illustration the “3 details language effect” question

It’s nearly quarter time in the year, and for those of you who are sitting your ‘O’ Level examinations at the end of the year, it’s a good time to reflect and take stock of your progress. At our Secondary 4 class, we continually revisit all the English paper components in a 6-week cycle, using the 10-year series for practice. So far, we covered 3 years’ worth of Paper 2 Comprehension and have discovered some trends in question types.

This is the first post where the “3 details language effect” question will be addressed, showing you how to get a grip on this challenging question type.

Here is an example— the extract followed by the question:

It had been weeks since anyone had seen the whale. On a day when the sky was a strip of old grey linen, Joe took the boat out alone for the first time. Even his thick waterproof coat afforded little protection from the icy grip of the elements as he looped his safety rope round the wheel and raised the sails. A strong, steady wind filled them, and before long he had been propelled far out, further than he’d ever sailed from the village, almost beyond sight of land. He lowered the sails and let the boat bob in the water as he threw out the lines and caught two full buckets of herring.

(2018 ‘O’ level Paper 2 Section B)

At the beginning of the text, Joe goes out to fish. Explain how the language used in Paragraph 1 indicates the weather conditions on that day. Support your ideas with three details from Paragraph 1. [3]


1. Analyse the question

Firstly, notice that the question is always phrased in a similar way, just like the 2017 question: At the beginning of the text there is a description of the lean appearance of the wolves which were following Henry. Explain how the language used in Paragraph 1 emphasises their leanness. Support your ideas with three details from paragraph 1.

Focusing on the terms underlined, while the 2018 question is asking about how the language describes the weather conditions, the 2017 is about the wolves’ leanness. Your task is hence to explain how the description (i.e. the words/phrases used) portrays/illustrates the weather or a scrawny outlook (the ‘topic’).


2. Identify words/phrases related to the topic (3 details)

It had been weeks since anyone had seen the whale. On a day when the sky was a strip of old grey linen, Joe took the boat out alone for the first time. Even his thick waterproof coat afforded little protection from the icy grip of the elements as he looped his safety rope round the wheel and raised the sails. A strong, steady wind filled them, and before long he had been propelled far out, further than he’d ever sailed from the village, almost beyond sight of land. He lowered the sails and let the boat bob in the water as he threw out the lines and caught two full buckets of herring.

These 3 details (highlighted) relate to the topic of ‘weather conditions’:

  • the sky is depicted metaphorically as a strip of linen
  • the elements exert an icy grip (‘elements’ being a synonym of “weather”)
  • the wind appears to be in full swing

As for the 2017 extract, 3 descriptions were picked as descriptions emphasising the wolves’ leanness: “like walking skeletons”, “mere skinbags” and “muscles like strings”. They all relate to the physique and outward appearance of the wolves, with the use of similes and metaphors exaggerating that outlook.


3. Structure your answer (with a table)

Now that you have identified the 3 details, break down your answer into different parts. Use the table to analyse each of the 3 details.

QUOTE 1: ‘sky was a strip of old grey linen’

EFFECT

(Link your quote to the effect with key words like: suggests, gives the impression, creates the idea, emphasises)

UNPACK a key word in the quote: The phrase ‘strip of old grey linen’ creates the idea of a stretch of darkness.
EXPLAIN the effect of these word/s: This suggests that the sky was overcast (or: filled with dark clouds) which indicates that a storm/downpour was coming.
QUOTE 2: ‘icy grip of the elements’

EFFECT

(Link your quote to the effect with key words like: suggests, gives the impression, creates the idea, emphasises)

UNPACK a key word in the quote: The phrase ‘icy grip’ shows that the elements exerted an unrelentingly cold spell.
EXPLAIN the effect of these word/s: This emphasises that the weather was freezing.
QUOTE 3: ‘strong, steady wind’

EFFECT

(Link your quote to the effect with key words like: suggests, gives the impression, creates the idea, emphasises)

UNPACK a key word in the quote: The words ‘strong’ and ‘steady’ indicate that the wind was in full swing.
EXPLAIN the effect of these word/s: This suggests that there were huge and continuous gusts of wind.



4. Challenge

Try using the table to analyse the 3 details for the 2017 question.

Suggested phrases (in brackets) have been provided to help you craft an explanation.

QUOTE 1: ‘like walking skeletons’
UNPACK a key word in the quote: The word/phrase…
EXPLAIN the effect of these word/s: This suggests that the wolves were so… (skin and bones)
QUOTE 2: ‘mere skinbags’
UNPACK a key word in the quote: The word/phrase…
EXPLAIN the effect of these word/s: This emphasises… (malnourished, bony frame)
QUOTE 3: ‘muscles like strings’
UNPACK a key word in the quote: The word/phrase…
EXPLAIN the effect of these word/s: This portrays… (sagging, lack of flesh)

*Hint: Find synonyms for the topic word, i.e. ‘leanness’ : skinny, very thin, scrawny, malnourished, emaciated, and use them in your explanations.

While using the table is a good handle for crafting your explanations, as you can see, precise and accurate analysis also depends very much on having a good knowledge of vocabulary so you have a variety of words at your disposal.

In summary, the key to tackling this challenging 3 details question type is structuring your answer and being able to use your own words in a precise way. Keep practising crafting such answers!

Upper Secondary English tuition class schedule

DayStart TimeEnd Time
Lower Sec - Saturday4.00 pm6.00 pm
Sec 4 - Sunday3.30 pm5.30 pm