Die, by these Words

Livre or Die is officially dead after eight years of, well, living. What a life, as I leave you with the aptly bittersweet words of Philip Larkin:

Love, we must part now: do not let it be
Calamitious and bitter. In the past
There has been too much moonlight and self-pity:
Let us have done with it: for now at last
Never has sun more boldly paced the sky,
Never were hearts more eager to be free,
To kick down worlds, lash forests; you and I
No longer hold them; we are husks, that see
The grain going forward to a different use.

There is regret. Always, there is regret.
But it is better that our lives unloose,
As two tall ships, wind-mastered, wet with light,
Break from an estuary with their courses set,
And waving part, and waving drop from sight.

And Stoppard’s riff on the second law of thermodynamics:

“We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind.The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it.”

Paper 1 Last Minute Reminders

Download our handout for 2015 JC2 Lit P1 Last Min Session.

Obligatory nannying because we can, no, we must

  • H1 Lit / H2 Lit Paper 1 happens Monday, 16 Nov, 2pm. Please be in school by 1:30pm. One of our best students in 2013 missed the paper. Please find alternative means of making history, with thanks and love, Mr Lim.
  • Pack all your exam copies into your bag early. Check that you have the right copies before you leave the house, obviously.
  • If you conspire to ignore our sterling advice, the invigilators (not from our school, as you would have realised) will have extra copies of texts, which they can issue you.
  • The library will not have its usual arsenal of texts, as I will be transferring them to invigilators on Friday. If you feel uneasy about not having a copy in your hands before entering the venue, you can look for me before the paper and I will pass you unmarked copies of the text. Just make sure you bring your exam copy, and life will be that much easier for us all.
  • If your text is flagged out for illegal marking, don’t panic. The invigilator is likely to ask you if you want to keep your text (and risk an ‘irregularity report’). Let it go; the invigilators will provide you one of the library copies to use. (Don’t be stupid. This is obviously not a licence to leave your text at home.) In the past 5 years, nobody has had their text confiscated…. so please just double check with us.
  • The Age of Innocence is in Section B, Question 2. This is the first question after Section A (Poetry / Poetry comparison).
  • All My Sons is in Section C, Question 9. This is the last question in the paper.
  • For the last time, please learn to label the titles properly. Titles of poems should be placed in quotation marks (e.g. ‘Waves’). Titles of All My Sons and The Age of Innocence should be underlined (since it’s rather difficult to write in italics).
  • Please do not, do not, do not use AMS, AOI, TAOI, ONY as lazy substitutes. It makes you look stupid. Remember – your markers are not Singaporean bureaucrats who love their acronyms. Write the whole darn thing. How many times do you need to refer to the full title, or Old New York anyway?

