Passing an English language exam one has to come across with two main issues when answering any question especially essay questions.

The first issue is WHAT TO ANSWER here It depends on student’s efforts on passing through books and study notes. The second issue is HOW TO ANSWER here a student should have learn how to answer various. English language questions.

It is very important to understand the skills for answering literature questions because, more often than not, students fail to respond to literature questions not because they don’t have the right answers for those questions but chiefly because they fail to interpret the questions appropriately and respond accordingly.
Therefore, to successfully respond to literature questions, the following things should be taken into consideration at least as the first step to start with:
a)    Read the question carefully.
It is advised to read the question more than once as it helps you to understand it. Re-reading the question twice or thrice may help you to gain some additional insights on the requirements of the question
b)   Paraphrase the question.
At this point try to re-state the question in your own words. This helps you among other things to see if you have understood what you are asked to do. E.g.
With reference to two plays that you have read in class compare two female characters one from each play and show how they differ”.
PARAPHRASE: The question requires me to pick two female characters and show their similarities and differences
c)    Pay attention to key words in the question.
Questions have key words that tell you what you are required to do. When you are reading the question note whether it requires you to;- discuss, list, mention, compare and contrast, verify, describe, comment, criticize, interpret, justify.etc.
d)   Write an outline of your answer.
At this juncture try to frame how your essay will look like and what you are going to put in the introduction, the main body and conclusion. i.e. in the introduction you may show (i). The key words to be defined, (ii) the books you are going to use. In the main body you may jot down the points you are going to use from each reading. In the conclusion you may show how you are going to conclude.



Remember that introduction is the key to your essay. It gives an impression on whether the reader should continue reading your essay or not. Here you are supposed to do the following.

                          i.      Define key terms. For example in our question above; you may need to define: Character(s) this helps your reader to understand your working definition. E.g. Characters are animate or inanimate beings that play different roles in a literary work.

                        ii.      Sometimes there are no key words to be defined. In such a case give some background information on the subject in question. E.g.
 “Women occupy different roles in literary works. By using two readings you have studied in class show the roles of women in your society”. Here you may need to agree with the statement and show that women do really occupy different roles in different societies.

                      iii.      List the readings you are going to use. Of course you will have outlined them somewhere, but this is the right place to include them in your essay. A good choice of readings is also very important as it shows whether you are going to respond to the question correctly or wrongly. E.g.
To prove the above statement my discussion will be centred on Juliette of Three Suitors One Husband by O. Mbia and Wanjiro of This Time Tomorrow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.   or
In this essay references will be made to Juliette of Three Suitors One Husband by O Mbia and Wanjiro of This Time Tomorrow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

                      iv.      Show the readings you are going to start with. In case of the questions that need each reading to be treated separately. E.g.

In this essay references will be made to Juliette of Three Suitors One Husband by O Mbia and Wanjiro of This Time Tomorrow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. To start with Three suitors one husband;

Here you need to be careful because it is this part that answers your question.
a.    Organization.
Ø  You should organize your essay in paragraphs whereby each paragraph carries one point. That is to say the number of points is determined by the number of paragraphs and vice versa.
Ø  Each paragraph must contain a topic sentence. A topic sentence is the one containing the argument you are making. E.g. in our question you could begin each sentence by saying “Both Juliette and Wanjiro are...”
Ø  Provide supporting details. These are evidences from a literary work plus supporting examples. Example if you say…
Both Juliette and Wanjiro are denied to marry men of their choices. Juliette is denied by her family to marry Oko since he is still a schoolboy and has no money compared to the other suitors like Mbia. Similarly, Wanjiro is denied by her mother to marry Asinjo on the ground that he is a man from another tribe, he is poor and has no job.”
b.    Citation
Ø  Your citation will largely depend on the nature of the question you are attempting. Different questions call for different responses. Questions on themes for instance have issues cutting across two or more readings. If that is the case it is possible to refer to two readings in one paragraph. However this approach is used when the point is the same. For example, “Literature is the product of the society. It is used by artists to reflect social realities within their societies. Use two novels you have read to verify the above statement”. In such a case you may discuss a theme like HIV/AIDS which appears in both “Passed Like a Shadow” and “The Interview”. Your citation will be;
One of the social realities portrayed is the plight of HIV/AIDS pandemic. In “Passed like a Shadow” people like Adyeri, Amoti, Vicky, David and others die of AIDS due to ignorance of the ways it spreads and beliefs in superstition. Similarly, in “The Interview” people like Georgina and the pastor die of AIDS or kill themselves due to Ignorance without even taking blood test to confirm whether they are infected.
Ø  If the readings contain different points it is advisable that you deal with one reading at a time and then move to another.
Ø  If the question requires you to compare and contrast two aspects in two readings you make references to both readings at the same time using words like; whereas, while, on the other hand, by contrast, or comparing by using words like also, similarly, likewise.
Ø  NOTE: Answering a question is not the same as narrating a story.  You should avoid narrating what is taking place in the story but rather analyze and make arguments.

