in class.

Apply the feedback given as well the lessons learned in Technical Homework 4 and 5 to the practice pieces of folio writing. Submit one developed version by Friday 12th December (Formal Homework)

Continue to read and re-read Romeo and Juliet, adding to notes on character, themes, key scenes and fate v circumstance and character.

Check over and add to the list of differences between the original drama text and the 1996 Baz Luhrmann film version of the play. Comment on the effect/significance of the individual changes. To be submitted by Wednesday 17th December (Formal Homework)

Read and familiarise yourself with the Critical Essay Marking Instructions.

Read and familiarise yourself with all of the Drama Critical Essay past paper questions. Note recurring question areas (such as key scene/ turning point questions)

Develop and add to the list of question terms and vocabulary started in class. Research what they mean.

Select, read and review three newspaper pieces to feedback to class - one on each of the following:

4th December (Research and Reading Homework 4),

11th December (Research and Reading Homework 5),

18th December (Research and Reading Homework 6)

Personal Reading (fiction) focus - the integration and balance of narrative/description/dialogue.                                     (Ongoing Reading and Research Homework)

Personal Reading (non-fiction) focus on fluency, variety of sentence construction and use of "signpost" words to direct the reader.                                     
                                    (Ongoing Reading and Research Homework)

Term 1 Checklist - Did you miss anything?

Homework - S6 Higher

Term 1 Focus

MacCaig set text poems

Relevance: Set Text (20% of the Higher)
                Language analysis and explanation of effect relevant to Close Reading.
                Study of writing techniques relevant to Folio Writing (30% of the Higher).
                Study of observation and detail relevant to Folio Writing.

Writing Folio:focus on teaching essay choice, planning, structuring writing - all  required to                    achieve top category in Folio Writing.
                   focus on teaching components of writing including how to lead in to a topic in the                    topical essay, how to set a scene, create mood using colour and light, introduce                    character and create convincing dialogue in the short story. Early in Term 2, I will                    teach Personal Reflective to extend personal choice for pupils.           

                   ("Successful writing comes out of a writing habit: students write and talk about                     writing to learn how to write. It is therefore preferable if students write a little,                     often.” - Writing Skills - Multi-level from Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2010).

We also covered Close Reading and the marking instructions for Critical Essay to clarify our targets in those areas.

These have been first term priorities in order to maximise the time that you have to develop the writing  skills that you have been taught and your in-depth knowledge of the set texts.

Homework - Every week

As knowledge of the texts is absolutely key to success, read and reflect on the six set text poems:
    Aunt Julia
    Basking Shark
    Sounds of the Day
    Visiting Hour

Homework - Over Term 1

1. In order to enhance basic understanding of the texts and basic knowledge of techniques, study N5 BBC Bitesize notes on the following:

    Aunt Julia
    Basking Shark
    Sounds of the Day
    Visiting Hour

This prepared students for the more in-depth analysis provided in class. All six poems were covered in term 1 and will be revisited later.

2. Update, extend and revise class notes on the poems.

3. Read additional MacCaig texts in order to get a better overview of his work as well as a better knowledge of recurring techniques and recurring themes. (In order to demonstrate these benefits we covered Toad, Summer Farm and Hotel Room 12th Floor in class).

4. Research, plan, structure topical essays. Practise topical essay beginnings.

5. In personal reading, focus on fiction and in particular how different authors set a scene, create mood using colour and light, introduce character and create convincing dialogue (learning from the professionals).

6. Personal choice: identify and address "things that make a difference" to each pupil. These included: reading books, reading quality journalism, work on technical accuracy, fluency, organisation, commitment, life/work balance, completing work, dealing with stress.


Specific Class Homework
 (2 days to complete,  as many of you have part-time jobs and homework from other subjects.)

18th August - SQA site - note format and marks division in new Higher. Look over specimen paper.

20th August - complete writing on "Things that make a difference."

22nd August - extend and develop notes on Assisi and Visiting Hour.

26th August - extend list of writing topics (for topical essay). Research one topic. Write essay first page (unaided).

