Close Reading – The More Difficult Questions (and how to... A. Linking Questions

Close Reading – The More Difficult Questions (and how to answer them)
A. Linking Questions
This question is designed to assess your understanding of how writers link
similar or opposing points together in a way that helps the flow of their
argument. The question might ask you to show how a sentence provides
an effective link between two paragraphs or ideas.
How to answer:
1. Identify and write down the link word and explain that it shows a
change in direction of the writer‟s argument
2. Quote the part of the sentence which refers back to the earlier
3. Explain, in your own words, what the earlier topic is
4. Quote the part of the link sentence which looks forward to the next
5. Explain, in your own words, what that new topic is
How does the writer establish the link between Paragraph 4 and
Paragraph 5?
If you really needed to spend money, you could still get passport photos
from the curtained booth, business cards from the autoprinter, donate to
city hospitals by dropping money into a Howitzer shell, or Test Your
Emotional Temperature on The Passion Chart, if you were prepared to
squeeze a couple of handlebars. Nothing else to do but look at the
clock, the Arrivals and Departures board – on which nothing was
imminent – and the people.
Apart from a bag lady who was curled round one of the ring seats like a
seal, asleep – or trying to be – the only people using the seats were a
young couple. Japanese perhaps…
1) The expression ”Apart from“ is a linking phrase that indicates a
change in direction for the author‟s argument.
2) “The bag lady” refers back to the previous paragraph
3) Which talks about how there is nothing to do at the train station
other than look at the boards and the people that are around
4) “The only people using the seats” furthers the writer‟s new topic
5) Which is to explain who the other people are that are round about
him and are interesting enough to comment upon.
Now Try Yourself:
Explain how the one sentence paragraph is an effective link between
paragraphs 8 and 10.
Howard could see he knew the berries weren‟t ready yet, like the ones
behind the steading that they always picked; and he understood that this
was a lesson being set up for him when he came home without brambles:
not to tell lies. And there‟d be another lesson behind this one, the real
lesson: that is father had been right about that sort of new fangled
nonsense coming to grief.
In spite of this, he forgot it all and slipped through the Racecourse fence.
A crowd mobbed around the grandstand where they served drinks and
sandwiches. He made his way through the high society of Lanark, dolled
up to the nines…
B. Context Questions
For this type of question you are usually asked to use the context to
explain the meaning of a particular word. In other words, how do the
words round about help you to understand what the highlighted word
How to answer:
1. First of all, find the word in the passage that you have been
directed to and read that paragraph again.
2. Consider whether you understand the meaning of the word. If
so, great. If not, look at the surrounding words and try to work it
3. Once you have worked out the meaning, then you should look
at the context surrounding the word in question and pick out the
words which have led you to your decision about its meaning.
You must do this even if you knew what the word meant
4. Then in your answer you should give the DEFINITION of the word
and QUOTE the words from the context EXPLAINING why they led
you to your answer.
Explain how the context helps you to understand the meaning of
Paragraph 3 and 4:
“At first I was angry at him, frightened for him, but now suddenly I
get this rush of joy, watching him race out there into the cold level space
of the stilled river, free and warm and vivacious in that smoothed and
frozen silence.
I think he‟s done it, I think he‟s across the river and safe and there‟s
a buzzy glow of vicarious accomplishment starting to well up within me,
but then there‟s a cracking noise and he falls…”
1. Do I know what it means?
If yes, fine. If not, then look to the context. The word “accomplishment” is
right next to the word “vicarious” which tells us that something has been
achieved. The fact that the narrator is watching his friend and that he
says “I think he‟s done it” shows us that the achievement is his friend‟s.
What does this tell us when we put all of this information together?
2. “Vicarious” must mean that the narrator is experiencing this
achievement through his friend. So, generally, “vicarious” means to
experience something through someone else.
3. Remember that in your answer you must give the meaning and
quote the words from the context which helped you to understand
–even if you knew the meaning of the word anyway.
The word “vicarious” means to experience something through another
person. The word “accomplished” shows that something has been
achieved and the fact that the writer says, “I think he‟s done it” shows the
reader that it is through another person that he is experiencing this
Now Try Yourself:
1. Explain how the context helps you to understand the meaning of
“taxidermy” in Paragraph 10.
“When the London dodo died, the animal was stuffed and sold to the
Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Taxidermy not being what it is today, over
the next few decades the dodo slowly rotted until it was thrown out in
1755. All, that is, except the moth-eaten head and one leg”
2. “…the quick adhesive of filial tolerance.” (Paragraph 14)
How does the context help you to understand the meaning of this
“They got on well. They never had any difficulty talking. There were never
any silences. They tore their parents to bits and put the bits together again
with the quick adhesive of filial tolerance. They were two earnest
adolescents, able to vary their solemn dialogue with a private joke…”
3. Give the meaning of “interred” and show how the context helped you
arrive at that meaning.
The building nowadays known as Maes Howe is a Neolithic chambered
cairn, a tomb where, 500 years ago, they interred the bones of the dead.
C. Word-choice
For this type of question you are usually asked to think about why a
particular word or expression is appropriate. This just means that you are
being asked to think about why the author chose that particular word or
expression when they have so many to choose from. What makes this a
good word to have chosen?
How to Answer:
1. First of all find the word in the passage that you have been directed
to and read that paragraph again.
2. Consider whether you understand the meaning of the word. If so,
great! If not, look at the surrounding words and try to work it out.
3. Think about why the author chose that word in particular when they
could have chosen another.
 Is it appropriate because it is particularly relevant to what the
passage is about?
 Does it help to create a particular atmosphere? Is it frightening
or funny perhaps?
 Does it give you a clear picture of what the writer is trying to
describe? If so, make sure you explain what that picture is.