Actual tips and reminders

  • We generally advise that you attempt Section A (Poetry / Poetry Comparison) first but it’s completely up to you. If you feel less confident about Section A, by all means leave it to the last. If the poems appear too daunting and you feel stuck, just leave it for later (like you would a difficult Math question). Things will get better later.
  • Whatever your order of questions, manage your time very strictly. Take absolutely no more than 1 hour 5 min. We have had one too many “definite A” students end up with a “B” or “C” because they did not complete one question. Don’t add yourself to the body count, please!
  • Don’t freak out if you see something unfamiliar. The terms used by Cambridge might be different from what we use (we’ve tried our best to ‘confuse’ you the past year), so negotiate the question based on the concerns and methods we have taught you. If an obscure question (a la last year’s AOI question on ‘money’) turns up, just move on and try to answer the other option. For the desperate, we have laid out the anticipated triggers and passages below.
  • Know your triggers and how to use them to generate relevant ideas. Most of this is detailed in the Last Min Session handout and summarised here:
    – For Section A, always ask yourself, ‘what is the persona’s attitude towards this?’ or ‘what does the persona feel about this?’ This is essentially perspective+tone and will guide you through anything: the persona in ‘Considering the Snail’ reveres the snail for its strength and purpose; the persona in ‘Men Improve with the Years’ laments his own loss of youth; the persona in ‘Identity’ is defiant about his own ‘tall, ugly’ nature.
    – For the Essay Question, the importance of the trigger is self-evident:
    (i) A character-trigger will demand that you identify relevant concerns; differentiate between open, expository questions such as ‘Discuss the role and significance of…’ from the more focused questions such as ‘Joe never accepts the consequences…’. The latter will limit your scope, which is not a bad thing.
    (ii) A concern-trigger asks that you immediately split up this concern into smaller parts, or ‘ideas’ (e.g. guilt can be sub-divided into Chris’s survivor’s guilt, Keller’s wrongdoing). This process should help you organise your essay… and select relevant characters / episodes already.
    – For the Passage-based Question, use the given trigger (character, character relationship, concern) to lock your focus:
    (i) A character-trigger here similarly calls for concerns relevant to the passage.
    — In The Age of Innocence, consider the narrator’s description and commentary on this character. If on Ellen or May, consider Archer’s perspective of her as well.
    — In All My Sons, try to focus on that particular character’s dramatic language and action first; you can examine this character in a relationship if you want to (e.g. ‘Chris’ as trigger, with one para dedicated to ‘Chris’s estrangement from his father’).
    (ii) A character relationship-trigger, likely to be exclusive to All My Sons, means that you are not writing about what Chris believes, or what Keller believes, but about how their beliefs clash within the passage. Keep in mind that “family relationships” is itself a concern — the main concern for such a trigger. A strong response would nevertheless be able to discuss how Chris’s self-interest (another concern) threatens his relationship with Keller, or how Keller’s moral blindness pulls him further and further away from his son.
    (iii) A concern-trigger has provided a few of you with headaches. We would suggest linking this concern to characters. It would be really strange if you had to begin every sentence with ‘Truth is presented…’ or ‘Social form is presented as…’. It is more natural to write about ‘George’s pursuit of the truth’ or ‘Archer’s detachment from his wedding’. Nonetheless, the concern provided shapes the ‘purpose’ or ‘why’ in each body paragraph.

Preparation over the weekend

  • Do spend an hour over the weekend “practising” a Section A (poetry / poetry comparison) question. You can write an actual essay… or just practise annotating and organising your analysis. When it comes to the unseen, practice is your best weapon.
  • Read your own essays and ‘sample’ essays from your peers / seniors, to re-familiarise yourself with essay structure (introduction, body paragraph W-H-Y)… and your own areas for improvement. It is always good to know what you have improved on and what you are strong in!
  • Read up on your concerns and methods on the two set texts, if you must. Again, practise planning an essay question response, or annotating a passage and write a PBQ outline — use Roundtable P1, the 2015 JC2 Mock P1 / Mock H1 or the questions from the Last Min Session.

Suggestions for extra practice on H2 P1 Poetry Comparison

  • 2011 Q1b (Endurance) p25 + 2013 Q1b (Grief) p29
  • 2009 Q1b (Waste) p21 + 2010 Q1a (Abandoned rooms) p22
  • 2014 JC2 Mock (Absence / Female body) p48-50
  • 2014 JC2 Prelim (Ageing / Unrequited love) p45-47

Anticipated triggers + passages (what might appear)

  • The Age of Innocence
    – ‘Ellen‘ is long overdue in either the essay question (as New Woman, foreigner being cast out, or as a ‘maturing’ protagonist in her own right) or the PBQ. I’ve been saying this for 2 years, so c’mon, damn it, just happen already.
    – ‘Archer / the bildungsroman’ has yet to feature in an essay question. The main character’s growth is a relatively common feature in essay questions.
    Old New York and social convention may still feature in the essay question. Few areas are left, but we have tried to prepare you for the role of women, the importance of social form and obedience.
    – The PBQ could well be relatively devoid of Archer and focus on Old New York exercising / enforcing their social norms instead: see the various dinner scenes in Ch 5, Ch 16, Ch 26 and to some extent, Ch 33.
    – If the PBQ were to stay centred on Archer, I would pick Ch 13 because it provides us the ironic narrator at her most prominent. The prompt there could indeed be “the use of narration” or something along those vague, vague lines.
  • All My Sons
    – After a long series of character-triggers, the essay question should shift to concerns: social responsibility / moral idealism… and self-interest / materialism (American Dream)… and truth / denial / the past are all likely. We’ve tried to prepare you with our Mid Year, Prelim, Mock and Roundtable questions!
    – Cambridge could still torture us a little: there might be an essay question on the supporting characters: Ann+George (self-interest, truth / denial, familial loyalty), Jim+Sue (material pragmatism, lost idealism, Greek Chorus to comment on the Kellers and reveal the truth to the audience) and maybe Jim alone (more about materialism, pragmatism and idealism).
    – For the PBQ, it would seem logical to go to Act Three (because Acts One and Two have been tested) and specifically on Chris alone, Keller alone or Mother+Keller. We will just list a few possibilities that you should already be familiar with:
    (i) Chris, Act Three (p86-88) – your Prelim question
    (ii) Chris-Keller relationship, Act One (15-17, 40-42) or Act Three (88-90)
    (iii) Keller, Act Two (52-54) – your Mock question
    (iii) Mother-Keller, Act Three (p83-84) – covered in lecture
    (iv) Truth and denial / Chris-George, Act Two (60-62) – Last Min Session
    (v) Guilt and deception / Keller / Keller-George, Act Two (68-70)