29th August - write basic notes on Hotel Room 12th Floor and Toad. Read and take notes on one other MacCaig poem that is not on the set text list.

4th September - Assisi - compile extensive list of at least ten themes with relevant supporting quotes.

8th September - Setting - lists of items for different locations - number in order (cinematic techniques).

11th September - Close Reading research from past papers - recurring question types and glossary of question terms. (For Mon 15th but further research to continue thereafter.)

15th September - Sounds of the Day - write notes on themes and supporting quotes.

17th September - two settings/beginnings using techniques learned in class to create mood and atmosphere.

25th September - body language and moods - detailed lists of observable traits for six moods or circumstances. Think about how these can be integrated into dialogue.

2nd October - individual summaries of all six set text MacCaig poems.

6th October -  create credible section of dialogue between characters already created at previous stage of the structured approach to crafting a short story.

SQA General Advice on the Critical Essay


It is important to allocate your time sensibly. Spend approximately 45 minutes on your essay. If you spend a lot longer on your essay, you may gain an extra mark couple of marks, but you may leave yourself short of time and score fewer marks in the Set Text part of the paper.

The structure of the question

If you look at the specimen question paper or past papers after 2007, you will see that all the questions are structured in a very similar way.

There are two sentences:

  • The first sentence provides the initial focus or 'gateway'. If the text you want to write about does not meet the restriction in this part, then you are not going to be able to write a relevant essay and you will not pass. If the text does fit, then you might be able to go on to write a suitable essay. However, this is not guaranteed, because you must be able to deal with the requirements in the next sentence.
  • The second sentence is the one that provides the key instruction for what you have to do, and your essay will be judged on how successfully you handle this part. You must not think that anything you write will automatically be relevant just because the text fits the definition in the first sentence. You must do exactly what is asked for in the question. Notice that the question may contain more than one instruction and that you must address the whole question.


Above all else, strive to write a relevant essay. This means you are unlikely to be able to write everything you might want to say, but it's much better to write an essay of modest length which is clearly relevant than a long essay which says everything you know and ignores the question. The former is likely to pass; the latter will definitely fail.


Obviously, in the Critical Essay section, you must be prepared to write about one text. It's advisable to have at least one 'back up' in case the questions do not suit your priority text. However, depth of preparation is every bit as important as the number of texts prepared. For example: if you prepare a suitable novel and are able to write confidently about such areas as theme, characterisation (of one or two main characters and of two minor characters), setting (in time and place), key incidents (including the opening and the conclusion), narrative technique, structure, symbolism, then it is highly unlikely that you will be stuck for a question; whereas if you prepare the same novel but are able to write about, for example, only one character, then you are very likely to struggle.

SQA Specific Advice on the Critical Essay

Technical accuracy

Some allowance is made for the fact that because this is an examination you are writing under pressure. It is recognised that you might make one or two careless slips and that you don’t have time to redraft your work. Nevertheless, if your writing is not sufficiently accurate to meet the Performance Criterion for Technical Accuracy, you will not pass.

Common errors to be avoided are: failure to start a new sentence when required (especially using a comma when a full stop is needed), misspelling of common words, misuse of the apostrophe, confusion of 'done/did', 'gone/went' etc, and using slang or colloquial language.

'The central concerns'

If you look at the list of Performance Criteria for Critical Essay in Higher English you will see that in 'Understanding' it talks about the 'central concerns ... of the text(s)':

As appropriate to task, the response demonstrates secure understanding of key elements, central concerns and significant details of the text(s).

This is of great importance. You must demonstrate to the Marker that you have a firm grasp of what the text as a whole is about. This means knowing not just what simply happens in a novel or a play or what the content of each line of a poem is. Every worthwhile text in English has an overall idea which it is exploring, and your personal understanding of this (relevant to the question you are answering) must be a key element in your essay.


A successful essay must be structured effectively to meet the requirements of the question. Topic sentences and link sentences should be used to clarify your line of thought and keep it focused on addressing the question relevantly.