“…his moustache bristling over the paper.”
Why is bristling a particularly appropriate word to use in this context?
“ „They‟re asking for trouble,‟ his father said, his big legs folded at
the table, the tackets in his boots squealing shortly when he moved –
ready to stride out if anything was wrong – his moustache bristling over
the paper. „They‟ll catch it,‟ he‟d add. In the early days of aviation his
father detested its uselessness and looked for the flyers to get their comeuppance.”
1.Do I know what it means?
Yes, a bristle is a short, coarse hair like you would find in a sweeping
It is also used to convey anger or to suggest that someone is offended
if they are said to be „bristling‟.
2. Why is it a good word to use here?
The writer tells us that his moustache is „bristling‟ over the paper,
so there is a literal connection with hair and he is also angry at
the aviators.
The word „bristling‟ is literally connected to the idea of the hair of the
man‟s moustache, but he is also angry with the aviators and so the word
„bristling‟ is used figuratively here to show how much he despises them.
Further Example
Why do you think the writer has chosen the word “flooded” to describe
how his memories returned?
“Childhood memories of underwater programmes on TV flooded in,
mixing with books and magazines on sharks and the film cartoon of
Marine Boy. Once I had gained some confidence, Stuart returned to the
surface to collect underwater photographer Gavin Anderson. ….”
1. Do I know what it means?
Yes it is when lots of water pours into something, usually very quickly.
2. Why is it a good word to use here?
The passage is about a man surrounded by water as he swims with sharks.
Flooded suggests lots of water moving quickly, but he is talking about
memories, so what is the connection? The idea is of lots of memories and
the speed of the memories returning.
He is suggesting that the memories come back very quickly and
that there are lots of them. It‟s also a good word to use as the
passage is about water.
Now Try Yourself:
1. Explain fully what the writer suggests by using the word “flickering” when
describing the candle.
“The door creaked open. A draught of cold air blew up from the stairs to
the dark crypt and the hairs on our arms stood on end. The faint light from
the flickering candle disappeared, there was a muffled scream, a sound
of running footsteps and then some raised voices.”
2. “ „Ice,‟ said the stranger, as though he had not heard her, „I‟ll never be
warm again.‟ His voice cracked and she realised that his shoulders were
heaving. „Oh, the ice,‟ he repeated. He held his hands before his face. He
wrapped his fingers together, and his whole body seemed to be fighting
to suppress a succession of spasms.
„You can come back tomorrow,‟ said Pelagia, appalled by this gibbering
apparition, and completely at a loss.
„No crampons, you see. The snow is whipped away by the wind, and the
ice is in ridges, sharper than knives, and when you fall you are cut.‟”
D Sentence Structure
Some questions will ask you to look at the writer‟s sentence structure and
to comment on the effect that the writer is trying to create.
1) Look at the length of the sentence.
 Has the writer used a long or a short sentence and what is the
 Is it a very long sentence to show a list of something? Or is it to
show lots of ideas jumbling around in someone‟s head? To
show confusion?
 Is it a very short sentence to show that someone is angry or
that something has happened suddenly? Or to emphasise an
idea, to make it stand out? (Remember to say why the writer
would want it to stand out).
 Is it even a sentence? Remember that a sentence should
make complete sense on its own, and it must contain a verb.
Why would the writer use a non-sentence? Is it to show shock
or surprise?
2) Look at the punctuation of the sentence.
 Is there any particular punctuation mark on which you could
comment, for example, colon, semi-colon, comma, brackets
 Do you have lots of commas which create a list?
 Do you have brackets so that the writer can make a
comment, perhaps for humour or for criticism?
3) Look at the function of the sentence (what kind of sentence you
are dealing with).
 A statement – indicated by a full stop.
 An exclamation – indicated by an exclamation mark.
 A command – indicated by a full stop or an exclamation
 A question / rhetorical question– indicated by a question
4) Look to see if there is any repetition in the sentence (or in more than
one sentence) in the paragraph.
You should look to see if there is anything unusual about the sentence
structure and then make a comment on why you think the writer has done
Remember that this is a just a guide and you will have to read the
question very carefully to see exactly what the question is asking you to
Question 1a) and 1b)
“Strathspeld is everywhere white.”
a) What is unusual about the structure of this opening part of the
b) What effect does this create?
Looking at this sentence you can see that it the word order is unusual. We
would not expect the place name to come first here. We would expect
this to read, “Everywhere is white in Strathspeld” or perhaps “White is
everywhere in Strathspeld”. So, we know that the word order is inverted,
but what it the effect of this? Because the word order is unusual, the writer
is clearly trying to emphasise one or more of the words. Here, he is
emphasising the words, “White” or “everywhere” to give the impression of
the blanket coverage of the snow.
Sample answer:
a) The word order is inverted as we would not expect the sentence to
read with the place name first.
b) It emphasises the words “white” and “everywhere” to show just how
much snow had fallen.
Now Try Yourself
1. “Pelagia was astounded.”
How does the sentence structure in the rest of this paragraph develop
Pelagia‟s sense of astonishment?
“Pelgia was astounded. Psipsina was afraid of strangers, and how did this
ghastly ruin know her name? Who could have told him? She wiped her
hands on her apron for the lack of any sense of what to think or do, and
said, „Mandras?‟”
2. “The road…tapered to infinity…”
Explain how the STRUCTURE of the second sentence in Paragraph 3 helps
to make the meaning of this expression clear.
“The road ahead tapered to infinity, in stages. Hill led to hill led to hill, and
at each summit the road abruptly shrank to half its width, then half its width
again, until it became a hairline crack in the land, then a faint wobble in
the haze, then nothing.”