Study Help

Use your literature exam to improve your English marks: The Great Gatsby

by Betsy Tucker

Betsy Tucker is a very experienced English Home Language educator and author.

I am often asked, “How can I improve my English marks?” My answer is that you will get best results from focusing on your set books. You may say that they count only 80 marks; that the essay paper counts 100 and the language paper 70. (You remember that the remaining marks have been dealt with before you start your exams – 50 for oral and 100 for CASS.)

However – when you read your books, you are practising for the comprehension question; when you read with a pen in hand and make notes in the margin, and underline important passages, you are practising for the summary question, and your language skills improve all the time that you write notes. Remember that your tennis skills will improve if you spend time playing tennis and your writing skills improve if you spend time writing.

Let's use The Great Gatsby as an example:

Remember the characters
You must know the names of all the important characters. Your examiner will mark you down for referring to, e.g., Proctor’s wife rather than Elizabeth.
How will you remember the names? You can’t read all the books the night before the exam. On the back cover of each set book, write down the names, with a brief note as to who they are. For example:

The Great Gatsby
Nick – the narrator; lives in West Egg
Daisy – Nick’s distant cousin; lives in fashionable East Egg. Comes from great wealth.
Tom Buchanan – Daisy’s unfaithful husband. Fabulously wealthy, etc.

If you do this with all your books, you will be able to re-read these notes the night before the exam, and the details will come back to you.

Quick help for The Great Gatsby
The first question you must ask yourself is, “Is he great?” This may be an essay question, and it will certainly figure somewhere in the contextual question. Look at the evidence:

Gatsby’s strengths


Gatsby’s weaknesses


1. His childhood resolves help him to get ahead.
2. His decision to leave home early, helps him to break with the family pattern of being “shiftless and unsuccessful farm people”. (This “broke up” his family, however.)
3. He shows initiative in making contact with Dan Cody, and grasps the opportunities he offers.
4. He forms a deeply romantic and idealistic picture of Daisy; a dream he retains to the end.
5. He is faithful to her, although before meeting her, he was promiscuous.
6. He shows great bravery and skill in the First World War.
7. He buys a house for his father two years before his death and shows him great generosity. This he never boasts about.
8. He takes the blame for Myrtle’s death to save Daisy.
1. He lies about his past.
2. He gives himself a fake name – in fact, he invents a fake identity.
3. He fails to see that Daisy is shallow and inconstant.
4. He follows a “grail” (a holy object) and a green light at the end of a dock. Ultimately he is in love with a dream, not a girl.
5. A large part of Daisy’s charm is the fact that her voice is “full of money” and that her home is filled with the charms of affluence.
6. His own money was acquired by illegal means, i.e. illegal liquor (bootlegging) and stolen bonds (This only becomes clear after his death when Nick receives the phone-call, saying that an accomplice (young Parke) has been caught.)


Decide for yourself whether, like Nick, you think that “Gatsby turned out all right in the end” or whether (again like Nick) you feel that “he represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn”. There is no right or wrong answer, provided your argument is backed by an understanding of the text.

Find more help in this great X-kit Achieve Literature Study Guide: X-kit Achieve Literature Series: The Great Gatsby

Looking for The Great Gatsby in eBook format, visit

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