However, there is no magical formula for the “perfect” or “correct” or “SQA-approved” structure of a Critical Essay, and you should not believe that a good essay can be written mechanically as if “by numbers”. A wide variety of approaches is inevitable (and desirable) given variables such as the nature of the text, the wording of the question, and each candidate’s own personality and individual way of developing her/his thoughts. It is quite possible for several entirely different approaches to the same text and the same question all to gain high marks.


One of the Performance Criteria requires that you deal with 'relevant aspects of structure/style/language' and how these 'contribute to meaning/effect/impact'. It is, therefore, important that you learn about the techniques used by the writers of the texts you study. Reference to these techniques, however, is of value only if it supports the line of thought in your essay. Read carefully the advice and information given in the specimen question paper - at the start of the paper and in the boxes in the Sections - especially what is said about the need to 'address relevantly the central concern(s)/theme(s) of the text(s) ... supported by reference to appropriate techniques'.

You should not deal with techniques in isolation, and you should not structure your essay around them.

Short stories

The study of a short story is as valid and as valuable as the study of a novel. It should not, however, be thought of as an easier option just because it is shorter. Writers of short stories employ specific techniques associated with the genre, and it is fair to say that, because of the very specialised nature of this genre, writing well about a short story can actually be harder than writing about a novel. You should note as well that there are generally fewer questions for short stories than for novels, and that a question may ask you to write about more than one story.

Questions on non-fiction

In the prose section, as well as questions on the novel and the short story, there are questions on non-fiction. In fact there is usually a choice of three such questions. If, deliberately or by accident, you answer any of these questions using a novel or a short story, your script will be referred to the Principal Assessor, who will apply an appropriate penalty. This penalty could be the difference between your passing and failing the exam, and so you should check carefully that the text you are writing about is entirely suitable for the question.

The study of quality non-fiction is as valid and valuable as the study of prose fiction. Such works include: biography and autobiography; travel writing; essays and works on history, politics, current affairs, media issues, science and technology, religion and ethics, environmental issues, philosophy, etc.

Essays on non-fiction are judged in the same way as all others, but candidates should be aware that many of the techniques used in prose non-fiction are different from those used in prose fiction. The features referred to in the box which precedes the non-fiction questions should be studied carefully.

Common problems in essays on poetry

In essays on poetry there are two common faults which you should try to avoid.

  1. Don't rely on working through a poem line-by-line. (Markers and Examiners call this 'the guided tour'.) While you mustn't ignore significant sections of the poem or distort its overall idea (see the section on 'the central concerns' above), your essay should be shaped to answer the question relevantly and not dominated by an insistence on examining every line in order.
  2. While understanding and appreciation of poetic techniques are vital in a good essay on poetry, an exhaustive list of all the techniques used in a particular poem is never very helpful. Remember about the overall idea (see the section on 'the central concerns' above) and remember that techniques enhance the overall impact of a poem - they do not have a life in themselves.

Questions on film and TV drama (We are not covering this option)

Questions on film and TV should be approached in exactly the same way as questions on drama or prose or poetry. The questions are structured the same way, and the warnings given above about relevance and 'central concerns' are just as important here. Similarly, specialised techniques such as camera angles, lighting, soundtrack and special effects have their place in an essay on film or TV drama, but only if your comments on them are relevant to the question and support your understanding of the text as a whole.

Note that the term 'TV drama' refers to a single play or a series or a serial.

Questions on Language (We are not covering this option)

The questions on Language are included for candidates who have made a specific study of the subject. 


SQA Advice Critical Essay Preparation and Practice

Study a range of texts

The more texts you study the more likely it is that you will find ones you really enjoy and want to write about. Writing about the same two texts again and again from August until the exam in May is not likely to increase your understanding or appreciation of literature.

The text is what matters

Return again and again to reading and studying the text. Make notes; add to your existing notes. Learn from your successes and failures in previous essays, but never, under any circumstances, learn a previous essay by heart, no matter how good a mark it was given - it was answering one particular question; the question in the exam will be different. The secret is to have plenty to say and then to select from that in order to construct a relevant essay.