Bogeyman triggers + passages (what we fear), or a lame attempt at ‘jinxing the jinxes’

  • The Age of Innocence
    – I would safely rule out May for the PBQ as that appeared last year. It seems unlikely that May would return as the essay question… but it’s worth thinking about. Consider May’s role and significance in relation to social conventions (she conforms… and enforces) and the bildungsroman (she ‘leads’ Archer to fulfil his social duty).
    Surveillance / lack of privacy, social change / stability and money have appeared as essay questions before. There is nothing stopping them from focusing on the relevant passage-based questions: we have already anticipated Ch 33 and Ch 26. They might surprise us with Ch 3 (the Beauforts), Ch 7 (the van der Luydens) and Ch 14 (Ned Winsett). It would be exceedingly cruel if we get Ch 20 (M Riviere) or any other minor characters.
  • All My Sons
    – ‘Mother‘ was my bogeyman last year; I thought it would be funny if Cambridge lined up Chris (Specimen), Keller (2013) and then Mother (2014), and guess what, it happened. They have set a Mother question every year in either the essay or PBQ (Mother featured twice last year, in fact)…. Nevertheless, let’s just keep an eye out for the George-Mother sequence in Act Two (p62-64).
    – We would also want to rule out Ann for both questions as the two Mother-Ann episodes have already been tested. Nevertheless, just stay mentally prepared for a PBQ on Mother-Ann (revelation of the letter, Act Three, 84-86) and to use Ann as an example of destructive ‘self-interest’, an unpleasant example of the American Dream.

2015 Prelim P1 Reminders and Strategies

MatriarchPhoto: Chiew Jia Hui


H1 (8811/01) and H2 Paper 1 (9748/01) Format

  • H1 Section A: Unseen Poetry
    – Two options, answer one only
  • H2 Section A: Poetry Comparison
    – Two options, answer one only
  • Section B: The Age of Innocence
    – Two options, answer one only
    – (a) Essay question (usually concern or character-trigger)
    – (b) Passage-based question (usually concern or character-trigger)
  • Section C: All My Sons
    – Two options, answer one only
    – (a) Essay question (usually concern or character-trigger)
    – (b) Passage-based question (usually concern or character-trigger)
  • For Sections B and C, there are no restrictions on question choice. That is to say, you can opt to do both PBQs… or attempt both essay questions.
  • If you marginally suspect your text might be confiscated or simply forget to bring, visit the library to borrow a copy way way way before 2pm. Based on our experience today in P3, please do a thorough check of your texts so that you don’t leave post-it notes in them (or your teachers’ heads will explode).


