How To Write A Good Critical Essay Higher English

A disappointing ending carries more weight than it is worth. You know what it is like when you watch a film or read a book. You have really enjoyed the film or the book, then you get to the end and you find that the ending is obvious, or too quick, or badly done for whatever reason. You feel really disappointed! In fact you’re so disappointed that it can ruin the whole book or film.

Well, it can be sort of similar with conclusions for Higher English critical essays whether it is drama, poetry or prose. An examiner can really enjoy and admire your essay for all the skills it shows, however an underwhelming conclusion will leave them deflated and disappointed. You’ll still get credit for all the good things you did; but not the credit you might have gotten. Crucially, you don’t want the examiner to be in a negative mindset when they grade your paper. Unlike Maths, in English, an examiner has to go with a gut feeling, based on experience, about an essay, and it’s more art than science, and feelings play a part in that. So, having a good feeling about an essay is a good thing.

How do you avoid the negativity of a bad conclusion. Follow these steps:

  1. State clearly what your essay has done to show you’ve been focused
  2. Summarise very briefly the points you have covered in your essay
  3. Try to finish on a high showing thought and emotion

How do you finish on a high? Write what you’ve learned about the time period the text was set in, or what you’ve learned about the themes and issues involved in the text…OR….you could write about what every English teacher in their heart secretly desires: how the text they put in front of you in a boring, old classroom is actually relevant to you, society and the world out there. The text isn’t just existing in a vacum; it has meaning, to you and to the world. Every English teacher dreams that that is true, and in your essay you can turn that dream in to a reality by saying why.

Here’s the video:

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The critical essay paper

What do you have to do?

In the Higher English Critical Essay paper you are required to write two essay answers. One and a half hours are allocated to this paper (i.e. 45 minutes for each essay). Each essay is worth 25 marks. You must answer on two of the following four separate genres (i.e. on different types of text).

Section A: Drama

Section B: Poetry

Section C: Prose (either fiction or non-fiction)

Section D: Film and TV drama

What are the examiners looking for?

At the top of the paper you are given some general advice about the marking standards the examiners are using (known as ‘performance criteria’).

The following areas are being assessed:

  • The relevance of your essays to the questions you have chosen, and the extent to which you sustain an appropriate line of thought
  • Your knowledge and understanding of key elements, central concerns and significant details of the chosen texts, supported by detailed and relevant evidence
  • Your understanding, as appropriate to the questions chosen, of how relevant aspects of structure/style/language contribute to the meaning/effect/impact of the chosen texts, supported by detailed and relevant evidence
  • Your evaluation, as appropriate to the questions chosen, of the effectiveness of the chosen texts, supported by detailed and relevant evidence
  • The quality of your written expression and the technical accuracy of your writing


Before the questions you will find a reminder that “answers . . . should address relevantly the central concern(s) / theme(s) of the text and be supported by reference to appropriate ... techniques.”

The next page shows a list of techniques that are likely to be used in drama, prose, poetry and film and TV. The technical terms in these lists are the jargon of English literary criticism and it is important to make sure you know what these words mean.


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