In each of the comparative essays (H472/01 Section 2 & H472/02 Section 2), AO3 carries a weighting of 50%. In the assessment of AO3, we are not just looking for historical, cultural or social contexts; connections made to wider reading within the topic area are also credited. Students could reference additional texts – equally they could access AO3 by demonstrating general knowledge about the era and providing context for their text. We are not prescriptive about this and examiners will credit any valid approach.
Although AO3 is dominant in these essay questions, this doesn’t mean that half of the essay content needs to be information on historical, social or biographical contexts. Assessment of AO3 is all about how well contextual information is integrated into the wider argument to support the reading of the texts, rather than giving us a history essay. It is the quality of the contextual information that is included, rather than quantity, even where the AO is dominant. In other words, examiners aren’t looking for students to tell them everything they know about Chaucer and the Middle Ages, for example, but are looking for how well students can select and use the contextual information they do know to support their readings of The Merchant’s Prologue and Tale.
We often see students privileging historical or biographical context over a literary one. While these contexts are helpful, they can lead some students to provide overly generalised bolted-on paragraphs on context which aren’t specifically relevant to the texts or question, or force too much of a biographical reading onto the texts without considering other readings. A helpful approach is for students to consider how their studied texts fit within a literary context/topic area, referring to relevant wider reading etc. and using this to help draw connections between the texts.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with students referring to historical, social, biographical contexts etc, but the key is that they select contexts that are relevant to their reading of the texts in line with the specific question they are answering.
When looking at context, students could also consider the political or social contexts in which the text was produced versus the impact of the current social and political context on their reading of the text.