Higher & National 5 Prelims

Close Reading, Creative Writing, Critical Essay Writing, Discursive Writing, Language, Welcome

Good luck to all Vale of Leven Academy pupils with their prelim exams on Monday. Work as hard as you can this weekend & do your very best. We have great faith in you all.


Gatsby Questions

Critical Essay Writing

Choose a novel in which envy or malice or cruelty plays a significant part.

Explain how the writer makes you aware of this aspect of the text and discuss how the writer’s exploration of it enhances your understanding of the text as a whole.


Choose a novel in which the death of a character clarifies an important theme in the text.

Show how this theme is explored in the novel as a whole and discuss how the death of the character clarifies the theme.


Choose a novel or short story which explores loss or futility or failure.

Discuss how the writer explores one of these ideas in a way you find effective.


Choose a novel in which a main character refuses to accept advice or to conform to expectations.

Explainthe circumstancesofthe refusal anddiscuss its importance toyourunderstanding of the character in the novel as a whole.


Choose a novel or short story in which there is a character who is not only realistic as a person but who has symbolic significance in the text as a whole.

Show how the writer makes you aware of both aspects of the character


Choose a novel in which friendship or love is put to the test.

Explain briefly how this situation arises and go on to discuss how the outcome of the test leads you to a greater understanding of the central concern(s) of the text.


Choose a novel in which a central character is flawed but remains an admirable figure.

Show how the writer makes you aware of these aspects of personality and discuss how this feature of characterisation enhances your appreciation of the text as a whole.

Easter Study Programme

Close Reading, Critical Essay Writing

Whilst everyone else will be celebrating the end of term and the start of their Easter holiday, it’s important that you realise that the next fortnight is a huge opportunity for you to increase your skills, knowledge, and understanding, in advance of the forthcoming diet of SQA exams.

I would recommend at least 1 hour of English study every day. If you didn’t pass the prelim exam, I would suggest that you should be doing between 90 minutes and 2 hours of study each day.

The following should be considered the basis of the study that you undertake:

  • Click on this link:



Read all of the Critical Essay questions and ensure that you can undertake at least 2 from each section. Write a plan, including the quotations that you would use, for each response.

  • Read the following marking guide for Critical Essays. It is imperative that you are fully aware of the criteria for a pass in the Critical Essay.

SQA Marking Criteria

  • Click on this link: 


There are 6 years of past papers – make sure that you have undertaken all of these Close Reading passages.

  • Work through the following Close Reading guide that has been produced by Glasgow City Council. It is very good.

Close Reading Guide

If you have any difficulty undertaking these tasks, please message me via the comment link below.

Remember, you will only get out what you put in!

What is the Meaning of the Almond Tree?

Critical Essay Writing, Poetry

The almond tree is rife with biblical meanings. Moses’ brother, Aaron, carried a rod cut from an almond tree. When almond blossoms and leaves suddenly sprouted on the rod, this miracle was attributed as a sign that God had chosen Aaron and his tribe to be His priests. Almonds were mentioned often in the Bible, possibly because they are native to the Middle East and would have been widely available during biblical times.

Priestly Meaning

During the many years in the wilderness, the people of the Lord quarreled between themselves trying to determine who should be the priests and directly serve God. So, representatives of all 12 tribes brought their rods and placed them within the tabernacle. The next day, when Moses went into the tabernacle, he discovered that Aaron’s rod which was cut from an almond tree had miraculously burst into flowers. This meant that God had chosen Aaron and his family, from the tribe of Levites, to be His priests.

Old Age


In Ecclesiastes, the almond is indicative of old age. This is an apt description since the almond bursts into flowers in late winter—and winter is often considered anthropomorphically as an old man. The almond blooms are borne on naked stems before the leaves emerge, and the old blossoms often look like white snowflakes when they fall to the ground.

Watchful Tree

The almond tree is also referred to as a “watchful” tree by the Prophet Jeremiah when he talks to God in a vision. Yahweh asks Jeremiah what he sees and Jeremiah mentions that he sees “a branch of an almond tree.” Yahweh answers: “You have seen well: for I keep watch over my word to give effect to it” (Jer.1:11-12).

Rod of Authority

In their book “Rod of an Almond Tree in God’s Master Plan,” Peter Michas and Robert Vander Maten propose that the Rod of Authority made from the Tree of Life was passed down through the ages by the biblical patriarchs. Eventually, King David planted it and centuries later it formed the cross on which Jesus was crucified. They believe that Revelation 22:2 states that the relic of the cross will reappear and flower. This will be a sign of God’s authority just as it was in the days of Aaron.


Higher English – Holiday Study Tasks

Close Reading, Critical Essay Writing

It’s only 8 weeks until the Higher English Prelim. As such, it’s really important that you spend a little time studying during the Christmas holidays.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t relax and enjoy the festive season, but you should also arrange your time so that you can undertake the following tasks as an absolute minimum.

Remember that you make your own choices and that only you can put in enough work to get the grade you desire.

Task 1
Spend 1 hour undertaking the following critical essay task on any Drama text.

Choose a play in which a character makes a crucial error.
Explain what the error is and discuss to what extent it is important to your
understanding of the character’s situation in the play as a whole.

Task 2
Spend 1 hour undertaking the following critical essay task on any Prose text.

Choose a novel with an ending which you found unexpected.
Explain briefly in what way the ending is unexpected and go on to discuss to what
extent it is a satisfactory conclusion to the novel.

Task 3
Click on the link below. It takes you to the assessment criteria for Higher English Critical Essays. Self assess your essays, based on this criteria, identifying a mark and 2 improvement points. This task should take about 1 hour.

SQA Marking Criteria

Task 4
Click on the link below and undertake Paper 1 of the Close Reading past paper. This should take approximately 1 hour.

SQA 2008

Task 5
Click on the link below and undertake all of the Close Reading past paper. This should take approximately 1 hour, 45 minutes.

SQA 2010

Good Luck. If you have any questions about any of these tasks, please post a message using the link at the top of the screen.

Critical Essay – Personal Response

Critical Essay Writing

Personal response is a key aspect of your Critical Essay. A marker must see that you have engaged with the text. A very structured way to achieve this is to make one of the following statements towards the end of your evaluation (MARE,), prior to the part where you link to the question:

  • This forces the reader to consider that…
  • It is therefore apparent to the reader that…
  • As such, the reader must consider…
  • This shows the reader that…

I hope this helps.