How To Write A Literary Essay

essay writing


How to answer the question

There are ALWAYS two parts to a GCSE or  ‘A’ Level literature essay question .  You are asked to:

(1) discuss an issue or contention;

(2) consider how the author has written;

Note that there is a third unstated part to the question, i.e. it is implied ‘

(3) What is the significance of the connection between (1) and (2)?’

Depending on the Assessment Objectives, this third part may require you to compare and contrast different texts or consider the context (at the time of writing or now).  It should always be that looking at the form of writing (e.g. satire), its structure (e.g. narrative voices) or its language will help you to appreciate authorial purpose.


Once you have planned your essay – and you must always plan – you should be able to write the opening paragraph which orientates your reader to the direction of the essay by identifying the main areas of discussion..

In your subsequent paragraphs, you need to organise the material so that each paragraph has

 (P): A clear POINT that is made in response to a specific part of the question. The more skilled will address alternative viewpoints which will be evaluated.  Make sure that you start you paragraph with a ‘signpost’ or ‘topic sentence’ which tells your reader where you are going.  Your reader should know the argument of your essay simply by reading the first sentence of each paragraph.

(E): The expressed views have to be supported by EVIDENCE in the form of quotation and/or example

(A) (sometimes called ‘E’ for evaluation): The evidence must be assessed.  This is where you ANALYSE, develop and explain why the nature of the evidence ((i.e. its form, structure and language – and possibly the context) leads you to think as you do.

Remember: ‘Put a PEA in every paragraph’ (except the opening and closing ones).  Once you have mastered the PEA approach, you will find that, whilst you still keep to just the one point in a paragraph, your analysis and evidence will intermingle.

Your conclusion should be a personal response to the question; one which has arisen out of the process of writing the essay: this will enliven your work and stop you from feeling that you have simply regurgitated previously learnt material.

Youtube presentation

Below is a helpful video by ‘The English Teacher’: it covers similar ground to the above but it is specifically  aimed at how to write an A* essay under the time restraints of the GCSE Literature exam.

Model Essays, essay paragraphs and essay guidance:

Curley’s Wife (this extract question and answer can be used as a model)

How does Fitzgerald tell the story in chapter 7 of ‘The Great Gatsby’?

AQA ‘AS’ contextual exam Question 1

AQA A syllabus Unit 3 Reading for Meaning: Love through the Ages

Answering a question on an unseen poem at GCSE


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