Specifications that use this resource:

Subject specific vocabulary

The following subject specific vocabulary provides definitions of key terms used in AQA's AS and A-level English Literature A specifications.


Historicism is a way of approaching the study of literature which gives particular weight to specific historical contexts. Both of the two examined components have the methodologies of historicism at their centre.

In Component One, the theme of love is explored in a diachronic way – i.e. across time. In Component Two, some of the methods of historicism are used to explore either the literature of World War One and its Aftermath, or the literature of Modern Times (1945 to the present day). Here (Component Two) the approach to history is synchronic – i.e. within a narrower and clearly defined time period.

Through these different but complementary approaches to historicism, students understand that notions of tradition – and changing traditions – in literary study are in fact themselves context-bound and locked into changing critical and cultural approaches.


When used in AS and A-level English Literature A questions, the term ‘significance’ has a very specific use and gives access to Assessment objectives (AOs) 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Its use here derives from semiotics and involves understanding the idea of signification. In this specification, 'significance' involves weighing up all the potential contributions to how a text can be analysed: for example, through the way the text is constructed and written; through text specific contexts which can be relevantly applied; through connecting the text(s) to other texts; and then finding potential meanings and interpretations.


With questions addressing all the AOs, students sometimes need to be reminded that they must consider AO2 as part of their wider discussion of the literary debates they are engaging with. The reference to 'presentation' in questions reminds students of the need to consider relevant aspects of structure and language use, especially as it relates to the genre (prose/poetry/drama) that they are working on (AO2).

Importantly, students need to understand that a drama text is a very specific type of literary writing: studied on the page, but written for performance.

Core set texts

Core set texts in A-level Components 1 and 2 have specific questions set on them.

Chosen comparative set texts

Chosen comparative set texts in A-level Components 1 and 2 are used for the questions which ask for comparative work and so do not have specific questions set on them.