5 Reasons Students Fail Literature-in-English in SSCE


Literature-in-English is a very important subject in secondary school curriculum; at least for the art students. It is a required subject to study courses like English, Journalism, Law, Mass Communications etc. in the university.

Literature-in-English is an all-engaging subject and its classes are beautiful sights to behold when they are on session. Aside its many functions and importance, it is entertaining, mind-refreshing, and educative.

It is however saddening to hear some students fail this beautiful subject years on end. While some persist in writing this subject in SSCE every year, other students simply give up their dreams of studying their choice courses.


Why do students fail Literature-in-English? In this post, I shall be examining the possible reasons students fail this interesting and yet seemingly difficult subject.



Many students fail not because they are lazy. In fact, many of them read the recommended texts and listened attentively in class. But fail all the same because they have difficulty in interpreting questions.

WAEC, NECO and their equivalents have an almost fixed pattern of setting questions for Literature-in-English examination.

Every year, questions like: “(1) Give account of … (2) Examine the role of (3) Discuss the theme of … (4) Discuss the significance of … (5) Examine the consequences of … (6) To what extent does … (7) Comment on the use of … (8) Justify the title of … (9) Assess the character of … (10) Show how …” do come out. Sometimes, the same question is repeated with slight modification.

For lack of understanding, rather than answer the questions, students often make the grievous mistake of narrating the whole novel, play or summarising the poem when all is needed is the application of their knowledge about the texts in answering these questions.



It’s no news today that examination malpractice has become a commonplace in our society.

Embraced by many, denied by all; examination malpractice has pervaded our educational system. Students, school authorities, parents, L.I.Es, law enforcement agents, teachers, invigilators and external supervisors are complicit of this crime.

It enjoys much acceptance that euphemistic words like “help” and “assistance” have been devised for it. Reliance on “help” or “assistance” centres is the one reason most students don’t pass Lit-in-English in external examinations. How is this so?

Most of these students running to Orijo Centres rely heavily on the answers supplied to them by the owners of these centres. While this method may work for subjects like Mathematics, it does not in most cases work for Literature-in-English.

For one thing, their suppliers even with a variety of Lit-in-English textbooks are not better than their orijo students.

Rather than answer the questions, they only end up copying the irrelevant parts of the textbooks. Even when they answer the questions correctly, producing a variety of answers poses problem. How do three or thereabout teachers and/or mercenaries supply a hall of twenty or more students?

At the end of the day, two, three students or the entire hall write the same answers with the same choice of words and sentence structure.

Even the dumbest marker would know examination malpractice had taken place.



Many students smuggle their smart phones into the examination hall for Lit-in-English exams with or without the assistance of the centre authorities. The rationale for this impermissible act is to search for answers to the exam questions.

When question papers are eventually given to these students, they go online and search for answers to these questions.

Google or any other search engine brings them relevant materials within its search directory. And they foolishly copy the materials word for word (without changing anything) into their answer sheets. What I don’t seem to understand is this: do they not know that the examiner has access to this set of materials too?

Let’s digress a little . . .

When I started my literary blogging experience with a WordPress subdomain towards the last quarter of 2020, I wrote an article on Alani, a character in Bayo Adebowale’s Lonely Days.

Coincidentally, a question the article answers came out under African Prose during 2020 Literature-in-English WAEC exams. I had approximately twenty visitors on the examination day; the highest for my newly created blog then. I smiled knowing what had happened.



Another reason for students’ failure in Literature-in-English bears down to the wrong impression or opinion they form about the subject. A lot of students already have the ready-made notion deeply rooted in their hearts that the subject is very difficult to pass.

Some of them have seen their seniors, brothers and sisters struggle with the subject. Hence, they form an erroneous opinion about the subject. The only reason they are in art class is because they (think they) can’t cope with the rigours of the science department and the calculations of the commercial department. And they have been told by myopic teachers art class is for the dullards.

But because they think it is difficult, they find the Non African texts and some African texts cryptic and unintelligible; whereas, all they need to make these texts understandable and relatable are online and in textbooks.

On the contrary, Literature-in-English is very simple to pass. I happen to work with a marker of Literature-in-English scripts late last year. The experience afforded me some insights into the marking guidelines for the subject. I realised a student can get marks for things like character identification in non-character related question. So, even if a student writes off point, such student might still be awarded some marks for merely identifying the characters. And then, poor use of grammar is not particularly penalised.



For the most part, a lot of Literature-in-English candidates fail because they are lazy.

We are in the ICT age; most of the recommended texts are online with their respective analyses. What excuse does a student have in such a blissful age?

But some students will still not read. And Literature-in-English is the one subject that one hardly passes without being familiar with the recommended texts either by reading the texts or the summaries at the least.

The students are not the only ones culpable of laziness. The teachers are also culpable too. In some private schools, Literature-in-English teachers only give notes from the textbooks without accompanying them with practical explanation. There are resource materials online for illustration but they won’t get any.

As literature mirrors life, some texts can even be demonstrated in class or before the entire school. Imagine students enacting the mime that signals the entry of a stranger into Ilujinle in Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel. Not only will it be entertaining, it will also stick to the memory of the students.

While there are lazy Literature-in-English teachers, some schools do not even have a stable Literature-in-English teacher at all. A government-owned school whose unofficial timetable is regimented into two or three subjects per day is also a problem in itself for a Literature-in-English student.



Synecdoche and Metonymy: Know the Difference


In conclusion, I have identified laziness, wrong impression, lifting online materials directly, reliance on “orijo” or “assistance” centres, and wrong interpretation of questions as reasons students fail Literature-in-English in SSCE.



  1. I love this eye opening article. I will also appreciate if you can help me with texts and materials that can help me in teaching students. Thanks


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