Annotating Your Set Texts for the ‘A’ Level Exam

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On the cover page of every Singapore-Cambridge Literature in English examination paper, whether H1 or H2, are these instructions:

Set texts may be taken into the examination room. They may bear underlining or highlighting. Any kind of folding or flagging of pages in text (e.g. use of post-its, tape flags or paper clips) is not permitted.

The chief invigilator is issued a more detailed brief on what is not allowed in the set texts (e.g. no squares or brackets). We have adopted these instructions and included some of our own in the following guidelines on the use of set texts in all Literature examinations at Eunoia Junior College:

  •  Set texts may be taken into the examination room.
    No photocopied texts are allowed.
    – There are no restrictions on particular editions; you are encouraged to use the same edition for both your ‘study text’ and ‘examination text’. Approach your tutor for advice on which edition(s) to procure.
    Extra copies of set texts are technically allowed; you are not encouraged to do so, for ease of reference (i.e. to avoid table clutter).
  • Set texts may bear underlining.
    – Underlining in pencil or pen is allowed. You are encouraged to underline key words in the text for the purpose of close analysis.
    – Drawn lines should be kept strictly horizontal or vertical.
    No boxes, squares, brackets, circles, diagonal or jagged lines are allowed.
    No unauthorised writing (other than your name on the first few pages) is allowed. Ensure that no stray markings or faint pencil markings are visible.
  • Set texts may bear highlighting.
    Highlighting in multiple colours is allowed. There are no restrictions on the number of colours; you may highlight one line in yellow and blue, for instance. You are encouraged to colour code your text by concerns or characters, depending on the nature of the text and your own preference.
  • Any type of folding or flagging of pages in text is not permitted.
    No post-its, tape flags, paper clips or bookmarks are permitted. Ensure that your text is free of these before entering the examination venue.
    No underlining or highlighting of page numbers or headers is allowed, to avoid the appearance of flagging.
    – No writing on or highlighting of page edges / borders is allowed, to avoid the appearance of flagging.
    Vertical lines should be kept close to the body text and away from the margins, to avoid the appearance of flagging.

Also see our visual Annotation Guide.


Here are some frequently asked questions by students… and several attempts to answer them. Disclaimer: we are not going to give you very specific instructions!

  • What happens if my text is confiscated by the invigilator?
    If available, an unmarked copy of the text will be provided by your school for your use. Your school may not provide this at internal examinations (i.e. Mid Year, Promo, Prelim) as a deterrent measure. Under SEAB guidelines, no further action will be taken by the examiners. An irregularity report will only be filed against you at the ‘A’ Level Examination if you choose to retain your ‘unauthorised’ text.
  • I have a text that may not pass inspection (e.g. faint pencil markings, applied correction tape or fluid over writing, highlighted page numbers on a few pages). I am worried that the invigilator will confiscate my text. What should I do?
    In all cases, you should buy a new or used copy, or borrow one from a senior. Underlining and highlighting your text again is a useful revision process. If time does not allow you to re-annotate your text, you may want to bring in more than one copy. If the invigilator confiscates your text, you will at least have ready access to the text, whether annotated or not.
  • How should I annotate my text? What colours should I use? When should I start?
    For Paper 1 texts, we recommend you prepare for the passage-based question by identifying key passages, highlighting them for selected concerns and underlining key words for the purpose of close analysis. The objective of this is to “remind” yourself about key ideas and methods.For the essay question (both Paper 1 and Elective paper texts), you should highlight your text by concerns and/or characters. The objective here is to retrieve key parts of the text quickly:- Dominant themes / concerns obviously deserve their own colours. As mentioned, you can highlight certain lines in more than one colour if it helps you. Lectures and revision material should already raise relevant material.
    Minor characters can be given specific colours, so that you can identify relevant lines or chapters easily.
    – You may want to highlight outstanding methods (e.g. the use of setting in a novel, particular words / images) in the text for ease of reference.
    – You choose the colour that gels with your understanding of the concern, character or method. For instance, the American Dream as a theme can appear in blue (or red!), a deceptive character can be given purple, while setting can be assigned green. Whatever works for you works best! Some students find it more useful to commit to highlighting and underlining the text at the end of the course (i.e. before JC2 Prelim). Indeed, annotation is a means of revising your text as you decide what is useful, or start ‘indexing’ your text. You can use a faint yellow highlighter to highlight your texts if you do not feel wholly confident in JC1. We nevertheless recommend starting once you have an overall sense of the concerns, characters and methods in your text (e.g. June holidays in JC1). Your tutor may provide you a suggested framework for highlighting your text; again, it is down to your own preference. You will know how you remember the text than any generic model given to you.
  • Uhhh your post is coming to an end and you haven’t answered my question.
    Well, just drop a comment and we’ll respond to your question! 😉


5 thoughts on “Annotating Your Set Texts for the ‘A’ Level Exam

  1. […] Also, a word of caution! Assessment for Literature in English at ‘A’ Level, whether at H1 or H2 levels, takes an ‘open-book format‘, which means you may bring in your set texts. Some of you may want to purchase two copies of each text, one for exam use and one for study use. Regardless, you cannot write any notes in your exam text — more information on annotation of exam texts can be found here. […]


  2. Sorry about the previous comment, it seems to have a typo!
    I meant to ask if it’s alright to have a page with a tear across it, and whether or not I should apply transparent tape on the torn bit. Will the invigilator take my book away? :C


    1. Hi, I think that’s a small anomaly and should be OK, provided there are no clear signs that the tear is intentional!


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