Scottish Higher English Essay Writing

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The critical essay paper

What do you have to do?

In the Higher English Critical Essay paper you are required to write two essay answers. One and a half hours are allocated to this paper (i.e. 45 minutes for each essay). Each essay is worth 25 marks. You must answer on two of the following four separate genres (i.e. on different types of text).

Section A: Drama

Section B: Poetry

Section C: Prose (either fiction or non-fiction)

Section D: Film and TV drama

What are the examiners looking for?

At the top of the paper you are given some general advice about the marking standards the examiners are using (known as ‘performance criteria’).

The following areas are being assessed:

  • The relevance of your essays to the questions you have chosen, and the extent to which you sustain an appropriate line of thought
  • Your knowledge and understanding of key elements, central concerns and significant details of the chosen texts, supported by detailed and relevant evidence
  • Your understanding, as appropriate to the questions chosen, of how relevant aspects of structure/style/language contribute to the meaning/effect/impact of the chosen texts, supported by detailed and relevant evidence
  • Your evaluation, as appropriate to the questions chosen, of the effectiveness of the chosen texts, supported by detailed and relevant evidence
  • The quality of your written expression and the technical accuracy of your writing


Before the questions you will find a reminder that “answers . . . should address relevantly the central concern(s) / theme(s) of the text and be supported by reference to appropriate ... techniques.”

The next page shows a list of techniques that are likely to be used in drama, prose, poetry and film and TV. The technical terms in these lists are the jargon of English literary criticism and it is important to make sure you know what these words mean.

Folio of writing

Your folio will be submitted in April by your school or presenting centre. The folio must contain two pieces of original writing, one of which is broadly creative and one that is broadly discursive. Each piece will be marked out of 25, and the two marks will be averaged to provide a total of 25. This will be added to your marks for Close Reading and Critical Essay in the external exam in May to provide the mark that will decide your final award for Higher English.

There are two types of creative writing and three types of discursive to choose from:

Creative writing

  • personal/reflective
  • imaginative, in the form of prose, a drama script, or a set of poems

Discursive writing

  • persuasive
  • argumentative
  • report

All your own work!

You will have to sign a declaration that your two pieces of writing are original, and not copied from any other source. It is very important that you comply with this rule. If you are found to have used material which is not original in your folio, your whole award in English is likely to be withheld.

It is advisable not to throw away your early drafts after you have completed the fair copies of your final version in case your teacher or school requires them at a later point.

In addition, you must keep a detailed record of all the sources consulted for your discursive writing. This should include titles and authors of books or newspaper articles, including page numbers; authors and addresses of web-pages consulted.


The SQA asks that your final submission should be typed, word-processed or neatly written on one side of the page only. They also specify the following forms of presentation:

  • a simple, plain, standard font, such as Times New Roman or Arial
  • point size 12
  • alignment left or justified
  • margins 2cm all round
  • line spacing at 1.5 or 2
  • print colour black, except possibly for graphs, diagrams etc in a report

The minimum length for each piece is 650 words, and the maximum is 1300 words. If your pieces are shorter or longer than this, a penalty will be applied by the marker.

Technical accuracy

Because you have access to resources like spell-checkers and dictionaries when writing your folio, the examiners expect a high degree of technical accuracy in aspects such as spelling, punctuation and sentence structures. Errors will significantly affect your marks.

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