All My SinsPhoto: Chiew Jia Hui



  • Section A: Poetry / Poetry Comparison
    – We suggest you start with this section; it is an afternoon paper and you will need to make use of all your creative and critical juice to make sense of the poem(s) you have chosen.
    – Broadly speaking, your options will vary between universal life experiences (e.g. unrequited love, grieving, death, motherhood, growing old) and abstract but fundamentally human concepts (e.g. the resilience of a snail, negotiation of personal identity, the power of language, the mystery of life). This of course allows you to shape a personal response or comparative response: the poem(s) might allow you to see something a different way or exhort you to do something. You know how this works by now!
  • Section B: The Age of Innocence
    – Read the essay question carefully. The prompt quotation will ask you to see things in a particular way and leave you to agree or disagree. The prompt quotation will provide you a series of ideas, which you can develop separately. A sophisticated script will be able to blend all two or three ideas into one cogent argument / paragraph of course… but I’d always suggest to keep some things simple. This same prompt quotation does ‘help’ you structure your essay from simple to complex ideas.
    – As you know, the essay question will have either a character-trigger or a concern-trigger. Stay on track please and address the relevant character and concern all the time. If the question is on the strict moral code, you don’t want to write about social form and dressing (trust us, many a script has fallen by the wayside in this manner).
    – Your essay thesis should provide us a stand, reasons and ideally… a personal response on the ‘message‘ of the novel. For the latter, you can connect it to the bildungsroman or social critique angles (seriously, the Penguin Introduction is unbelievably good and worth highlighting).
    – For the passage-based question, be very aware of the ‘placement’ of the passage within the whole text — does it mark the start, middle or end? At which point of the bildungsroman are we at? Or what is the reader’s understanding of Old New York at this point? Your PBQ thesis has to address the purpose of the passage (e.g. the passage foreshadows… the passage is a culmination of… it builds up to…) in the novel.
    – Don’t repeat your JC1 mistakes. Links to elsewhere should be contained, condensed, concise. We don’t want you to narrate elsewhere; we want the link (see above).
    – In our revision lectures and tutorials, we have urged you to start with narrative perspective when you analyse the passage. Is it the ironic narrator commenting on society, or undermining Archer’s childish fantasies? Is the narrator taking us into Archer’s thoughts, as he contemplates Ellen, May, the world around him or as he sinks deeper and deeper into his romantic imagination? Or are we simply to extract and ‘compile’ various voices (in the form of dialogue / direct discourse) and analyse them accordingly?
    (i) This is important because it will help you split the passage into parts, organise your methods / evidence and generate ideas. You might for instance be able to devote two paragraphs to Archer’s thoughts or write one paragraph entirely on setting / visions, as you did for the Ch 21 PBQ.
    (ii) When it comes to close analysis, knowing the perspective will immediately help you identify a pattern and analyse it. For those of you who did the Ch 21 PBQ, or revised the Ch 2 and Ch 33 passages in class, you know what I’m talking about. Don’t forget to analyse the description of New York or its characters after you’ve picked out the perspective, though!
    (iii) Be careful not to ‘impose’ a perspective. The ironic narrator doesn’t appear that often; some of my students kind of force-fit the narrator into the Ch21 pier sequence when it was really a mawkish, sentimental description of the setting, nothing else!
  • Section C: All My Sons
    – Ah, we’re a bit rusty with Miller now, eh? Not to worry, we’ll repeat some of the key concepts here. The skills however remain much the same. Know the difference between an essay thesis and PBQ thesis. Learn to closely analyse your evidence for sentence functions (e.g. imperative, declarative, interrogative), tone, sentence length, diction and lexis (e.g. language of money, absolute terms, aggressive terms).
    – Many of you have remarked that it is hard to generate broad methods for AMS or even hard to analyse the text in AMS. What I would suggest particular for the essay question is to simply identify relevant parts of the text and try to pick out patterns from there.
    – Dramatic structure is and will be absolutely integral to both the essay and passage-based questions. Like the Paper 3 question on Stanley’s miscomprehension of Blanche, we will asking you to consider causes and consequences in both questions: you want to be hyper-aware of how the tragedy unfolds. Revisit one of our first lectures this year on the tragic hero. You can pre-emptively figure out some arguments to do with foreshadowing, shifting, overturning, culminations et al for a passage in Acts Two and Three (we told you this I think!). The “links to elsewhere” lecture titled The Last of Us should help.
    – Needless to say, you should refer to the ending of the play in your essay response, or link to the ending of the play in your PBQ response. I’d urge you to think about this carefully: should you only write about the ending at the end of your essay, or does every paragraph need to show some notion of tragedy?
    – The play’s concerns generally exist in binaries: social responsibility vs familial loyalty, moral idealism vs pragmatism, human solidarity / collective interest vs self-interest, redemption vs guilt, denial vs truth. Word of caution: the American Dream, with its associations with wealth, familial bliss and individualism / self-interest, doesn’t quite fit neatly into this framework. Its components can be seen to act in opposition to Chris’s ideals of man-for-man sacrifice and altruism…. but we also know that nearly all of Miller’s characters are morally flawed, and subject to the pursuit of one or more of these subsets of the grand American Dream.


