OCR GCSE Latin Set Texts
Last week I examined style questions in the set text examination, including the 8-mark question. Such questions are without doubt the most challenging element of the literature exam. The 10-marker, by contrast is remarkably easy, yet students – if not given specific guidance and a good deal of practice – tend not to score as highly as they could.
It took me a while to realise that students needed a good deal more preparation for this element of the exam than I had been giving them. At first I assumed that because the question seemed so straightforward, I only had to tell students what to do and they’d smash it out of the park. The reality, of course, is that students actually need a great deal of modelling as well as practice before they can achieve top marks in any extended answer. The process is definitely worth it, not least because this question is worth a whopping 20% of the student’s performance in that paper.
A key thing to remember about the 10-mark question is that the examiner is using it to test the student’s knowledge of the whole prescription, going beyond the small handful of passages that can be included on the paper. This means that – in order to score highly – students must reference the whole prescription. Students should quote the text in English translation (not in Latin – this will only waste their time and risk errors). Students do not (of course) have to quote the translation word for word – how would this be possible when the examiner will not be privy to the particular translation that they or their teacher has produced? Rather, a clear reference to the text is enough: the rule of thumb is that if the examiner can recognise the line or lines of the text being referred to then it counts as a reference. For example, from Sagae Thessalae I might mention the moment when the weasel appears and stares Thelyphron straight in the eye; this is not a quotation from the text but it will be very clear to the examiner which section of the text I am referring to.
Students need to make as many such references to the text as they can for their answer to qualify as “wide-ranging” enough for a high mark. They should make sure to quote from the beginning, the middle and the end of the text for the same reason – answers that focus on just one part of the text will be capped. Other than that, so long as they write in paragraphs and address the question, the process is very simple.
Below is a video from my YouTube channel in which I explore the 10-mark question in detail:
It is crucial to get students to practise this style of question from early on and the process of doing so can be a really useful way of reminding them that they should be revisiting sections of the text that they have already learned. My methodology in recent years has been to include a question of this style at the end of every test I give them; in the early stages, when they have only learned one or two sections, I might make it worth fewer marks, but I still train them in the process of how to approach this kind of question. As they progress further through the text the questions can become full 10-markers. This method has worked really well and has enabled students to practise until they find the process as straightforward as it should be – there really is nothing difficult about this kind of question, but it’s amazing how many good students miss out on the marks because they’re not sure what’s required of them.
Like with the style questions, it will be necessary to remind students not to use the same approach as they have been prepared for in their English literature examinations; they are not expected to explore individual quotations in detail (arguably, what would be the point of doing this in translation anyway?) and they should remember that the examiner’s goal is to check their knowledge and understanding of the text as a whole. In addition, it is also crucial to keep reminding them that the examiner is looking for volume – he cannot reward an answer that gives only three or four textual references that are explored in detail, no matter how well-argued the answer is: he needs evidence that the student knows the whole of the text and knows it really well.
More than one examiner has expressed frustration that they are sometimes presented with highly intelligent and extremely well-argued answers that they cannot reward with a top-band mark because the student’s answer does not fit the mark scheme. This is, of course, the eternal problem with examinations at this level, and the only way to give our students the best fighting chance of success is to inform ourselves by reading the examiners’ reports and attending the training sessions put on by OCR or by Keynote, whose courses are run by examiners – sometimes the Chief Examiner – and which I have found invaluable in the past. I would also highly recommend to any teacher that they apply at least once to be a professional marker, as the best way to have a mark scheme properly demystified for you is to attend the training laid on for the examiners themselves.