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Sqa English Critical Essay Questions

Analysis Questions

Understanding questions ask you what the writer is saying, and analysis questions ask you why the writer is saying it. You don’t get any points for using quotes for analysis questions, but instead the marks are related to your quality of analysis. We can divide the Analysis questions into four different types. Again, as with the Understanding questions, keep an eye out for an “A” in the margin to let you know that this is an analysis question.


Imagery is an extremely common Analysis questions, asking you why a writer used a particular word. Imagery questions rely on metaphors or similes. To answer an imagery question you need to refer to what the image is literally referring to, as well as its metaphorical meaning. If a writer says that his love for something is “as deep as the ocean”, he is using the idea of the ocean being large and deep to express his feelings. To answer an imagery question, think about what the writer is literally describing, and how this may be relevant to the wider point he/she is making.

Word Choice

For Word Choice questions, you have to answer why a writer used a particular word in the sentence. With Word Choice, a writer will either be working hard to make a particular word fit into a sentence, or making it stand out. To make it fit in, you can use techniques such as alliteration (where two or more words start with the same letter), assonance (repetition of a vowel sound in two or more words), or sibilance (repetition of an ‘s’ sound in two or more words).

To make a word stand out, a writer may use a technique such as onomatopoeia (where a word sounds like the noise it is describing) to grab the reader’s attention. Alternatively, he may throw an informal/slang word into a list of formal words (or the reverse). As you read the section of the passage, look for words that stand out. Once you have spotted them (most likely you will have underlined them in your first read through) you now have to think what the writer is emphasising by making it stand out.

Sentence Structure

Sentence structure questions are based on the way that a particular sentence is put together. The most common example of a sentence structure answer is a list. Putting a list into a sentence helps to emphasise the range or number of options. Often a writer will do this to highlight a large range of problems, or a large number of arguments against something. Look for whether the list finishes with a climactic word, with the most extreme example at the end. Again, remember to say why the writer has used a list.

Parenthesis refers to either the use of brackets (like this) or the use of dashes – like this – which allow the writer to make an additional point without changing the core meaning of the sentence. Think about why the writer is including this information, or why he is including it as additional information, rather than as a main point.

Inversion refers to the reversal of the order of words in a sentence. Usually English follows a Subject Verb Object (SVO) order, such as ‘John kicked the dog’. John is the subject of the sentence, the object is the dog, and the verb is the kicking. A writer may reverse the order of a sentence to add emphasis to the word he brings to the start, or to delay the final word and so add suspense. For example, if we were trying to solve the mystery of who kicked the dog, the following sentence would add drama: “The dog was kicked by John”. If we were trying to work out who John kicked, then saying “The dog was kicked by John” would emphasise that it was the dog being kicked. In answering your own question, think about whether it is the first or last word that the author is trying to emphasise, and why.

The length of a sentence is something that a lot of students overlook. A writer who uses a lot of long sentences, and then a short one will often use the short one to emphasise a blunt point. For example, a writer may use a series of long sentences to make an argument, and then knock it all down with one short one. Alternatively, a writer may ‘balance’ two halves of a sentence, repeating a word or idea at both ends. A writer may also echo an idea from a previous sentence to emphasise his point.

Rhetorical questions are usually easy to spot. If a writer uses a question mark, it usually is a rhetorical question (since it’s not possible to get an answer). A writer will use a rhetorical question to make a point rather than to get an answer. For example, if the writer says, “Where will this madness end?”, he/she is not looking for a date or time, but instead to highlight that a series of improbable events have taken place, and aren’t showing signs of stopping. A rhetorical question is good device in engaging the reader whilst making a point.

A regular repetition of a phrase is usually designed to emphasise a point, and to show how important it is in a number of different circumstances. However, sometimes, a writer might be a bit trickier than that, by repeating a phrase in different contexts. For example, he might say that one side of an argument are pleading with people to “think of the children”. Later on, he might say that the other side are ‘thinking of the children’ or even that they should ‘think of the adults’. This repetition may be simply to entertain, although it is usually to highlight that both sides of the argument have something in common, or just to link together different arguments. It’s up to you to decide why.


For tone questions, there are really two parts. Firstly, you have to identify the writer’s overall tone (or the mood he/she establishes). Secondly, you have to show how the writer does this, through the use of examples (and quotes taken from the passage). Look out for the following tones – although be careful not to just fall into the trap of describing it as a ‘sarcastic’ tone. Some students instinctively write this without knowing fully what it means.

Emotive/Angry – a tone that tries to create an emotional response in the reader. Lookout for phrases that paint one side as ‘evil’ and one side as ‘good’.

Humorous/Informal/Entertaining – if the writer is clearly trying to entertain rather than be too serious. Lookout for ‘funny’ phrases.

Hyperbolic – When a writer deliberately uses exaggerated language to make a point. For example, if a writer describes something as ‘the greatest thing that has ever happened’, that would be hyperbolic.

Ironic – Ironic situations refer to situations where the outcome is the opposite of what was intended. For example, if I bought some flowers to make a room look nice, but I dropped the pot and spilled soil on the floor, the room would be messy. That would be ironic. If a writer describes someone’s intentions, and then says that the outcome was the opposite of what they intended, you could highlight that as irony. Be careful though, irony is not the same as sarcasm, which is often a deliberate under- or overstatement of an opinion “I’d love to sit through that boring meeting” or “I’d hate to eat all of that delicious food.” Irony and sarcasm are used to entertain as well as to emphasise the key point being made (that the meeting is boring or that the food is delicious).

After you've read through how to do Analysis questions, now have a look at our flowchart, which will walk you through how to answer (almost) every question.

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The almond tree is rife with biblical meanings. Moses’ brother, Aaron, carried a rod cut from an almond tree. When almond blossoms and leaves suddenly sprouted on the rod, this miracle was attributed as a sign that God had chosen Aaron and his tribe to be His priests. Almonds were mentioned often in the Bible, possibly because they are native to the Middle East and would have been widely available during biblical times.

Priestly Meaning

During the many years in the wilderness, the people of the Lord quarreled between themselves trying to determine who should be the priests and directly serve God. So, representatives of all 12 tribes brought their rods and placed them within the tabernacle. The next day, when Moses went into the tabernacle, he discovered that Aaron’s rod which was cut from an almond tree had miraculously burst into flowers. This meant that God had chosen Aaron and his family, from the tribe of Levites, to be His priests.

Old Age


In Ecclesiastes, the almond is indicative of old age. This is an apt description since the almond bursts into flowers in late winter—and winter is often considered anthropomorphically as an old man. The almond blooms are borne on naked stems before the leaves emerge, and the old blossoms often look like white snowflakes when they fall to the ground.

Watchful Tree

The almond tree is also referred to as a “watchful” tree by the Prophet Jeremiah when he talks to God in a vision. Yahweh asks Jeremiah what he sees and Jeremiah mentions that he sees “a branch of an almond tree.” Yahweh answers: “You have seen well: for I keep watch over my word to give effect to it” (Jer.1:11-12).

Rod of Authority

In their book “Rod of an Almond Tree in God’s Master Plan,” Peter Michas and Robert Vander Maten propose that the Rod of Authority made from the Tree of Life was passed down through the ages by the biblical patriarchs. Eventually, King David planted it and centuries later it formed the cross on which Jesus was crucified. They believe that Revelation 22:2 states that the relic of the cross will reappear and flower. This will be a sign of God’s authority just as it was in the days of Aaron.


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Barry WrightTagged Almond Tree, Higher English, Poetry