At GCSE and A-Level, students lose too many marks for not answering the question in full, considering all its constituent parts.
Often, in the question types to which this blog title refers, this is due to ignoring the ‘hinge’ words or phrases that allow students to:
a) Engage critically with the question (and, therefore, fully address the question requirements).
b) Develop a genuinely cogent argument.
So, what is a ‘hinge word’?
A ‘hinge’ word or phrase is the element of the question that helps “open up” a sense of debate in the question and allow you to develop a clear line of argument. I sue this metaphor and it seems to stick, but there is nothing to suggest another lexical choice could be made. An example here might be useful, so consider this A Level English Literature question below:
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
‘In The Kite Runner, resistance against those who have power and influence never succeeds.’ To what extent do you agree with this view?
What is the ‘hinge word/phrase’ here?
Note: the question is not merely asking students to consider: ‘resistance against those who have power and influence’. They are being asked to EVALUATE whether this ‘never succeeds’ and build an argument around that view.
The A Level Literature course is filled with these question types and the principles apply to all, such as:
- ‘The principal focus of the novel is on the personal suffering of the female characters, rather than the repressive power of Gilead.’ To what extent do you agree with this view?
- ‘In The Kite Runner Hosseini is more interested in oppressors than in their victims.’ To what extent do you agree with this view of the novel?
- ‘In the worlds Atwood presents, men are always oppressors.’ To what extent do you agree with this view of the novel?
Why does the ‘hinge’ matter?
Let’s examine one of the questions above:
‘In the worlds Atwood presents, men are always oppressors.’ To what extent do you agree with this view of the novel?
Well, what is the difference between an essay where you write about men being oppressors in The Handmaid’s Tale and writing an essay where you argue whether they are always oppressors? A huge one, I’d wager.
Consider the beginnings of each of these essays: Which student is actually addressing the question requirements?
Student A’s introduction is not a bad piece of writing, and certainly engages with the ideas from the question, but is not actually developing an argument as such. One of the key differences between GCSE and A Level Literature is that just engaging with the text is not enough – students must develop a cogent argument.
Hinge words might just be the way to make a start.
The next blog will look at the next stage of writing the essay…