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  Chris Hawkes

Non-Examination Assessment: AQA A-Level English Literature Specification B (2015-on)


For the new specifications, coursework has been renamed "Non-Examination Assessment" - NEA - and only operates at A-Level (not AS). This is a cross-board requirement from OfQual.

Non-Examination Assessment (NEA):
Theory and Independence

50 marks: 20% of the total A-Level marks

The table below shows the marks allocated to each of the Assessment Objectives over the two essays. Note that marks are not evenly allocated across the AOs.

Assessment Objective Marks Percentage
Informed and relevant, accurately written, appropriate terminology
7x2 28%
Ways meanings are shaped, focus on STRUCTURES
6x2 24%
Contexts arising from text, task and genre
6x2 24%
Connections in the text itself, but also connections through GENRE
3x2 12%
(Debate and interpretations are DYNAMIC)
3x2 12%


For the NEA component for this qualification, students produce two essays of 1,250-1500 words each responding to a different text, and each linked to a different aspect of the AQA Critical Anthology.

All centres are allocated an NEA Advisor by AQA. Whilst there is no requirement to have texts or tasks "approved", centres are encouraged to make use of their NEA Advisor if in any doubt about suitable text choice or task framing.

Given the title, "Theory and Independence", it is clearly important that students are allowed to work independently: texts which are over-taught, specified by the teacher and tasks that are not negotiated by the student are likely to prevent the student from displaying independence, to the detriment of achievment agianst the Assessment Objectives. The Specification states that a range of texts and tasks over the cohort would be expected. Students should be given ownership of task-choice with the guidance of the teacher.

In essence, these are the requirements.

  • Students produce two essays: the study of two texts informed by The AQA Critical Anthology.
  • One text must be POETRY, the other PROSE.
  • Both texts should be substantial and of appropriate quality – compare with the texts for Papers 1 and 2. Texts used for the "Value and Canon" lens may be regarded as non-canonical, but the argument should be that they have the appropriate canonical values.
  • “Substantial” for shorter poems and short stories means that a single-authored Anthology should be studied, and students should write about at least two. For the recreative option, however, students may write about single poems / short stories in the light of the study of a wider selection.
  • Each essay links a different text with a different aspect of the Critical Anthology.
  • There are six aspects in the Critical Anthology: Narrative; Feminist; Marxist; Eco-critical; Post-colonial; Value and Canon.
  • It is not compulsory for explicit quotations from the Anthology to be included, but it should be evident that ideas from the critical lens have been engaged with.
  • Word limits: 1250-1500 words. Quotations are NOT included.
  • ONE (only) of the responses may be recreative with a Commentary (see below).
  • The essay should be focused on debate.
  • ONE essay must include consideration of interpretations of text over time.

NB: "Students cannot choose texts from any of the A-Level exam set text lists.” However, ONE of the texts may be from the additional texts for AS list – Hardy poems, Betjeman poems, Remains of the Day or Wise Children.

Texts in translation
The chosen texts may be texts originally written in a foreign language that have been translated into English. However, the Specification states “Texts chosen for study may include texts in translation that have been influential and significant in the development of literature in English. The translated text should be treated as the original writer’s own words for assessment purposes. Therefore, schools and colleges should ensure that they use a version recognised by academia as being a high quality translation which supports the original author’s writing appropriately.”

Essays should include

  • Consideration of the ways in which narratives shape meanings;
  • Contexts – especially of today;
  • Differing interpretations;
  • Ways of connecting texts;
  • The concept of “SIGNIFICANCE”
"Significance" is a key word here, and it might be worth considering its use when drawing up tasks.

The Specification underlines this:
“When used in AS and A-level English Literature questions, the term ‘significance’ has a very specific use and gives access to AOs 2, 3, 4 and 5. Its use here derives from semiotics and involves understanding the idea of ‘signification’. In the way literary study is configured in this specification, significance involves weighing up all the potential contributions to how a text can be analysed: through the way the text is constructed and written; through text specific contexts that can be relevantly applied; through connecting the text(s) to other texts; and then finding potential meanings and interpretations.”

The Recreative Option.

One (only) re-creative piece out of the two may be offered, accompanied by a commentary. The recreative option gives the opportunity for the student to give voice to silent voices in the text, or to open up alternative readings by recreating part of the base text. There are many possible forms that this piece could take: for example, supplying a "missing scene", giving the opportunity for a character to "break the fourth wall", or providing a newspaper editorial or report on events or characters in the text. The function of the commentary is to link back to the base text and to the area of the Critical Anthology under investigation, thus opening up the base text.

It is worth noting that the commentary here serves a different purpose from that in the English Language specification. The commentary for English Language focuses on the candidate's linguistic choices; the commentary for English Language must make clear the possible readings of the base text and the rationale behind the choice of re-creative piece as a reading or interpretation.



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