CXC English A exam : Past paper type reading comprension questions (with suggested answers)


CXC past paper type reading comprehension questions (with suggested answers)

Here are CXC past paper type reading comprension questions with suggested answers. These are the types of questions that will appear in section 2, paper 2 of the English A exam.


5. Analyse the following poem:

5 People that live in these houses
are not neighbours. They keep thick
walls between them. The painted ones
of blocks and mortar can be jumped
by someone determined to get over.
Flower beds fringing a small lawn
run along them like ornate hems.
Then burglar bars of iron lacework
stretch a net if he goes further.
Those, though, can be holed by cuts.
15 The parapets that no one scales
are never seen. They are forged
of impregnable material shielding
the heart's gate like plates of armour.
No siege can conquer those defences.
20 Climbers who try, slide down unbreakable
glass. Privacy builds the barriers that
repel every assault ventured across
set borders; griefs and celebrations
kept tethered in their rightful compounds.

(a) What is the poet describing in stanza 1? Mention two features he has associated with it. (2 marks)

Suggested answer
The poet is describing people, the houses they live in and the means by which people try to ensure their safety. Two features associated with this are walls, and burglar bars.


(b) Say, in your own words, what the poet is speaking about in stanza 2 and give its main characteristics. ( 2 marks)

Suggested answer
The poet is speaking of human beings who treasure their privacy, never allowing others to get close to them. They shut out others, not with walls, but with emotional barriers and refuse to get to know others and to share in their joy and pain.


(c) In what way does the poet relate stanza 1 to stanza 2? (3 marks)

Suggested answer
The poet relates stanza 1 to stanza 2 by looking at houses and hearts as heavily guarded strongholds - one can be breached, the other not so.


(d) Name the devices used by the poet in stanza 1 and give one example of each. (3 marks)

Suggested answer
The devices used by the poet in Stanza 1 are metaphor and simile. There are several used and I will give an example of each.

Burglar bars of iron lacework - metaphor
Flower beds . . . like ornate hems - simile

Please try to identify other examples.


(e) What is the poet's main point in the poem? (3 marks)

Suggested answer
The poet's main point in the poem is to show that people, in securing themselves from danger, lock themselves away from others so that each individual's house is like a little island. In other words, we cut off contact/ feelings with persons who live next to us.


This question can be seen in its original here


6. Read the following passage carefully and answer the questions set on it.

In the following extract, the narrator and her sister have come from New York to visit their grandmother, Da-duh, in the Caribbean.

One morning toward the end of our stay, Da-duh led me into a part of the gully that we had never visited before, an area darker and more thickly overgrown than the rest, almost impenetrable. There in a small clearing amid the dense bush, she stopped before a royal palm, 7 which rose cleanly out of the ground, and 8 drawing the eye up with it, soared above the trees around it into the sky. It appeared to be 10 touching the blue dome of sky, to be flaunting its dark crown of fronds right in the blinding white face of the late morning sun.

Da-duh watched me a long time before she spoke, and then she said very quietly, All right, now, tell me if you've got anything this tall in that place you're from.

I almost wished, seeing her face, that I could have said no. Yes, I said. We've got buildings hundreds of times this tall in New York. There's one called the Empire State Building that's the tallest in the world. I can't describe how tall it is. Wait a minute. What's the name of that hill I went to visit the other day, where they have the police station?

You mean Bissex?

Yes, Bissex. Well, the Empire State Building is way taller than that.

You're lying now! She shouted, trembling with rage. Her hand lifted to strike me.

No, I'm not I said. It really is, if you don't believe me I'll send you a picture postcard of it soon as I get back home so you can see for yourself. But it's way taller than Bissex.

34 All the fight went out of her at that. The hand poised to strike me fell limp to her side, and as she stared at me, seeing not me but the building that was taller than the highest hill she knew, the small stubborn light in her eyes began to fail.

Finally, with a vague gesture that even in the midst of her defeat still tried to dismiss me and my world, she turned and started back through 43 the gully, walking slowly, her steps groping and uncertain, as if she were suddenly no longer sure of the way, while I followed triumphantly yet strangely saddened behind.

(From 'To Da-duh, In Memoriam' in Reena and Other Stories, Paule Marshall, The feminist Press, 1983)

(a) What characteristic of the royal palm is suggested by EACH of the following?

(i) "......rose cleanly out of the ground" (line 7)?

(ii) "......drawing the eye up with it" (line 8)?

(iii) "........flaunting its dark crown of fronds" (lines 10-11 )? (3 marks)

Suggested answer
Note: An important word in the question is "characteristic". For (i) to (iii), you are therefore required to write about a special quality of the royal palm. You should not explain or paraphrase each phrase.

