The After the Bomb module is the most popular choice for Extension 1 English, so it can be hard to stand out and achieve an E4. Knowing your content and being able to effectively organize and structure your ideas in the exam is key. Here are some base tips to get you started on the right path in E1.
1) Immerse yourself in the time period.
You are studying an entire period of literature, so really get into it. For After the Bomb (AtB), it can be defined as the time between the bomb on Hiroshima 1945 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It’s a significant amount of time. A lot of stuff happened. So if your teacher hasn’t walked you through the major happenings of the era, just familiarize yourself with major events.
For example the Cuban Missile Crisis, American presidencies, the Space Race, the Arms Race, Vietnam, etc. Watching a few documentaries can help with this, or some Crash Course History videos.
I wrote a few pages of reference notes on what the various conflicts were and the overall timeline of what happened – ie. Communism vs. Democracy, West vs. East, USA vs. Russia, etc. This knowledge is the foundation for everything else, because the events are what inspired the ways of thinking.
Once you have a general idea of what happened, you can more easily understand and appreciate the more specific history within the period. Whenever I was exposed to any content that from or about 1945-89, I would try and analyse it and relate it back to what else I knew.
Listen to the music, watch the TV shows, read about authors, read more of their books, YouTube some news broadcasts or interviews – anything to help submerge yourself into the Cold War period will give you a greater amount of content to work with in exams and ensures you know your stuff.
2) Focus on your interests.
I was really fascinated by the aftermath of the atomic bomb. Because of my interests in medicine, I explored the way that Japan and America dealt with the conflict of scientific progression and the morality within the emotion of people. I found this niche whilst watching YouTube videos of the survivors of Hiroshima.
I came across a 20 minute long video of American doctors documenting those who had fallen ill after the atomic bomb. Japanese children, adults and elderly were filmed as they stood displaying their symptoms. It left a large impact on me, and so I wrote about the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission for my creative writing. I also chose Grave of the Fireflies as one of my related texts, and chose to read many Japanese short stories and novels of the time (i.e. the prescribed text An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro)
By focusing in on these interests, I was able to deepen my knowledge on a specific aspect of the Cold War era. Not only does this enhance your entire understanding of the module, but it also allows you to bring some stand-out points to an essay and make the ideas you write about a little more unique. But when being specific, do make sure that you can relate it back to the big picture easily- don’t restrict yourself.
3) Become more focused on ideas than evidence.
Unlike Advanced English, the essays within After the Bomb are mostly idea-driven and don’t rely on techniques as much. Techniques and literary devices are not written about as extensively as in Advanced. You can get away with cutting out a few techniques. Whilst I never cut them fully out of my essays, I could only have one technique discussed for a text with a couple of supporting quotes, and that would be suffice. Because with AtB, the focus of the module is the ways of thinking during the time. So in essays, ensure that you first define what that way of thinking was – then go into the text and how it shows this particular idea.
Here’s an example from one of my essays:
A sense of hope is a driving factor for humanity, an underlying emotion present within our fundamental human nature that compels perseverance. Whilst this is a strong concept within The Grave of the Fireflies, it ultimately accepts that this hope is lost within the despair of the post-bomb landscape. This is epitomized by the use of fireflies as a metaphor for the main characters- light symbolizing the hope of rebuild and the insect’s brief life cycle acting as a parallel to the shortened life span of the family.
This was a first paragraph to an essay about how the bomb questioned humanity and human beliefs. I chose to focus on hope, and did a 4 paragraph structure that explored what each text said about hope. The first sentence defines the idea, the second relates it to the text and the third gives evidence. But the remainder of my paragraph focuses heavily on that idea, and that’s what can distinguish an E1 essay from an Advanced essay.
4) Be flexible.
This is absolutely essential to do well in E1, because of how damn specific the questions and stimulus can be. Being flexible with essays all comes down to how you organize your ideas. Mind-maps are fantastic way to approach the major concepts in AtB, and can help with choosing the best to fit the question.
I remember having a mega-mind-map of After the Bomb ideas in my folder. Even just a list of points and sub-points expanding on these concepts. As I did with Advanced, I made A4 sized mind-maps of each text and their main ideas relating to AtB. Then I have a table of techniques and their listed effect, along with collected quotes for each. This organization made essay writing a lot easier, and can also help with creative writing by giving some inspiration.
Being flexible with creative writing is about practice. Developing your skills to obviously incorporate the stimulus whilst keeping originality to your story. Try visualizing and creating a character that you put in different situations (these situations being determined by the stimulus). What do they look like? What do they say? What are their quirky mannerisms? This can help define a strong voice for your character and writing can become a lot easier.
My final piece of advice would be to learn some kick-ass phrases and words that make you sound like an E1 student. And they’re just generally fun to say. You can memorize these and slot them into an essay and feel super proud because it sounds super sophisticated. Here’s a fun little list:
‘emotional degradation of the Cold War world’