Page 2 - High School English II: Reading Study Guide for the STAAR test

Passage Type 2: Reading Literary Texts

You will be reading literary texts as part of the STAAR® assessment. This means fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama. A total of 13 of the 34 multiple-choice reading questions on the English II test target your skills with literary texts. That’s 38% of the reading assessment; this section is a big one! Here are the concepts you are responsible for knowing that were not dealt with in the English I review:

Working with Genres

Within the genres of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama, you will be asked to analyze archetypes in a variety of literature types and relate the figurative language the author uses to its historical and cultural setting. Here are some things to keep in mind regarding archetypes:


An archetype is a recurring symbol or motif in a piece of literature with which the reader can relate in some way. It is a universal pattern of behavior that transcends time or place. When authors use archetypes, it is to help the reader connect with the characters and the situation the characters are going through because they recognize something of themselves in the characters or their challenges. Archetypes are considered “classic” characters who follow “classic” storylines regardless of the setting of the story. These characters endure journeys, encounter challenges, battle evil, or have a fall from grace wherein they learn a valuable lesson. Here are some of the more commonly used archetypes:

The Flawed (or Tragic) Hero— This is a common archetype found in literature from around the world. He or she is basically a good person trying to do good in the world but possessing some personality quirk or “defect” that prevents them from being entirely successful in their quest to help others. They are considered “good” overall, but they are not perfect, and the audience recognizes and sympathizes with those imperfections.

The Hero’s Journey— This plotline for literature includes a hero’s journey, sometimes literal, sometimes metaphorical, that changes the character in some way. Through their emotional or physical journey, they undergo some level of change in their attitude, behavior, or outlook and “grow” as a result of that journey.

The Mother (or Father) Figure— This character is generally a nurturing character who guides another character (often the hero) through challenges. In some cases, the mother figure is “evil” (e.g., the wicked stepmother in Cinderella) who, instead of guiding and helping others, sets up challenges or obstacles for them. The same kind of nurturing, guiding force (or evil obstacle to success) may also be seen in father figure characters.

The Villain— This character’s purpose is to serve as the opposing force to the hero. The villain represents bad or evil and must be defeated by the “good” hero.

The Innocent Youth— The innocent youth archetype is universally recognized as someone who is young or inexperienced, with a certain naiveté that may prove dangerous if others recognize and take advantage of it. While often young in age, the innocent youth archetype might also be “innocent” because he or she does not have a lot of worldly experience, although the character may not be presented as a child.

Figurative Language

Figurative language is the “artistic” language an author uses to create imagery and engage the reader. Elements like metaphors, similes, hyperbole, symbolism, and personification are examples of figurative language that you should be on the lookout for. Consider their purpose and why an author may have chosen to use them as the test will ask you why they are there. For example, it may say, “The whale in paragraph 4 symbolizes ____,” and you would need to determine which answer choice correctly identifies the symbolism of the whale. Or, “In paragraph 12, the author uses the shell as a metaphor to show ____,” and you would need to understand what the metaphor was and what purpose it serves in the text.


The STAAR® test may include examples of poetry for you to analyze. Look at both what the poem says and how it says it. That is to say, consider the content of the poem (what is it about? what is its theme?) and the structure of the poem (its meter, rhyme scheme, use of imagery and figurative language, line length, punctuation, and capitalization). Sometimes, the way it looks on the page visually can give the reader clues about its purpose, so look at how it is presented in addition to what it says. A question might ask you why the poet chose to start a stanza in the middle of a sentence and how that structural choice relates to the content of the poem, or the question may ask you to identify the theme expressed in the poem. You may also be asked about the patterns of rhyme and sound used by a poet to achieve a particular effect (known as prosody). So understanding both content and structure for the poetry questions is important.


Going back to the “identification and understanding of archetypes,” the STAAR® test may ask you to analyze how an archetype presented in a drama affects the plot of the play. You may also be asked to identify the motif(s) of a play and how those motifs affect the audience. This means that you must be able to identify archetypes and motifs within a dramatic setting.


The skills assessed using fictional texts in the English II test include your ability to not only read and understand the content, but to make inferences and draw conclusions that you can then support with textual evidence. You will need to be able to analyze isolated scenes pulled from a a longer text than those used on the English I test. You will need to understand their contribution to the overall story, identify and analyze the characters’ moral dilemmas (understanding they may be masquerading as archetypes), and evaluate the connection between forms of narration and tone in works of fiction.

Scenes and Plots

The testing constraints mean that you won’t be given an entire novel to read for the test. Instead, you will get excerpts of a longer text and one of the assessments of these fictional texts is your ability to analyze a small piece of a larger text and determine its contribution to the whole. You should be provided with enough background information to be able to discern how this scene affects the overall plot of the text.

