In 2016, I sat for Literature-in-English in WASSCE. When the result was released, it was with relative ease that I had a B3.
Then, if asked how I did it, I would have attributed my success to the good school I attended, dutiful subject teachers, my efforts—however relative—and my love for the subject.
Years after, I can recommend with chest puffed out and relative degree of expertise the whats and whatnots of writing Literature-in-English in SSCE.
During these years, I was privileged to teach the subject to students, most especially the final year students, and I have come to understand in retrospect how and why I had passed the subject.
My stay in the university as a student of Literature also taught me some basic lessons. I have seen successes and failures and have come to understand what it takes to pass the subject in an examination.
This post—I surmise—is a worthier sequel to an earlier one—5 Reasons Students Fail Literature-in-English in SSCE—and you will find herein helpful tips that—I believe—can help you in your SSCE Literature-in-English examinations.
Tip #1: Familiarise yourself with the rudiments of the subject
As a prospective candidate of Literature-in-English, it is necessary for you to get familiar with the basics of the subject. By basics, I mean what literature entails; the genres, their forms and elements; and, the figures of speech and sound.
Learning these would really be helpful in understanding the subject, the interpretation of the recommended texts, and in answering questions in any examination. Your knowledge of the figures of speech and sound will come in handy in the answering of objective questions in WAEC, NECO and NABTEB.
Elements of prose, drama, and poetry are parameters used in assessing texts in any of these genres. They are what you look for in a text and would serve well in the understanding of the text. Besides, they bring you inches closer to answering questions correctly in exam.
When I was in secondary school, my Literature-in-English teacher had then taught us elements of prose. I remember devising the mnemonic “Senior prefect character point of view. See thou. Diction symbol satire”. The altered words there are senior, prefect, see, thou which stand for subject matter, plot, setting and theme respectively. Back then, I also devised another mnemonic for the forms of poetry I was taught in class: Linda Nelson hold pastor son et labour leader (lyrical poem, narrative poem, ode, pastoral poem, sonnet, epic, limerick and lullaby).
In essence, it is important to master the basics of Literature-in-English as this would help you in the long run in the adequate comprehension of the recommended literature texts. Like me, you can use mnemonics to ease your mastering process.
Tip #2: Get familiar with the recommended literature texts
Every five years, the list of the recommended literature texts for SSCE changes. Each time a new list is introduced, it contains two African prose texts, two non-African prose texts, two African drama texts, two non-African drama texts, six African poems, six non-African poems, and a Shakespearean drama text.
It is always advisable to familiarise yourself with these texts long before the examination. This is because your Literature-in-English exam will be based on these texts. You should read them.
They are the yardstick for grading your level of competency in the subject in SSCE. Ensure you read every of the texts.
Apart from the general class reading, you can read them on your own to have a full grasp of the issues and ideas each work embodies, and interact on a personal level with the texts. Don’t wait till it’s time for you to read a particular text in class before you read it.
You can also recommend staging scenes from the recommended plays to your teacher. This can easily be infused into the programme of your school’s Literary and Debating Society. This, so far, has proved the most effective way of comprehending any drama text. It helps in the retention of the images, ideas and flow of conversations in a play. Every time you go back to read the play, the enacted scenes will always pop up in your mind.
This is honestly one of my favorite literature texts. It’s educational, fun, easy to comprehend and interesting. I enjoyed acting it out with my classmates at school.
Where it is not possible to act out the plays, you can also watch stage presentations of the plays, if available, on YouTube. If nothing else, there are stage presentations of the Shakespearean drama texts available on YouTube.
As for the poems, try to memorise them. You can memorise as much as possible. One thing that worked for me which I think may work for you is the memorisation of the recommended poems. In 2016, my set ushered in new literature texts. I memorised some of the recommended poems: five poems out of the six African poems and four out of the six non-African poems. Having memorised the poems helped me in the examination. I was able to quote lines and relevant phrases at will to support my stance while answering questions.
When I finally left secondary school and had to teach final year students in another secondary school and I was reciting the poems before them without a prompt or the aid of a textbook, my students were surprised. They were like “Wow! Here is a genius.” Back then, I knew it was not a great feat. It’s something you can also inculcate.
Now, I am not asking you to memorise all of the poems but memorise as much as you can. This would come in handy in supplying textual evidence in your examination.