Study tips and strategies

  • For All My Sons, you don’t have that much to study. The tragedy / tragic hero lecture, the introduction lecture, family, denial, the American Dream, responsibility vs familial loyalty are fundamental to the play itself and hard to detach from one another. You roughly know what we are going to test for the PBQ, so do gloss over Acts Two and Three religiously. I don’t foresee any problems linking to Act One anyway.
  • For The Age of Innocence, we regret to inform you that your JC1 material is important. We have definitely revised key concepts in JC2 Term 3: Archer’s dilemma and his attempts to put aside his dreams and visions for the contentment of marriage / duty, Old New York and its tribal network of eyes, codes and rigid structures, the disdain Archer and the narrator feels about Old New York’s deathly, unimaginative ‘patterns’ of life…. Nonetheless, you do want to glance through your tutorial packages from JC1 for key passages (even if we are not going to repeat them).

JC2 Term 3 Supplementary Lessons

For H1 students

Date: 8 Jul 2015 (Wed)
Time: 3:30-5:30pm
Venue: Bro. Patrick Loh Room (D2-01)
Places available: 35
Details: This session is targeted at students who lack confidence in analysing form or feel ‘stuck’ with vague analysis of rhyme, run-on lines or poetic structure. We start by looking at the effects of just two lines of a poem, and systematically consider the use of: (i) rhythm – enjambment, end-stopped lines, caesurae; (ii) sound and rhyme / rhyming pairs; (iii) structure and progression. In particular, this session will help you write about one of the above features at length and decide on which of the three ‘categories’ of form is the most relevant or outstanding.
Date: 5 Aug 2015 (Wed)
Time: 3:30-5:30pm
Venue: Bro. Patrick Loh Room (D2-01)
Places available: 35
Details: Students will learn to identify different “types” of passages and closely analyse a passage, focusing on the use of diction and syntax by Wharton’s narrator and in Archer’s thoughts.
Sign up at tinyurl.com/jc2litworkshop

For H2 students

Date: 9 Jul 2015 (Thu)
Time: 3:30-5:30pm
Venue: Alpha Room (Library)
Places available: 25
Details: This session is targeted at students who lack confidence in analysing form or feel ‘stuck’ with vague analysis of rhyme, run-on lines or poetic structure. We start by looking at the effects of just two lines of a poem, and systematically consider the use of: (i) rhythm – enjambment, end-stopped lines, caesurae; (ii) sound and rhyme / rhyming pairs; (iii) structure and progression. In particular, this session will help you write about one of the above features at length and decide on which of the three ‘categories’ of form is the most relevant or outstanding.
Sign up at tinyurl.com/jc2litworkshop
Date: 9 Jul 2015 (Thu)
Time: 3:30-5:30pm
Venue: Bro. Patrick Loh Room (D2-01)
Places available: 36
Details: This session will focus on thematic concerns and dramatic methods and effects of A Streetcar Named Desire via a workshop-style approach to the two Streetcar questions from the 2014 A-Level Exam, where participants will develop and present arguments in response to the questions. In particular, this session hopes to draw participants’ attention to the importance of recognising the “spin” in A-Level questions and to the importance of the dramatic roles and relationships between characters in the play.
Sign up at tinyurl.com/jc2litworkshop

