Irony, contradiction and paradox [Analysis of 2002-2010 GCE ‘A’ Level questions]

24 10 2011

Over the past nine years (2002-2010), Cambridge has asked questions on irony, contradiction and paradox four times.


Recap the skills here.


7. Now you have studied the whole article carefully, look again at the opening headline.
Explain what is ironic or contradictory about the headline NO SINGLISH PLEASE, WE ARE SINGAPOREAN. (1 mark)

It is expected that an article that advocates the value of Singlish as a vehicle for promoting national identity would have a headline that encourages Singlish. However, in actual fact, the headline is a request for it to be abolished. As the actual headline contradicts the expected headline, it is ironic.


1.  ‘narrow uniform lives …diversity is the new conformity’ (lines 6-7). Explain the contrast the writer is making here and in what way it is contradictory. [3m]

The contrast is between the similar and limited lives of the people in the past and the varied opportunities of the present generation  (1 mark). The contradiction lies in the fact that the contrast is illusory because people are still leading similar lives – similar in trying to be different.

[Note:This contradiction question is a paradox question – there are two contradictory ideas coexisting. The first mark went towards explaining the contrast. The second mark was not testing your ability to explain the paradox (that was the intention of the third mark). Instead, the second mark was to test your ability to identify the fact that it seems contradictory, but isn’t – it’s a paradox]


7. Using your own words as far as possible explain why, in paragraph 5, the author claims that fraternity ‘solves the contradiction’ (lines 60-61) of the other two words of the clarion call. [2]

[Note: This question has two requirements – only the first requirement is your typical “explain the irony/contradiction”; the second requires you to identify the relevant point from the passage and paraphrase it]

[Requirement 1]
The other two words of the clarion call are ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’. Liberty, for those who have natural advantages, inevitably means that they will obtain more than others, thus negating the principle of equality


[Requirement 2]
However, when people feel kinship towards others

 they will voluntarily sacrifice their natural superiority for the betterment of those who are underprivileged


5. Using your own words as far as possible, explain the irony which the author describes in lines 54-55. [2]

It is expected that books advocating eating more will not be placed with those that advocate eating less. However, in actual fact, such books advocating contradictory behaviour are placed in close proximity to each other. As the expected situation contradicts the actual situation, it is ironic.





7. ‘the only lesson to be learnt from history is that there are no lessons to be learnt from history’ (lines 7-8)
Explain why this is a paradox. [1m]

SKILL: Explain why it APPEARS contradictory but why it ACTUALLY ISN’T.

The statement appears contradictory as one would not expect history to teach us something and nothing at the same time. However, the knowledge that history teaches us nothing is a lesson in itself. Thus, the paradox is that history teaches us something and nothing at the same time. 


The author states that history teaches us nothing. Yet, contradictorily, knowing this is in itself a lesson. Since two contradictory ideas occur simultaneously, it is a paradox.




3 responses

24 10 2011
Skills Digest 24/10/11 « Gee Pee Land

[…] skills covering irony and paradox,  inverted commas and […]

28 10 2011
Compre questions at the A-Levels « 4A/B, F, I, T

[…] Irony, contradiction and paradox […]

3 04 2013

Your style is very unique in comparison to other people I’ve read stuff from. Thank you for posting when you’ve got the opportunity,
Guess I’ll just book mark this site.

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