Tag Archives: mistakes

Spelling be tricky…

Here are a few links to force your brain into thinking about the least fascinating aspect of becoming good at English. Spelling correctly.






Improve your grammar!

I’ve just come across this website which helps you to practice almost every error I come across in students’ writing. It’s particularly useful because it will give you immediate feedback and an explanation if you get something wrong.

Pay particular attention to fused sentences and sentence fragments. These mistakes will cost you dearly so sort it out!Also the classic error with apostrophes is to just leave them out because you’re not sure whether or not to use them, so it’s probably a good idea to sort that out too while you’re at it!


Here’s another site that gets you to play a fun game so you can identify the parts of a sentence:



Unseen poetry mistakes!

I recently came across a scrap of paper  written after correcting a bundle of unseen poetry tests. I may as well commit it to virtual paper before dumping it.

You need to remember the following:

  1. A quality response here will get you a lot more marks than sheer quantity.
  2. Divide your time equally between questions. Students often opt to answer two 10 mark questions (instead of one 20 mark Q) but then write a page long answer for (i) and three or four lines for (ii). It doesn’t take a genius to work out that getting 8 marks for (i) and 2 marks for (ii) (50% average) is a lot less effective than getting 7 marks for (i) and 6 marks for (ii) (65%).  Watch the clock. Take five minutes to analyse the poem, then 7 minutes to answer (i) and 7 minutes to answer (ii) – or just anwer the 20 mark question, writing for 15mins or so.
  3. Read the question carefully – know what’s expected when you’re asked to “write a response to the poem” (see here) and remember if you opt for the two 10 mark questions they’ll be asking you to focus on different aspects of the poem. If you find yourself saying the same thing for both answers THIS IS BAD!  One tip is to rewrite the question in your own words before you start to answer it. This makes you focus before you start to write.
  4. Remember poetry is the ultimate form of aesthetic language – this means that what you say is in many ways less important than HOW you say it. A poet is hyper-aware of the tricks and techniques they can use; aware that language has it’s own music and rhythm and flow. Thus you must identify techniques but more importantly say why the poet has chosen to use a particular technique – what effect do they achieve in using this particular technique???
  5. Zoom in on the poem. Look at the impact of individual words/phrases. A close reading of SOME (not all) of the poem is expected – but don’t worry about ignoring sections of the poem. You don’t need to offer a line by line analysis of the poem – in fact you shouldn’t – you couldn’t possibly in the time given.
  6. Don’t repeat yourself. If you say the same thing twice (even if you phrase it differently), the examiner will simply deduct marks because your answer loses its coherence as soon as you do this.
  7. Avoid slang. You should use FORMAL LANGUAGE for critical analysis – in the same way that you are expected to dress smartly for an interview, you are expected to ‘dress up’ your language for all of Paper 2 (in Paper 1 it depends on the task).

Anyway hope that’s of enough help that I was right to write it down before dumping that scrap of paper.





Studied poetry: mistakes.

  1. Ignoring the question: if you are asked for a personal response to a poet’s work, every paragraph must contain at least two sentences which include the word “I”. If you are given a statement to discuss, keep using the words from the question (and synonyms) and showing how what you’re discussing is relevant to the question asked. Don’t just rewrite the question at the end of every paragraph and hope this will do – it won’t!

  2. Writing the name of the poem incorrectly (or worse getting the name of the poem wrong!). When you write the name of a poem, use capital letters and quotation marks eg “The War Horse”, “A Constable Calls”

  1. Lack of quotes! The sure sign of a bluffer. Quotes provide proof that you

    (a)know the poems and (b) can back up any statements you make with concrete evidence.

  1. Quotes at the beginning of sentences/paragraphs. Never write down the quote and then comment on it. This suggests you’re just throwing the quote on the page and then making up something to say about it. Bad idea! The rule is statement FOLLOWED by quote. This way you show you are in control of what you want to say.
  1. Telling the STORY of the poem – sum up what the poem is about in ONE or two sentences. Leave it at that. Your job is to analyse the way the ideas are expressed (techniques), the feelings the poem contains & creates in you, the way ideas recur and develop from poem to poem. Comment on the ideas rather than just saying what ideas the poem contains.

  1. Lack of personal response! You need to show that studying this poet has changed your perspective on life, taught you something valuable, opened your eyes to an issue you had previously ignored, provoked an emotional response, connected to something in your own life. Your job is to convince the reader that this poet is worth a closer look. However, don’t ramble off on a tangent about yourself (there was this one time, at band camp… yawn!). Ultimately you are offering a detailed analysis of the poetry, not a diary of your life. A good rule of thumb is to confine personal response to two sentences per paragraph.

  1. Long rambling sentences, paragraphs that sprawl to over a page, pointless repetition. Try to form the sentence in your head before you write it down. DO NOT vomit onto the page. If you can say what you need to say neatly and concisely in 2 sentences instead of 6 – DO. Try to avoid saying the same thing a couple of different ways. Make your point and move on. The examiner is looking for economy of language: each sentence is crammed with information; no idea or quote is ever repeated; essay is carefully structured into neat paragraphs; linking phrases are used to create flow from idea to idea and from paragraph to paragraph.
  1. Poem by poem analysis which doesn’t establish links between them – you are giving an overview of the poet’s work, showing how the poems fit together, analysing common themes or recurring techniques. Do not just write three mini essays on individual poems. Link them! Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence. This topic sentence can be thematic, stylistic or tonal.

e.g. THEMATIC = “Boland explores historical events from a deeply personal and individual viewpoint”

e.g. STYLISTIC = “Eavan Boland makes wonderful use of contrast in many of her poems, to bring each issue she deals with into sharper focus”

e.g. TONAL = “Boland masterfully evokes the depth of human suffering in her poems”