Moral Dilemmas

There are some dilemmas (a serious conflict or problem where you have to choose from multiple less than ideal options) that are universal, regardless of time or space. The STAAR® test asks you to analyze moral dilemmas faced by different characters from works of fiction from around the globe. This means being able to analyze the moral dilemmas faced by people in countries or cultures that may be different from yours. But, because these moral dilemmas are “universal”, you should be able to relate to and understand the struggles of the characters.

Narration and Tone

When authors create narrators through which to tell their stories, they have several options. The author’s choice of narrator affects the tone and that is one of the things to be aware of when reading a text. An unreliable narrator, who may be getting their information second-hand or who is biased in some way, will affect the tone of the text and your trust of that narrator (and therefore the text). A first-person narrator who is actually part of the action may be reliable, or that narrator may have blinders on as he or she relates the information from only one perspective. An author may choose to use an omniscient third-person narrator so that the tone is less biased and more neutral. As you analyze the author’s choice of narrator, consider how it affects the tone of the text and your interaction with it, as the reader.

Literary Nonfiction

Literary nonfiction is writing that employs literary or figurative elements to tell about real events. Examples of literary nonfiction include texts like autobiographies, biographies, speeches, or essays. On the English II test, you will need to be able to analyze and evaluate the role of syntax and diction on a text and the effects of voice, tone, and imagery on examples of literary nonfiction.


This term refers to the way words are arranged in a text. Authors don’t just haphazardly throw words together—each serves a purpose and is thoughtfully placed to create a unified whole. Syntax refers to the creation and coordination of phrases and clauses into meaningful sentences.


Diction refers to an author’s word choice. With literally thousands of words to choose from, why does an author select one option over another that means the same thing? Diction is carefully selected by an author based on his or her purpose and audience.


Authors use their “voice” to “talk” to the reader. An author’s voice is that person’s individual writing style and is determined by his or her stylistic choices in delivering a message to the reader. From diction to punctuation, syntax to structure, all of these elements help to create an author’s “voice.”


The tone of a text is the “attitude” an author seems to have when writing about a particular subject. The tone is created by diction and syntax and can affect how the reader responds to the text. If the author’s tone is aggressive or mean-spirited, the reader may be turned off and stop reading. If the tone is engaging or funny or entertaining, the reader will probably want to continue to read the text, even if the reader doesn’t necessarily agree with the author’s position.


This term refers to the words an author uses to help the reader create a mental picture or “image.” Imagery makes a text more exciting to read. The readers can better engage with it because they can “see” what is being described. Imagery is language that appeals to any of a reader’s five senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound.

Sensory Language

Sensory language is language that appeals to the reader’s senses. In the same way that imagery helps the reader “see” what is happening or what is being described, sensory language helps the reader experience it and place him- or herself in the action. Your understanding of these sensory language elements may be tested:


Symbolism refers to the author’s use of symbols to represent bigger ideas. Symbolism may be as simple as an object representing a bigger or more intangible idea (like the U.S. flag representing freedom: technically it’s a piece of cloth, but symbolically it means much more) or an action representing an idea (like a handshake representing friendship). The words a character speaks may be a form of symbolism, so be on the lookout for its use everywhere and ask yourself if there may be a deeper meaning hidden beneath the surface.


An allegory is a story or text with dual levels of meaning. There’s the superficial story of characters doing the plot, but those characters may represent more abstract ideas or principles, which leads to the second, deeper, underlying meaning. The symbolic representations created by the author may help teach the reader a lesson or explain a principle that would not be as well received if delivered directly.


A reference to someone or something well-known or famous, an allusion enables authors to help their readers make connections to ideas presented in the text. For example, the reader may not understand or appreciate how deeply a character is in love with another character, but if there is an allusion to Romeo (from Romeo and Juliet), then the reader can better understand the depth of this character’s feelings.

Media Literacy

In today’s media-fueled world, literacy applies to so much more than reading words on a page. Media literacy is the ability to understand how words, images, and sounds can work together to communicate a message to the audience. Here are some of the elements of media literacy that you may be asked to apply on the STAAR® test:

Media Messages

Messages presented in media may be viewed differently than the messages presented in traditional texts. Analyzing the words, images, graphics, and/or sound bites that may be included in media presentations of information, a media-literate person is able to evaluate the ways in which these messages reflect social and cultural views and analyze their trustworthiness and validity.

Formality and Tone

An author’s formality and tone may be affected through the use of media to deliver his or her message. The STAAR® test assesses your ability to identify and evaluate the changes in formality or tone within the same medium based on particular audiences or specific purpose. For example, the formality and tone of a blog for parents about how to get babies to sleep through the night is going to be different than the blog of a YouTube daredevil looking to get more hits on his social media. And a blog consisting of a political “rant” would take on yet another tone and, possibly, a different degree of formality.

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