Great works of fiction

28th February 1997 at 00:00
Candidates never let the facts get in the way of a good story in literature exams. Lindsey Thomas sets her own paper.

About this time of year I question many aspects of my career. Am I in the right job? Am I any good at it? What's it all for? Why do so many of the kids who study my subject find it so difficult to understand what is being asked of them?

Why do all these questions arise now? Because I've just sat down and marked my mock literature papers, that's why. It's almost enough to make me doubt my worth as a human - has anything I have said in my classroom made any kind of impression on anyone? Being a positive person, I set myself the task of finding the solution to this perennial poser.

After years of intermittent consideration, I have come up with the answer. It's because we ask them questions that they (the students) are not designed to answer. The exams do not allow them to demonstrate their skill and flair. A radical rethink of the public examinations system is necessary and I believe I have gone some small way towards this with my prototype lit paper.

I anticipate numerous benefits from such a change of assessment philosophy: students will feel more comfortable with the style of writing, will experience more success and therefore all classroom disruption will be eliminated.

These improvements will be passed on to staff. Stress caused by students' behavioural problems will be reduced. Increased examination pass rates will send league table percentages through the roof, enhancing teachers' morale. Eventually even the Government will have to concede that we are improving educational standards, and may even consider funding a sensible pay award.

Here, then, is the paper set to change the face of education as we know it: Candidates should answer any or all of the questions below.

1. Rewrite the story of any major literary text in the English language. Extra marks will be given for amusing misspellingsinvention of character names: Romeo's great friend "Folio"; Macbeth's murder at a Banquet; Chipolata, queen of the Amazons and the recalcitrant lover, Dermatitis.

2. Extract elements from any number of poems in the English (or any other) language and combine them to form a poem that more closely suits your purpose. You should try, where possible, to include texts from different periods of literature andor different cultures.

3. Copy out large chunks of whichever book comes to hand first, in your best handwriting. Creative use of Biro colour will be rewarded.

4. Enthuse at length and with heartfelt sincerity about any or all of the following: * how many times you have read the book * how much you like the author * how you are going to seek out other books by the same author * how great the book was (even though you can't remember the story) * what a great bloke the hero was.

Remember to include information such as: how many pages chaptersscenes the book has; your opinion of the artwork on the dust jacket; your thoughts on the collapse of the net book agreement.

5. Write 200 words on a subject of your choice.

a) Make frequent and apparently arbitrary use of the following words: ironic, juxtaposition, patriarchal, metaphor, personification, syntax.

b) Use the terms "poem", "pome", "peom", "play", "novel", "story", "book" "video", "film", "text", "drama" interchangeably.

c) Include all of the following phrases: "meaningful words"; "good personality"; "made it easy to understand".

6. Take one idea about a character, setting or theme and rewrite it in as many different ways as possible. You may repeat whole sentences or even paragraphs as many times as you feel necessary to put your point acrossfill the page.

7. Use your knowledge of life in the 1990s to expand upon the information given in one of the pre-20th century texts you have studied. Use your powers of logic to make deductions about character and plot. You may not demonstrate any sense of the history of the period in which the text was written or set.

8. Either: a) Speculate wildly about the lives of characters before or after the period of the text.

b) Explain how you would have written the text, the improvements you would make, what the characters should have done and why. Try to be as judgmental as possible. Or c) Consider the minutiae of the writing. For example, how does Wilfred Owen's narrator of Disabled move his wheelchair if he has no arms or legs? Would the shorts worn by the boys in Lord of the Flies (or Files) have had zips or button flies - hence the title of the novel?

For a bonus mark, express the following as an equation: If Mrs Smith's group's foundation kids are doing two questions in 90 minutes, and her highers are doing 3 questions in 2 hours, while Mrs Carr's group (all foundation) are doing 2 questions in 2 hours, and Mr Sharpe's highers are doing 4 questions in 21Z4 hours and his foundations are doing 1 question in 45 minutes, why are they all sitting in candidate number order, and will someone else explain the rubric to the kids please?

Lindsey Thomas teaches at The Lord Grey School, Bletchley, Milton Keynes

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