School Books

Exam Success: English Short Stories prescribed for Grade 12

Author/s: S Louw, A Stephenson
Publisher: Oxford University Press SA
Reviewed by: Fiona deVilliers from The Independent Education magazine
ISBN 13: 9780195990454

Oxford University Press's (OUP) study guides for Grade 12 are available for almost every examinable Matric subject. We reviewed their guides for English Literature students and teachers.

In true OUP style the books are highly accessible, printed in large format, with plenty of extra guidance in the way of bite-sized information chunks in the margins. In accordance with Education Department requirements, there's also plenty of explanation in each book for both teachers and students with regard to the acquisition of study skills, and how to deal with the various components of literature examinations. Yet, pleasingly, the authors do not fall into the trap of providing too much information in that regard: they remain acutely aware of the guides' central purpose to enable students to practise answering the kinds of questions that are bound to come up on the big day.

Rich diversity of stories

The short story guide does not reproduce each of the stories prescribed by the syllabus for student study; rather, it provides narrative outlines of each and analysis of setting, narrative technique and theme and character. The authors then move on to provide extensive examples of both contextual and essay questions, as well as extension activities. Having moved away from direct classroom interaction, I was pleased to note the rich diversity of stories that Grade 12s must now read and understand from Lionel Abrahams and Ray Bradbury to Guy de Maupassant and Gina Mhlope.

Guidelines to 107 poems

The poetry guide exacted more sympathy from me for Grade 12 students, concealing as it does between its covers guidelines to understanding 107 poems (naturally, students do not have to 'learn' each one). The sheer density of this literature component necessitates a section at the start of the guide tided 'Historical background and poetry forms', and I was interested to see that the syllabus does not seem to have changed much there still are the 19th century Romantics, and the 20th century soldiers, side-by-side with older European and newer African giants.

In addition to a similar approach to studying poems (i.e. poems are not reproduced but intent and form are rather summarised), in this book the authors must also provide guidance to both Home Language and First Additional Language students; which involves more detailed explanation of terms and approach. For both examination groups, Stephenson, Hoy and co have provided a wonderful guide to understanding and 'analysing' poems, including coverage of form, themes and poetic devices. Provided that teachers use the guide properly, I am sure that students will feel confident enough to attempt most forms of poetry, both 'seen' and 'unseen', in an exam context.

Speaking of teachers, each guide from OUP includes previous examinations at the back, as well as answers for each question asked, marking rubrics and comprehensive indexes. In short, OUP has provided a detailed helping hand to all those in English classrooms - proving, hopefully, that the dense English syllabus can provide enjoyment and elucidation.