Highlight Me

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This requested post provides a few suggestions on how to annotate your Paper 3 set texts. They are by no means exhaustive; in fact, I have also struggled to map out the key concerns and ideas in a way that allows us to compare them easily next year.

Do not panic if you have already highlighted and annotated your text in your own way. You can just refer to the suggestions below and see if you have missed any key ideas out, however unlikely the case.

Here are a few broad reminders and revision tips before we dive into the specifics:

  • Annotate your set texts either at the start or at the end of your revision process. Doing so at the start will help you revise your knowledge of the text. You can transfer the annotations from your lecture notes, tutorial notes and presentations (where applicable) into your exam copy. Some of you may find this a little risky, in which case…
  • Annotating your exam copy at the end of your revision cycle will help you discern what is relevant, what is crucial and certainly, what are the key words you would want to close-analyse as you write your exam answer.
  • You may highlight the same lines in different colours. Yes, this is allowed! We’ve heard from students that one institution in particular recommends using two exam copies to highlight different concerns and ideas — you can take this interesting idea up if you want… probably from next year onwards. 😉
  • And yes, please do underline key words for close analysis. This is useful for both Paper 1 (especially the PBQ where you can ‘spot’ passages beforehand) and Paper 3. Develop your own code for this if you want (e.g. double underline for superlative / absolute terms, underline punctuation for sentence types).
  • Practise referring to your exam copy while practising question analysis, writing an essay outline or writing an actual essay. The goal is to make retrieving relevant episodes, quotations and key words as easily as possible, so only practising this will put this to the test!

Woman in Mind


Concern-based annotation
Useful for single-text and set text comparison questions, which are mostly concern-based anyway.

  • YELLOW  Mind – Destructiveness, loss of control, ‘games’
  • CYAN/BLUE  Mind – Illusion and fantastical elements
  • PURPLE  Mind – Deterioration and absurd, nightmarish elements
  • RED  Self – Familial tensions (Real family)
  • PINK  Self – Familial love, internal tensions (Imaginary family)
  • ORANGE  Self – Success, ambition and idealised domesticity
  • UNDERLINED TEXT  Key words (for close analysis), punctuation (for syntax)
  • HORIZONTAL LINES  Mind – Transitions between reality and imagination

Examples for concern-based annotation:
(i) We can highlight Tony’s threats, the allusions to setting the house on fire and Susan’s own bitter, vindictive, abusive language in YELLOW.
(ii) We might choose to use CYAN/BLUE to focus on the stage directions related to Susan’s imagination (i.e. character appearances, lighting and sound effects) while using PINK to look at the language of love and affection (i.e. diction, syntax) her imaginary family provides.

Character-based annotation
Useful for finding relevant episodes and evidence at quick speed, only if you are able to interpret the question for concerns quickly and are confident about selecting the right episode / evidence.

  • YELLOW Susan – discontent, reactions toward real family
  • CYAN  Susan – fulfilment, reactions toward imaginary family
  • PURPLE  Susan – desperation, anguish, madness
  • PINK  Gerald – familial tensions, negligence, criticism of Susan
  • RED  Rick – familial tensions, criticism of Susan’s self
  • ORANGE  Muriel – familial tensions, criticism of Susan’s self
  • BLUE  Andy – romantic intimacy, affection… torment and loss of control
  • TEAL  Lucy – concern, praise, validation…
  • GREEN Tony – concern, protectiveness… destructiveness
  • UNDERLINED TEXT  Key words (for close analysis), punctuation (for syntax)

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?


Concern-based annotation
Useful for single-text and set text comparison questions, which are mostly concern-based.

  • YELLOW  Mind – Destructiveness, games, language
  • CYAN/BLUE  Mind – Truth and illusion (son-myth, lies)
  • PURPLE  Mind – Narratives (Daddy, Bergin boy)
  • RED  Self – Familial tensions and betrayal (George and Nick)
  • PINK  Self – Familial love, internal tensions (George, monologue)
  • ORANGE  Self – Success, ambition and masculinity
  • UNDERLINED TEXT  Key words (for close analysis), punctuation (for syntax)

Character-based annotation
Useful for finding relevant episodes and evidence at quick speed, only if you are able to interpret the question for concerns quickly and are confident about selecting the right episode / evidence.

  • PINK  Martha – interactions with George
  • RED  Martha – interactions with Nick
  • YELLOW  George – interactions with Martha, Nick and Honey
  • ORANGE  Nick – ambition, games with George, intimacy with Martha
  • PURPLE  Honey – innocence, repressed desires
  • BLUE  References to son-myth – illusions, repression, destructiveness
  • GREEN  References to ‘Daddy’ – narratives, destructiveness

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