Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Poetry Exam Hacks

I love quick simple hacks or cheats. The closer I get to the exam , the more I look for short simple strategies to get students to upscale their work. One such one is this one below.

The often get students to look at emotion / perspective / message as three separate entities. Students usually start sentences with - the reader feels / the poem's perspective is / the message of the poem is.
Getting students to think of three words, as revision,  for the poems helps them to be precise with their vocabulary. One word for emotion. One word for perspective. One word for the message.
It looks a bit like this:
Shelley’s sad, bleak and defeatist poem ‘Ozymandias’ attacks….

As a starting point, I gave students a quick list like this:

One word about the emotion – positive / angry / gentle / romantic / aggressive

One word about the perspective – distant / close / optimistic / pessimistic / male / female

One word about the message – anti-war / propaganda / biased / patriotic 

Obviously, there are many more words, but the combination is important.

More examples:
Blake's melancholy, distant, political poem 'London' challenges...
Tennyson's proud, public, propaganda 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' highlights....

Here are some more hacks. I am posting now, because of the time. There is no point saving it for the weekend, as time is running out.


15 Quick tips to improve your poetry analysis

1.       Use but or yet when explaining complex ideas.

The poem conveys how the experience is painful, yet important to the mother.

2.       Develop your interpretations by building up meaning with shows / suggests / symbolises.

The poem shows us a mother reflecting on a child going to war, which suggests how much this has had an impact on here. The poem symbolises the struggle families have in war.

3.       Use adverbs at the start of sentences – Literally…. Figuratively…. Symbolically….

Literally, the poem is about a mother’s loss. Symbolically, the poem is about how soldiers’ lives are ignored and taken for granted.
*Thanks to Caroline Spalding for this one.
4.       More adverbs – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritual, psychologically

Use these adverbs to help explain ideas in the poems.

‘Exposure’ explores how war affects people physically and mentally, but ‘Poppies’ focuses on how it affects people spiritually and psychologically.

5.       Lists are your friends. List emotions / techniques / ideas / phrases.

The poet challenges, explores and develop his fear, anger and frustration of war with lists and  rhetorical questions.

6.       Think about the verbs you use to describe what the poet is doing – challenges / reflects / embodies / attacks. The verb you use helps you explain how the poet is presenting his / her message.

The poet attacks the leaders of war – the poet is aggressive and angry

The poet reflects the loss a parent faces in war – the poet is calm

7.       Use adverbs to evaluate the poem – stereotypical / unusually / typically / realistically / unconventionally / surprisingly / convincingly / unconvincingly

8.       Combine techniques together – use ‘and’ and link word /techniques together

The poet uses lists and exaggeration to highlight how bad things were.

The poet uses the adjectives ‘small’ and ‘tiny’ to make the reader feel superior.

9.       Think about power. So use the words – inferior, superior, equal, inequality

My Last Duchess highlights male superiority and gender inequality in society.

10.   Put an adjective before a technical term 

The writer uses violent verbs and physical adjectives to ….

11.   Think about using one of these words to sum up the structure of the poem – a journey / a discovery / a realisation – then add some adverbs /adjectives 

The poem is a mental journey

The poem is an emotional realisation

12.    Use the phrase – it could also- to add another interpretation.

It could also be a study of the complexity of war.

13.   Use tentative statements – perhaps / maybe / possibly

Perhaps, the writer intends the reader to …

14.   Use lots of one word quotes

The writer uses ‘pain’ and ‘torture’ to highlight the endless ‘suffering’ experienced by the men.

15.   Show off with your emotions – avoid using simple emotions like happy, sad, angry. Use emotions like frustration, envy, dismay and many more.  


  1. Thank you - so many great tips here!

  2. Awesome article, really enjoyed your post, keep up the working

  3. Phenomenal. I will turn this into a tip sheet. THANK YOU FOR YOUR WISDOM.

  4. Amazing tips, thanks so much!

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