This is the final part of your essay. You are expected to write your position. Don’t conclude by saying;
v  What I have said/written above are/is……………
v  The above points are……….
It is advised that you conclude your essay with expressions like;
Ø  In conclusion…..,
Ø  To conclude…….,
Ø  In summary…..,
Ø  By the way of conclusion…….,
Ø  To sum up ……,
Ø  Generally it can be said that….,
Ø  To capitulate…….. etc
E.g. “Generally it can be concluded that, different characters from different readings may be alike or different depending on the experiences they face in the societies they live. If the experiences are the same the characters are likely to behave the same way and vice versa.”

Qn. With reference to two plays that you have studied in this course compare and contrast two female characters one from each reading. Give four similarities and four differences.

Characters are animate or inanimate beings that perform different roles in literary work. Female characters occupy different roles in different literary works which make two different characters from two different readings to have similarities or differences respectively. To verify the above statement references will be made to ‘Juliette’ of “Three Suitors One Husband’ by O. Mbia and ‘Wanjiro’ of “This Time Tomorrow” by N. Thiong’o. To start with their similarities;
            Both Juliette and Wanjiro are denied to marry men of their choices.Juliette on one side is denied to marry Oko the person she loves because he is still a schoolboy and has no money compared to other suitors like Mbia. Similarly, Wanjiro is denied by her mother to marry Asinjo because he is a poor man from another tribe and has no job.
            Both Juliette and Wanjiro show true love to their fiancés. Juliette on one side shows true love to Oko and does all it takes to ensure that they get married. She steals the money paid by other suitors and gives it to Oko who in turn pays it as a bride price and they get married. Likewise, Wanjiro decides to stand on the side of Asinjo despite her mother’s warnings that she cannot marry a man from another tribe and has no job, but she insists that she loves him.
            Both Juliette and Wanjiro finally get married to men of their choices. Juliette on one hand succeeds to marry Oko after playing a trick and stealing the money paid by other suitors. She presents Oko as the rich and greatest man than the civil servant. The family accepts Oko and the two get married. Also Wanjiro on her side decides to escape with Asinjo and the two go together to the city leaving behind the poor Njango in a demolished homestead.
Both Juliette and Wanjiro leave their parents frustrated. Juliette on one side leaves her parents frustrated because of the stolen money. Though they are able to pay back the previous suitors, they remain as poor as before. Likewise, Wanjiro leaves her mother in full frustration as she wonders where she “will be this time tomorrow” because her slum is demolished by the city council and Wanjiro has eloped.
Both Juliette and Wanjiro come from poor families. Juliette on one side comes from a poor extended family that expects to get rich through her marriage to a rich man. They all prefer Mbia to other suitors since he is capable of making them rich. Juliette wonders whether she is a shop or some other source of income. The same applies to Wanjiro who comes from a poor family that earns a living by selling soup to slum dwellers.
Both Juliette and Wanjiro represent young generation that opposes outdated customs. Juliette refuses to conform to the wishes of her parents to marry a man they choose for her and claims her freedom of choice, expression and decision making and finally marries a man of her choice. Similarly, Wanjiro refuses the wishes of her mother to abstain from Asinjo whom she loves, just because of tribalism, finally she elopes with him.
Turning to their differences, the two characters differ in the followingways.
Juliette is educated while Wanjiro is not. Juliette studies at Libamba secondary school and because of the education she gets she is able to defend her rights unlike other women like Matalina, Makrita and Bella who have never gone to school that conform to everything men say. Wanjiro on the other side, is not educated but remains at home helping her mother with domestic chores. Only her brother attends school.
Juliette marries legally but Wanjiro elopes/escapes. Juliette plays a trick and steals the money paid by other suitors and hands it to Oko who in turn pays the dowry. The procedures are followed and the marriage is settled legally. They get all the blessings from her parents. Wanjiro on the other hand leaves her home while there is no agreement/consensus between her and her mother thus she decides to escape with Asinjo.
Juliette comes from an extended family while Wanjiro comes from a single parent family. Juliette on one side belongs to an extended family in which even the marriage decision is not a personal matter. It involves grandparents, parents, uncles, brothers, cousins and many others. Unlike Wanjiro who lives with only her mother after her father’s death and even her marriage is the issue between her and Njango her mother.
Juliette loves Oko for who he is, but Wanjiro loves Asinjo for what he has. Juliette marries Oko knowing that he is poor, and cannot even afford to pay the bride price and she helps him to get the money to pay the dowry. Wanjiro on the other hand, marries Asinjo because now he has a job as a taxi driver and a house in Old Jerusalem. Additionally, he promises her a better life in the city. So she hopes to get decent clothes, high-heels shoes and a handbag that she may look modern.
Lastly, Juliette does not run away from problems but Wanjiro runs away to avoid problems at home. Juliette comes back from school and finds problems at home especially those facing her directly. She is forced to marry the suitors she doesn’t love. She becomes stable and solves the problems and succeeds to get what she wants. Wanjiro on the other side, runs away as a solution to her poor situation at home, hoping to get a better life with Asinjo in the city.
Generally, it can be concluded that different characters from different readings may be alike or different depending on the experience they face in their societies. Most characters in African literature behave almost the same way; however education seems to be the main influence in the way different characters behave.


  1. A lot of tips though and there are a lot of easy and searchable sites to recommend at having things written in your essay. I've done that before about the first day of school in college. ''what will you expect about school and write an essay showing your skills to the school'' lols. Well in some way there is also lots of sites and tips like  it is helpful to us to educate ourselves and best results will lead us there. Click on it. Good luck 


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