Past exam papers/SQA's website

Recent past papers in Higher English are available, published by Bright Red Publishing, and can be purchased in most bookshops.

The marking instructions for the Critical Essay specimen question paper and recent exam papers can be found on SQA's website. The Performance Criteria are the same each year.



Literature Themes List

A – ability, adoration, adventure, advice, affection, aggravation, aggression, alienation, amazement, ambition, anger, anxiety, apathy, apprehension, arrogance, artistry, attitude, atonement, awe,

B – blandness, beauty, belief, betrayal, bigotry, blame, bravery, brutality,

C – callousness, calm, chance, chaos, charity, childhood, clumsiness, cohesion,  comfort, communication, compassion, conceit, concern, conduct, confidence, confession, confusion, conscience, consolation, contentment, control, corruption, courage, creation, crime, criminality, cruelty, culture, curiosity, cowardice, cynicism,

D – death, decay, deceit, dedication, defeat, defiance, delusion, democracy, denial, despair, destiny, determination, development, devotion, dexterity, dictatorship, disappointment, disbelief, dishonour, disinterest, disloyalty, disquiet, disturbance, drama, dreams,

E – eagerness, education, ego, elegance, elevation, energy, enhancement, enthusiasm, envy, evil, excitement, experience,

F – failure, faith, faithfulness, faithlessness, fame, fascination, fate, favouritism, fear, forgiveness, fortune, fragility, frailty, freedom, friendship,

G – generosity, good, goodness, gossip, grace, graciousness, greed, grief, grieving, growth, guilt,

H – happiness, hate, hatred, hearsay, helpfulness, helplessness, hesitation, homelessness, honesty, honour, hope, hospitality, humiliation, humility, humour, hunger, hurt,

I – idea, ideology, idiosyncrasy, illegality, imagination, immorality, impression, improvement, inactivity, incitement, infatuation, infidelity, influence, information, injustice, innocence, insanity, insecurity, intelligence, intensity, intervention, intimacy, intransigence, invention, irrationality, irresponsibility, isolation,

J –  jealousy, joy, justice, justification,

K – kindness, knowledge,

L – law, legality, leisure, liberty, life, loss, love, loyalty, luck, luxury,

M – madness, maturity, melancholy, memory, mercy, morality, motivation, mourning, movement, music,

N – naivety, nature, need, nihilism, normality, nutrition,

O – offence, omen, opinion, opportunism, opportunity,

P – pain, patience, peace, peculiarity, perdition, perfection, persecution, perseverance, pessimism, petulance, pleasure, possession, poverty, power, praise, prejudice, pressure, pride, principle, progress, promiscuity, propaganda, protection, power, progress, provocation, punishment,

Q – quality,

R – racism, rationality, reality, recreation, redemption, refreshment, relaxation, relief, religion, repentance, repression, resentment, resistance, resolution, respect, responsibility, restoration, retribution, revenge, revolution, riches, romance, rumour, rigour,

S – sacrifice, sadness, sanity, satisfaction, secrecy, self-control, self-loathing, selfishness, .sensitivity, service, sexism, sexuality, shame, silliness, simulation, skill, slavery, sleep, sophistication, sorrow, sparkle, speculation, speed, stimulation, strength, strictness, stupidity, submission, subterfuge, subversion,  success, the supernatural, superstition, suppression, surprise, sympathy

T – talent, temptation, terror, thought, thoughtfulness, thoughtlessness, thrill, time, tiredness, tolerance, tradition, tragedy, trouble, trust, truth,

U – uncertainty, unemployment, unity, unreality, unattainable dream,

V – vengeance, victimisation, victory, vigour, violence, virtue,

W – war, wariness, wantonness, warmth, weakness, wealth, weariness, weirdness, willingness, wisdom, wit, work, worry,

X – xenophobia,

Y – youth,

Z –  zeal,  zest



e-mail : english@kilmarnockacademy.co.uk                                                 tel: 01563 525509

 N. McIlvanney 2014