(i) "Rose cleanly out of the ground" suggests that there is no root visible.

(ii) "Drawing the eye up with it" suggests that the royal palm is very tall.

(iii) "Flaunting its dark crown of fronds" suggests the pride/magnificence of the leaves.


(b) Why did Da-duh watch the girl for a long time before she spoke? (2 marks)

Suggested answer
Da-duh watched the girl for she wanted to observe her granddaughter's reaction to the royal palm.


(c) What does the writer suggest by the phrase All the fight went out of her . . . (line 34)? (2 marks)
Suggested answer
Note: The phrase must not be taken literally; in other words the writer is not speaking of a physical fight.

The writer suggests that Da-duh is humiliated and has acknowledged defeat.


(d) In lines 43-44, the writer states that Da-duh was walking slowly, her steps groping and uncertain, as if she were suddenly no longer sure of the way

Give the real reason why she was walking in that way. (2 marks)
Suggested answer
The real reason that Da-duh was walking that way was because she was confused/disturbed. She had lost confidence in her world.


(e) Explain why the author is strangely saddened (line 46) (2 marks)
Suggested answer
Note: You must pay attention to strangely.
The narrator is strangely saddened for Da-duh is hurt and the narrator feels responsible for having been the one to hurt her feelings.



7. Read the following poem carefully and answer the questions on it.

Canes by the Roadside

Time was
you tossed in a delirium
of whispers near the roadside:
now your last whisper
5 Is a treasury of lost sound.

Months ago
you were a handful
of green ribbons teasing the wind:
now dead strips tell
10 where the colour and the sparkle go.

In the cycle
of things you will submit
to the tyranny of shining teeth
and the remorseless murmur of the mill

15 and all your once-green pride will not console a bit.
Heaped up
in your pyre ready for
the yearly sacrifice to power
you lie robbed of the majesty

20 of your plotted earth
bared of the eagerness of your dream.

A.N. Forde

(a) In one sentence, say what the poem is about.
Suggested answer
a) The poem describes the life cycle of sugarcane.


(b) To what two senses does the poet appeal in stanzas one and two, respectively?
Suggested answer
(b The poet appeals to the senses of hearing and seeing in stanzas one and two, respectively.


(c) Explain the following:

(i) you tossed in a delirium (line 2)
(ii) you will submit to the tyranny of shining teeth (lines 12-13)
Suggested answer
(c) (i) The poet is describing the wildlike movement of the sugarcane in the wind.

(ii The sugarcane, as it were, has to submit to a greater power. It is taken to the factory/mill.


(d) Identify one figure of speech used in the poem.

You can see this question in its original here


8. Read the following passage carefully and answer the questions on it.

The countryside through which they were driving couldn't be called picturesque. Field upon field stretched all the way to the very horizon, gently sloping upward in some spots, then slanting downward again in others; small forests were visible here and there; ravines covered with low, scanty bushes wound through the terrain.

10 - The travellers came across shallow streams with barren banks; little villages with huts under dark, often decrepit roofs; churches, some of which were brick, their plaster peeling off in patches, others of which were wood, their crosses hanging askew and their graveyards overgrown. Arkadii's heart slowly sank.

To complete the picture, the peasants they encountered were all shabbily dressed, riding the sorriest little ponies; the willows near the road, whose trunks had been stripped of bark and whose branches had been snapped, stood along the roadside like ragged beggars; emaciated, shaggy cows, pinched with hunger, were greedily tearing at the grass along the ditches - they looked as though they'd just been snatched from the murderous clutches of some hideous monster.

The piteous aspect of the broken-down beasts in the midst of the lovely 34 - spring day evoked the white phantom of endless, dismal winter, with its storms, frosts, and snows ...No, thought Arkadii, this isn't a wealthy region.

... yet even as he reflected, the springtime began to take hold of him. Everything all round him was golden-green, everything - trees, bushes, and grass - was shimmering, gently stirring in wide ripples under the soft breath of the warm breeze; the endless trilling of larks poured forth from all sides; peewits either called out as they hovered over the low-lying meadows or silently ran across the mounds of grass; crows strutted among the half-grown spring corn, standing out against its tender verdure, and disappeared in the rye that had already turned slightly white, occasionally sticking their heads out from amid its hazy waves.

... He flung off his coat and turned toward ikolai Petrovich with a face so bright and boyish that his father gave him another hug. We're not far away now, Nikolai Petrovich remarked. We'll just have to go up this hill, and the house will be in sight.

Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons, Modern Library, 2001, pp. 12-13.

