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How do you answer literary style questions? Tips for GCSE and A-Level Latin set texts

Updated: Apr 25

One of the most anxiety-causing elements of Latin literature exams is the analysis of literary techniques. However, if you understand the text you are commenting on and ask yourself a few basic questions, this part of the exam does not need to be particularly tricky.

Below, I present my MANGOES method for ensuring that you tackle the text from different angles.

But before that, I want to share three key tips that apply to both GCSE Latin and GCSE A-Level Latin, and show you the best tools around to help you learn the set texts from the specification.


1. Learn the Latin set text


You must understand what the text is saying word by word. Memorising an English translation, however literal it is, will not help if you do not understand the Latin. Spend your time on the Latin ' and use a translation for support, not on a translation on its own.


I recommend using tiered readers in the process of translating and getting familiar with the text. Please ask your teacher for their preferred version.

2. Understand what literary techniques do to the content of a text

Knowing the names of all the literary techniques is not the be-all and end-all of the question. It is fine to explain the effect of the literary technique by linking it to the content; in fact, it is essential that you explain the effect of the technique well.

However, I highly recommend learning the names of the literary techniques, because it will help you organise your thoughts and save you plenty of time.

You can download my MANGOES guidelines here where there is an exhaustive list of names that you may want to be familiar with.

3. Treat the texts for what they are: literature

These texts were created to be heard, so please find an opportunity to listen to them in Latin as close as possible to the original, read them aloud, and explore how they make you feel. This takes us back to point one: you really must understand the Latin. If you are struggling with the language, you are unlikely to enjoy the texts. If you need a little help with this, you can check out a course like my one below:


NB: The notes below are based on personal and professional experience, and they are in no way endorsed or guaranteed to align with OCR’s specific expectations. Please visit their specification, mark schemes, and examiner reports as part of your preparation.


A note on GCSE 8 markers and A-Level 15 markers

In the exam, you will be asked questions about how the author's literary choices convey meaning. This can be simply asking how the author shows something that is happening in the text (how upset or angry somebody is, how they celebrate or lament something, etc.), which is more common at GCSE, or it can be more general, as is generally the case in A-Level papers. In every case, you must start your argument from a quote in Latin, and explain how the style complements the meaning.


Examples of literary style questions

  • What makes this a vivid/dramatic/graphic account/description/passage/speech?

  • How does the language emphasise the speaker/author/character’s disapproval, dislike/strong feelings?

  • How does the author create sympathy/positive feelings/negative feelings for a character?

  • How does the author create an emotional and moving scene/pathos?

  • What makes this a powerful description/speech/image?


Using the Mangoes method for literary analysis

In order to answer in an organised way, I have come up with the acronym MANGOES.

If you blank on a text, you can go over the different letters in MANGOES to get ideas about what to answer.

In the MANGOES cheat sheet, there is a list of rhetorical devices for every aspect of the text that you can consider in your answers, as well as a scaffold to organise the points in your answer and ensure you are showing that you understand the text well.


Specific guidance for GCSE 8 markers

  • Aim for making at least 5 points

  • At least 2 of your points should focus on the style rather than the content alone

  • Always use PETE (you can read more about this in the MANGOES document above)

  • Do not spend time on an introduction


Specific guidance for A-Level 15 markers

  • Aim to cover the whole text without long gaps; this should lead you to at least 9 points, ideally more

  • Build an argument that leads to conclusions, and consider a conclusion at the end to give force to your analysis - an introduction is not necessary

  • For verse, go through all the letters of MANGOES, for prose you can settle for ANGOES

  • Consider the length of your quotes and make sure there is a combination of word choice and longer phrases/sentences: you want to show how well you understand the Latin, and also a variety of approaches to the text

  • Always use PETE (you can read more about this in the document attached), but as you become better at it, you can begin playing with the structure of your answers

  • Some lines will have more points than others, and it is fine to give more than point for a quote, but be beware of using up too much of your time in a short section

A note for teachers:

If you enjoy using these resources, consider supporting me on my newly founded Patreon. I will take be taking requests for new resources, and will be very happy to respond to any questions you have!

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