Comparative Study

In your comparative essay, you will be marked on how often you compare your texts. It is vital that you do not simply write summaries of your three texts. Equally, you will score poorly if you tackle each text in light of the question, but deal with the texts individually, without making comparisons.

With this in mind, the following list of phrases should help you to keep your focus on comparing, not simply discussing. Become familiar with the phrases and use them in all your comparative essays so that it becomes automatic for you.

-In both X and Y, we see (issue) but in Z a very different situation arises
-This is similar to what happens in X
-This is different to what happens in X
-Much the same thing happens in X
-X and Y deal with this in a very straightforward manner, but in Z a much more unusual approach is taken
-(something) happens in X, unlike in Y where (something else) happens
-This is a common occurance in both X and Y. Z, on the other hand, does not feature (whatever it is you’re discussing)
-This issue of (name issue) is dealt with in both X and Y, but the two texts / two authors approach it in radically different ways
-On the other hand, the same theme is considered to be a positive thing in Y
-The ending of X is clearcut and unambiguous. However, the final scenes of both Y and Z are much more open-ended
-Both X and Y begin with a dark and dramatic setting, while the setting of Z is much more positive.
-This mirrors what happens in X when (character does something)
This style / issue / attitude is typical of both X and Y.
-X shows us …. while Y shows us a completely different scene
-The use of a first person narrator in X gives a very different reading experience when compared to Y, which uses third person narration
-We see this again in X, where (something happens)
-This idea is repeated in X
-This idea is turned on its head in X
-These values are the polar opposite to the values exhibited in X
-Overall, the outlook in X is positive, but in Y the positivity is tempered by…
-Once again, we see a generally darker approach in X when compared with Y
-X and Y both end with positive scenes, but Z has a remarkably negative denouement
-A similar approach is taken in X
-Unlike in X, which approaches the theme directly through the main characters, Y takes a more subtle approach, using subplots to explore the theme.

How to structure your answer

It is crucial that you structure your comparative answer carefully and logically. The question is not testing your memory of the minor details of the text, so writing summaries is more or less pointless. Instead, you are being tested on your ability to draw comparisons and contrasts between two or more texts under a given heading (the mode).

You must read the question very carefully. The examiners are becoming stricter when dealing with essays that deal generally with a mode, but don’t engage directly wiht the specifics of the question (i.e. when a student writes an essay they have learned off, with only minimal regard to the question asked).

Each paragraph should contain reference to each text and make links between them. It’s not enough to simply explain how, for example, the theme is introduced in each text. You must compare how each text has introduced the text, using the phrasing above.

A useful way to avoid writing summaries is to make use of key moments. These are important or dramatic points in the text where something significant happens to advance the plot or affect a main character. Assume your examiner is familiar with the text and resist the urge to explain events leading up to the key moment. One sentence is the maximum you should allow for introductory explanations. After that, you need to be directly addressing the question.

At the start of your answer, you must clearly set out your three texts. This can be done as simply as, “The three texts I have studied are X by Author 1, Y by Author 2 and Z by Author 3.” It’s important to name both title and author, and vital that you spell all of this correctly!

After you have identified your texts, you must address the question. When choosing your question (remember, you will have four to choose from, so make a careful selection) you should have underlined the key words of the question. Make use of these in your introduction to alert the examiner to the fact that you’re not just rehashing an essay you did for class.