Looking to sharpen the structure of your Section B response? Look no further! English Language teacher Louise Noonan has you covered with some useful approaches to producing a well-organised and effective analytical commentary in the end-of-year exam.
As a relatively unfamiliar task with no set structure, the analytical commentary for Section B of the English Language exam can seem daunting. But, while it’s true that having no guidelines to follow can be liberating, this doesn’t mean that structure isn’t important; you still need to be able to organise your analytical commentary to ensure you meet the requirements of the task. In today’s post, we look at some handy templates for structuring your response that will help you prepare for the end-of-year exam.
At its essence, the analytical commentary requires you to analyse the salient features of a specific text. To score well in the task, you must include a discussion of register, social purpose and context (referring to at least two subsystems in your analysis) and show strong engagement with the text (regularly quoting examples throughout your response).
While you may feel confident about what you plan to discuss in your commentary, putting your ideas onto paper during exam conditions is an altogether different proposition. This is where planning out the structure of your response becomes important. Let’s look at some organisational ideas, beginning with the introduction.
Your introduction must establish the key features of the text as per the question guidelines. While your introduction doesn’t have to be long, it should address the elements below.
- Register – is it formal, informal or mixed?
- Social purpose/s – what is the author’s intent?
- Context – what are the critical contextual factors?
Note: Use FARMS as a handy acronym to help you remember these.
- Field (domain/semantic)
- Relationship between speakers, including relative power and social distance
- Setting/locale, such as where the text was published or heard
After a short introduction, it’s time to turn your attention to the body of the response. You should aim to write three body paragraphs, each around 200–250 words. Like the extended essay, each paragraph should start with a topic sentence that clearly states its focus. As far as the rest of the content goes, however, this is where you can choose between two different approaches: the thematic approach or the subsystem approach. Let’s have a look at both in turn.
Each body paragraph using this approach should include:
- a topic sentence that identifies the theme
- two or three examples of linguistic features (including line numbers) and metalanguage
- a discussion of how each example contributes to a theme.
Structuring your analysis around register, social purpose and contextual factors provides a flexible approach that can be easily adapted to a range of texts. Using the thematic structure, you can also focus on salient features in the text as a whole rather than looking for particular features linked to a subsystem. Below is an example of a paragraph that uses the thematic approach.
This text has a mixed register as it contains both formal and informal features. A formal feature found within the text is the use of proper-noun phrases such as ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’ (lines 38–39) when referring to the first peoples of Australia. However, the use of verb phrases such as ‘copping it’ (line 7) and fragment sentences like ‘Because’ (line 20) are more informal, reflecting the author’s Australian identity. Despite the mixed register, however, there is still a logical progression of ideas throughout the text, and graphologically the paragraphs are effective at splitting up the text to aid coherence.
In this paragraph, the student analyses the register of the text using lexical choice and syntactic features. They then move on to the logical ordering of the text, which supports the register as the level of planning ensures the text is coherent. In this paragraph alone, the student is able to cover three different subsystems, showing that they understand how each works together to support the mixed register.
Each body paragraph using this approach should include:
- a topic sentence that identifies the subsystem or subsystems
- two or three examples (including line numbers) and metalanguage
- a discussion of how each example contributes to the register, social purpose and context.
As an alternative to the thematic approach, the subsystem structure is sometimes regarded as a more time-efficient way of organising an analytical commentary essay. Formulating a paragraph that focuses on lexicology, for instance, might help you to access the text quicker. The risk of using this approach, however, is that the themes in the criteria might not be addressed in as much depth. Below is an example of a body paragraph that uses the subsystem approach.
Lexical choice contributes to the context and social purpose of the text. Australian-specific lexis reinforces the author’s identity as an Australian person with the intended audience of Australian readers. Examples of this are the more informal verb ‘copping’ (line 7) and the proper-noun phrase ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’ (lines 38–39). These are examples of lexis that an Australian would understand, and reflect the context of tpublication on an Australian website. Furthermore, these terms support the social purpose as the lexical familiarity builds rapport.
In this example, the student is able to analyse lexical choice in relation to all three themes and demonstrate that they understand how context can drive register and how register can support a social purpose.
TIP: Remember to link the stylistic or discourse features back to register, social purpose and context and show the examiner you know how and why a particular feature is being used in the text.
You don’t need one!
There is no single ‘correct’ way to structure your analytical commentary; what works for one student may not work for another, and what works for one text might not work for another. That being said, practising a number of possible structures you can use is invaluable for feeling prepared on the day of the exam.
Best of luck!
Need more help with the English Language exam? Purchase Insight’s English Language Exam Guide 3rd edition by Kirsten Fox. Featuring plenty of tips for exam success, as well as high-level sample answers and annotated essays, it’s a must-have for English Language students preparing for the end-of-year examination.
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