Tip #3: Know what your Literature-in-English exam entails
It is very important for you to acquaint yourself with the composition of your Literature-in-English papers beforehand. In the objective section, your general knowledge on literary appreciation will be put to test.
You would also have to answer at least ten questions on the recommended Shakespearean drama text. In this case, you would be given excerpts from the text with accompanying questions in tandem with “who the speaker is”, “who the addressed or addressee is”, “the issue being talked about”, “the intent of the speakers and their personalities” and “where they are conversing”.
What this means is that you have to read the recommended Shakespearean drama text with particular attention paid to how each character speaks, what each character says, the setting of each scene and other minute details.
The theory section is segmented into parts, namely: African Prose, Non-African Prose, African Drama, Non-African Drama, African Poetry, and Non-African Poetry.
Under the African Prose, there are four questions in total — two from each text. You are to answer one out of the four questions. Same goes for Non-African Prose, African Drama, and Non-African Drama. You are to answer one question from each category. That makes it a total of four questions out of sixteen questions.
Under the African Poetry section, there are two questions in total — two questions from two randomly selected African poems on the list. You are to answer one out of the two questions. Same goes for Non-African Poetry.
In total, you are to answer six questions out of twenty theory questions.
Tip #4: Get a compendium of past questions on Literature-in-English
As a prospective SSCE candidate who wants to pass Literature-in-English, you need to get a compilation of past questions. This is necessary because it would get you familiar with the format of SSCE Literature-in-English exams.
The objective questions would provide you with the real test of your knowledge of literary devices and competence in literary appreciation.
The theory questions, even when they are no longer relevant, will provide you an avenue to understand how Literature-in-English essay questions are supposed to be answered.
Tip #5: Read smartly if you can’t read all
While it is advisable to read all the recommended texts, I know it might be practically impossible for some candidates. Not all students have the privilege of having a Literature-in-English teacher. And some students started studying only a few days or weeks to the examination.
If you are that student and you are reading this post, you don’t have to read all the recommended texts. You only need to read one African prose text, one non-African prose text, one African drama text, and one non-African drama text instead of the required two in each category.
You must however understand these texts to a satisfactory level. You also need to read summaries and analyses textbooks and blogs like mine provide to complement your reading.
However, there is no alternative or shortcut to the Shakespearean drama text and the two categories of poetry. You have to read everything because questions and poems here are randomly selected.
Tip #6: Read the instructions carefully
The instruction is part of the exam. Don’t let exam anxiety get the better of you. Make sure you read the instruction before starting anything at all. Ensure you follow it completely. Anxiety and ignorance can make you answer two questions from African Prose or at worst four when you are supposed to answer just one. Relax and follow the instruction.
Tip #7: Give the non-African texts the same attention you give to African texts
I have realised over time that students (even teachers) pay more attention to African works and lesser attention to the Non-African texts both in class and during personal study. In some cases, much time is expended on the African texts with partial or complete disregard for the Non-African ones.
To pass Literature-in-English in SSCE, you must give these two the same level of attention. There must be a kind of balance between the time you spend on African texts and the time you spend on Non-African texts.
Tip #8: Work on your expressions and language use
Language and literature go hand in hand. They complement each other. Language is the medium through which literature is expressed. In the same vein, reading literature texts helps in broadening one’s language use.
While answering questions in exam, good expressions and language use are very important. Writing bad incoherent sentences only defeats the purpose of the subject. So, you must work on your sentential construction, make your sentences as clear as possible.
And don’t overdo it. Avoid vagueness as much as you can and don’t confuse your examiner in the name of wanting to impress them. No examiner wants unnecessary headache from marking a candidate’s script.
Tip #9: Avoid stories. Get down to the details
You must avoid irrelevant stories and go straight to the point. Hit the nail on the head. When you are required to tell stories (“give account of” etc), be exact in your response. Cut out the unnecessary details and tailor whatever story or references you tell or make to suit the question.
Give relevant reference. The one thing you will avoid by doing this is that you won’t bore your examiner with a lengthy irrelevant response.
More importantly, whatever story or reference you cite, make sure you link it to the question you are answering.
In this post, I have given some tips which I hope will be helpful in your Literature-in-English exams. If you have come here looking for a shortcut, this post is probably not for you. Every true success story is based on the values of hard work, commitment, patience and perseverance. The fact that you read this article to the end speaks volumes of great things you are capable of if your set your mind at them. I wish you success in your forthcoming examination.