At Edusites English it is our mission to provide you with insightful and relevant English CPD to drive your team expertise and results strategy. Click below to read about GCSE English Language and Literature AQA, Edexcel, Eduqas and OCR, and IGCSE Language and Literature Edexcel and CIE.

From GCSE to A Level

From GCSE to A Level

Amongst Edusites' many worthy aims and ideals is this. "It's that pause and consideration we want students to experience". I couldn't agree more. The best tasks are the ones we set ourselves and which require and effort: research, consideration and judgement.

Consider this passage from near the opening of Evelyn Waugh's 'Sword of Honour', the final part of the Trilogy of the same name.

'In his lonely condition he found more than solace, positive excitement, in the art of writing. The further he removed from human society and the less he attended to human speech, the more did words, printed and written, occupy his mind. The books he read were books about words. As he lay unshriven, his sleep was never troubled by the monstrous memories which might have been supposed to lie in wait for him in the dark. He dreamed of words and woke repeating them as though memorizing a foreign vocabulary. Ludovic had become an addict of that potent intoxicant, the English language.
Not laboriously, luxuriously rather, Ludovic worked over his note-books, curtailing, expanding, polishing; often consulting Fowler, not disdaining Roget; writing and rewriting in his small clerkly hand on the lined sheets of paper which the army supplied; telling no one what he was up to, until at length there were fifty foolscap pages, which he sent to Sir Ralph, not asking his opinion, but instructing him to find a publisher.'

'Addicts of that potent intoxicant, the English language' are exactly what we want you to become!

From GCSE to A Level

Edusites has more than 80 individual vocabulary exercises for GCSE to A Level. Here we have exercises 1-5 in both printable and slideshow editions as they appear on our main site.

Edusites New Vocabulary Builder slides example here printable pdf here

Major Ludovic is one of many bizarre but entertaining characters we meet in Waugh's narrative of the Second World War. He has, unknown to the authorities (who have promoted him from the ranks) deserted his regiment in battle and subsequently contrived the deaths of two of his comrades. (Hence the reference to 'monstrous memories') In order to preserve this secret he has become increasingly reclusive.

Sir Ralph (Brompton) is Ludovic's former lover, an ostentatious aristocratic communist.

Fowler and Roget (as I'm sure you know) are, respectively, a dictionary and a thesaurus. They are recommended for what we are going on to do here.

From GCSE to A Level

The exercises we've set for you overlap the range of vocabulary you'll need to be successful at GCSE and go on to help you develop a range of vocabulary that will be useful at A-Level. (And a few that are more difficult than that!)

What aspects of the passage I've quoted are typical of GCSE and which are more clearly A-Level?

In GCSE we would expect to find:-

  • the clear combination of description and narrative: this is the man; and this is what he did.
  • the very balanced, pellucid sentence structures in the first paragraph: there are six sentences. Four are simple, two have very clearly demarcated clauses. There appears to be no room for ambiguity at all.
  • There are some straightforward alliterative and assonantal effects: 'monstrous memories' and 'laboriously, luxuriously' create contrasting but specific effects.
  • His obsession with words is expressed in an unambiguous simile 'memorizing a foreign vocabulary'.
  • Even the ironic juxtaposition of committing the 'art of writing' to the 'lined sheets of paper the army supplied' is within the ambit of a strong, confident GCSE student.

But for A-level we need to go further. To be confident of success you need to understand every word of the set texts.

  • 'Shriven' is not a common word: it wasn't when Waugh chose it. It is an archaism and there to make a complex point about Ludovic which we will eventually get to. 'Shrive' is for a priest to 'hear a Christian's confession and give absolution'. Or forgiveness. When we get to 'absolution' in the dictionary we are told that it is one of the 'sacraments': a rite 'ordained by Jesus Christ that is held to be a means of giving divine grace or to be a symbol of spiritual reality'. So what very complex effect and irony was Waugh after here, by choosing an obsolete word packed with layers of religious significance? Namely that Ludovic is not a man of prayer or conscience: the traditions he comes from are entirely secular, shallow and ignorant. Hence both the ironies of such a person aspiring to be a serious writer OR that supposedly intelligent, educated people ("Sir Ralph', 'a publisher') will treat him as such.
  • The syntactical arrangement of the second paragraph is complex, to put it mildly. There is a main clause 'Ludovic worked over his note books' and three dependent clauses which tell us exactly how he did that; and two final clauses which tell us what the outcomes of that were: 'sent to Sir Ralph.... find a publisher.' It is a huge contrast to the syntax and sentence structure we noted above in the first paragraph. And clearly for a purpose. The paragraph in itself mimics the way in which writers work going back and forth with their words and the growing sense of confidence and sureness they have (or at least Waugh claims) as the work reaches completion. Ludovic, then, is doing as professional writers should. When we find out what he eventually produces (a 'Mills and Boone' style romantic potboiler) we can retrospect on the irony of what is presented here: a mockery of the artistic impulse and creative process.
  • The ludicrously misplaced confidence in his abilities is emphasised at the start of this: 'not disdaining Roget' is a clever double negative suggesting arrogance rather than respect.
  • 'Foolscap' was not an archaism for Waugh: the A4, A5 sizes of paper etc. were not introduced until the 1970s. But we should note that there is apparently no need for this technical term until we learn that such paper was watermarked, literally with a fool's cap: Ludovic's mirror image, perhaps.
  • And further arrogance suggested in the reference 'not asking his opinion but instructing......'

In short, the differences are in the depth of knowledge that is expected in the level of understand of the words and combinations of words that writers use. Not that you can't follow the text as a straightforward narrative, or see that Ludovic is a very odd character, just as it is perfectly possible to enjoy a Shakespeare play as a narrative adventure. The deeper reading of this passage, however, shows that here Waugh has created a type that he challenges his readers to utterly detest: a Godless, sexually deviant poser with a dark and reprehensible criminal past and, above all that, a scion of the lower classes.

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