Of Mice and Men: John Steinbeck
Once again, this was an overwhelmingly popular choice of text: little wonder, perhaps, as it continues to engage and challenge the widest range of candidates who often produce uplifting and engaging responses.
This question elicited a very wide spectrum of responses. Weaker responses focused only on the passage with no reference to the novel as a whole; often, these responses were overly imaginative and found symbols in everything and anything with no convincing supporting reference. However, better responses were sometimes hugely sophisticated and showed excellent powers of close textual analysis. Minute details were related to philosophical concepts with panache; candidates ranged round the novel with confidence to explore their ideas. There was some really sensitive analysis of the image of the heron and the water snake.
This was a very popular question: one senior examiner commented that candidates "performed brilliantly". There were, of course, pitfalls: some candidates lost focus on sadness other than very briefly at the beginning and the end, then wrote about loneliness, the dream, events and/or characters. The best responses stopped and thought, then went on to challenge the premise of the task and identify some optimistic features: friendship, loyalty and the ending suggesting some sort of better future despite the inevitability of the final tragedy. An interesting observation was that only hardened Carlson and those without a dream like Slim could be happy. Most candidates, at all levels, considered Steinbeck's methods with confidence; better candidates were very skilful in this area.