(a) Who are 'The travellers' referred to in line 10? (2 marks)
Suggested answer
(a) The travellers are Nikolai Petrovich and his son, Arkadii.


(b) What does the writer mean by the White phantom (line 35)? (2 marks)
Suggested answer
(b) The writer is referring to the snow and frost of the past winter.


(c) In what way does paragraph two complete the picture presented in paragraph one that the region was not wealthy? (2 marks)
Suggested answer
(c) The paragraph continues to describe the area; it deals with animals/creatures etc.


(d) What is the son's initial reaction to the countryside he was seeing? (1 mark) Suggested answer
(d) At first, the son is disappointed/sad.


(e) What is the son's later reaction to the countryside he was seeing? What word(s) in the passage illustrate this? (2 marks)
Suggested answer
(e) Later, the son is happy; The words, "his face so bright" illustrate this.


(f) Why does Petrovich make the statement in the last paragraph? (2 marks)
Suggested answer
(f) Petrovich wants his son to know that they have almost got to their destination.


Note that the answers are precise. One complaint from CSEC examiners is that some students write as much as a long paragraph for an answer. Then there are those students who copy directly from the passage. Of course, you will not earn marks should you do so.

You can find the original question here


9. Read the following passage carefully and answer the questions on it.

The street is wide and full of dust. In the white sunlight, it lies down passively. From the wide world come motor cars, lorries and vans, making a lot of noise, shaking up the white dust and leaving the air full of the smell of fume. Wooden donkey carts, creaking and shaking, rattle over the pieces of white marl lying about. Dogs fight in the grass, snarling and snapping angry white teeth. And little naked children, with rags for shirts, run about with discarded bicycle tyres, jumping over the furious dogs, the grass and the 8 stones. Sometimes, but sometimes only, the whole street goes suddenly quiet as though everything has stopped for a moment to listen to itself. But then it begins all over again.

And when the sun goes down the whole yard becomes a slab of darkness, 12 like a block of black ice. In the night-wrapped city, where the streets intersect, the light from lantern posts falls into yellow pools on dust and pebbles. And even the dogs bark with a different meaning. The night is like a door that closes in the afternoon, locking everything into a black room. Below in the streets, the boys and girls on bicycles ride past men and women walking. And a donkey cart would appear around the corner moving slowly. The cartman droops over the donkey's rump, half asleep. And as the 19 donkey walks, the cartman rolls forwards and backwards in rhythm with the hooves. And in the yard, the women sit on their doorsteps, looking out at the street, spitting, gossiping with their neighbours and laughing at themselves.

(a) In one word, how would you describe the scene in paragraph one (lines 1-10)? (1 mark)
Suggested answer
a) Your choice could come from the following: noisy, crowded, congested, busy; e.g. The scene in paragraph one is noisy, congested and busy.


(b) State two activities going on in the street, which are mentioned in paragraph one (lines 1-10). (2 marks)
Suggested answer
b) Two activites going on in the street which are mentioned in paragraph 1 are, traffic is moving; donkey carts are rattling along; children are playing; dogs are fighting. (pick only 2)


(c) By using vivid descriptions, the writer appeals to the sense of sight because he wants you to see the scenes which he is describing. In paragraph one (lines 1-10) to which other senses does the writer appeal? (2 marks)
Suggested answer
c) The writer appeals to the sense of smell. He also appeals to the sense of hearing.


(d) What is suggested by the phrase 'sometimes, but sometimes only' (line 8)?
(2 marks)
Suggested answer
d) The phrase suggests that this was not a frequent occurrence.


(e) 'And when the sun goes down the whole yard becomes a slab of darkness, like a block of black ice' (line 11). What is the writer describing in this sentence?
(2 marks)
Suggested answer
e) The writer is describing nightfall in the yard.


(f) From paragraph two (lines 11-21), quote two examples of figurative language that the writer uses. (2 marks)
Suggested answer
f) Again, there are several examples from which to choose - slab of darkness, like a block of black ice, night-wrapped city, the light from lantern posts falls into yellow pools on dust and pebbles, the night is like a door, locking everything into a black room.


(g) Why is the cartman described as rolling 'forwards and backwards in rhythm with the hooves' (line 19)? (2 marks)
Suggested answer
g) The cartman is described as rolling 'forwards and backwards in rythm with the hooves because he is tired, sleepy, unaware of his state.


Here you can find the original question here.

Here are more sample CXC reading comprehension questions



Christine Aberdeen (not verified) 9 February 2018 - 9:19am

Thanks for the help

Tyrarenae Harris (not verified) 3 May 2019 - 9:42pm

i might have been underestimating the English exam, this was a wake up calll and extremely helpful. whoever took the time out to set this up, mil gracias.

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