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Unseen poetry, understanding the 'rhyme and reason'

This summer, thousands of students across England will be presented with two pieces of unseen poetry and will be asked to analyse, interpret and compare these poems. As we mark World Poetry Day, we ask Julia Harrison, a subject specialist for GCSE English Literature at WJEC Eduqas, for her thoughts on this style of assessment.

"This type of assessment really encourages students to get under the skin of the subject, and to apply their analytical, critical and comparative skills - rather than simply regurgitating classroom learnt interpretations.

"Being assessed on unseen poetry allows students to showcase their ability to analyse language, form and structure, whilst using relevant subject terminology, and applying the skills that they have developed throughout their English studies.

"We've assessed students through unseen poetry for several years and we find that students do very well in this type of assessment. What's more, teachers have found that unseen poetry focuses their teaching on developing their students' skills, giving them the tools to examine pieces of poetry in depth, skills that can then be applied in other areas of their studies."

Is there a right answer?
Julia has these words of advice for students sitting their examinations in the summer:

"A simple, but effective rule of thumb when faced with an unseen poem is to ask yourself, 'what is it about', 'what is it REALLY about' and 'how do you know?'. There is no need to learn acronyms which incorporate lists of terminology. It is your interpretation that is important, evidenced with close reference to specific details from the text."

Top Tips:
As students prepare for the summer examination series, here are 4 top tips for students  when examining unseen poetry. When faced with a unseen poems, students should ask themselves the following; 

  1. Think about the content and structure of each poem – what are they about? How are they organised?
  2. What messages or themes are the poets wanting us to think about?
  3. What effect do the words, phrases and images have on us?
  4. There is no 'right' answer. An interpretation of a poem is personal. Explain your responses sensibly, and give reasons for your ideas with reference to the text.

For further information:

Julia Harrison
Subject Officer English Literature
gcseenglish@eduqas.co.uk 
029 2026 5374

Lisa Roberts
Subject Support Officer
gcseenglish@eduqas.co.uk 
029 2026 5051

Matt Oatley
Subject Support Officer
gcseenglish@eduqas.co.uk 
029 2026 5054