Surviving the JC2 Mid Year Exam

Paper 1 Section A

  • Remember to cover a balance of language, style and form. Our selection of poems across the H1 and H2 papers doesn’t really present an overwhelming amount of imagery anyway, so a spread of features would be good. In case you need a list of what to look for:
    (i) Language: perspective, tone and supporting diction (+rhythm)
    (ii) Style: imagery, figurative language, setting (+sound)
    (iii) Form: structure / progression, rhythm (enjambment, caesurae, line length), rhyme, sound
  • For H2 students, remember to compare effects and purpose, not just methods. It’s not very useful to tell us that Poem B offers a different set of images because it’s obvious to us. We are more concerned if its images are more hopeful or represent a sign of acceptance missing in Poem A. Be equipped with your comparative words: like, unlike, more, less, similarly, in contrast et al. Be ready to write a good “turn”, to link back and to compare purpose at the end (or start) of your paragraph.
  • For H2 students, we are encouraging you to lean on your analysis and response to one poem to analyse and respond to the other. If Poem A suggests something about the central theme, then Poem B is likely to (i) suggest a similar idea, with a subtle difference; (ii) contrast the attitude altogether.
  • At the Mid Year Exam, you are likely to find one poem more accessible than the other. One poem might be longer and richer than the other. Give a balanced treatment of both poems as far as possible; this is poetry comparison.
  • For H1 students and H2 students alike, do try to give a personal response to the poem(s); be prepared to deal with abstract concepts (e.g. sense of mystery), personal dilemmas (e.g. grief) and potentially awkward topics (e.g. alligators, snails) that are really about human qualities (e.g. strength, resilience).

Paper 1 Section C

  • Do spend adequate time annotating your exam copy if you haven’t already done so. While we don’t recommend “reading your text” per se, it is always good to refresh your understanding of key methods and concerns. See How to Annotate Your Text.
  • The essay question will be ‘broad’ enough to cover several concerns, so you’ll want to study all your lectures on social responsibility, self-interest / the American Dream, denial, family relationships or familial loyalty.
  • Your thesis is imperative, as the question demands a stand and your interpretation of the purpose of the text. Think very carefully about which characters and accompanying concerns you want to cover, based on your thesis.
  • Your analysis and scope should also be influenced by dramatic structure or plot progression. The audience’s impression of Joe Keller in the opening scene is going to be vastly different from their understanding in the play’s tragic conclusion. In other words, write about the development or progression of characters / concerns.
  • The passage-based question will also borrow heavily from your tutorial presentations; the subject matter will be familiar to you and you should have no problems drawing links to elsewhere (whether earlier or later, Act One, Act Two or Act Three).
  • Reading drama is primed towards reading relationships and not characters in isolation. Generally speaking, you also want to deal with the passage in parts (split the passage!) as ideas and effects do shift. Your CA2 passage is a case in point: though based around Chris and Keller, they move from a discussion on Ann (p40) to Christopher Keller Inc. (p41) and finally, the prospective wedding (p41). The CA4 passage consists of three distinct ‘conflicts’: Chris-Mother, Mother-Keller and Chris-Keller. So keep an eye out for the ways to split the passage.
  • Focus on the right methods and patterns. Speaking to one student and with the experience of last year’s JC2 Mid Year, be careful not to “spam sentence functions” as they may not be the most dominant pattern. Taking the CA4 passage (Act Two, p74-76) as an example, Joe Keller does ask one rhetorical question (‘You lost your mind?’), but it is the cumulation of ‘lost your mind’, ‘maniac’ and ‘out of her mind’ that forms Keller’s accusatory, disdainful stance towards Kate.
  • To weigh in on Mr. Fahy’s point on stage directions, we are honestly not so fussy about it, since it’s STILL better to say “The stage directions explicitly mark Chris’s anger” than to simply quote to narrate, “Chris is ‘angered’…” What we have thought you is how to analyse stage directions.
    – If the stage directions indicate action (e.g. stroking hair) or movement (e.g. surging up at him), then you must write about what “the audience sees” in terms of proximity and what “the audience feels” (i.e. dramatic effects).
    – If the stage directions indicate a character’s tone (e.g. horrified), then you track the progression of that tone (whether it shifts or intensifies). If there is no pattern, then analyse dramatic language – diction and syntax – to substantiate the “tone”.


Paper 3 Section B

  • Both questions allow you to engage any two of the three texts (this may seem obvious, but remember that the ‘A’ Level questions are not set with your texts in mind). Think about which two texts will allow you to shape an insightful argument on the given topic, that is on top of considering your choice of text for Section C.
  • Mr Fahy and Mr Poon’s comparison lectures will prove more than useful (to be continued)


Paper 3 Section C