The AQA GCSE English Language Exam

As you should already be well aware, your English Language GCSE exam takes place on Tuesday 5th November. Please do not panic, as you will be thoroughly well prepared to succeed in this exam, due to the inspirational teaching of the English department and the countless hours of revision you have completed!

In a series of many short posts, please see below for a summary of what to expect in the exam and how to revise for it.

THE EXAM

This exam is a ruddy long one: 2 hours 15 minutes to be precise. Your paper is marked out of a total of 80 marks, with 40 marks available for section A (Reading) and 40 available for section B (Writing). Because this is an English Language exam, I’m afraid we can’t run away from the fact they will be assessing your ability to use English correctly. Therefore, in section B, around a third of the marks available are rewarded for spelling, punctuation and grammar. In section A, there are no marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar as it is testing your reading skills.

For the first part of the exam, you are required to read three non-fiction sources (these are usually a newspaper article, an except from an autobiography, a website, advert, etc.). I highly recommend that you spend at least 15 minutes reading these sources, after you have read what each question is asking you. This will give you a greater chance of identifying the necessary features for each question. In the higher tier especially, these texts will be quite lengthy and probably rather dull. However, you must make sure you read each text fully and annotate as you go along.

On the higher paper, section A is split into four questions. On both papers, it is imperative that you answer all the questions on the exam. Here’s a breakdown of the higher tier questions on the reading section:

  1. Retrieval of information and inferring meaning (what the text is about)
  2. Analysis of presentational devices
  3. Analysis of language techniques (what are the thoughts and feelings of the writer)
  4. Comparison of two sources and analysis of language devices

Section B follows the same style and format for both the Higher and Foundation tier.

As stated previously, Section B is the writing section of the exam, requiring you to write two long answers for the duration of an hour. As English teachers we always encounter the age-old question of ‘How long do I have to write for each question?’ Well young folk, here’s the magic answers: we recommend that you spend around 25 minutes on question 5 and 35 minutes on question 6. Remember, the key difference with regards to the marking of Section B is that you are assessed on you ability to use accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar, and how you use these to create a specific effect on the reader.

For Section B, it is imperative that you read the questions very carefully and work out the Genre, Audience and Purpose.

5.  Writing to inform, explain or describe

For this question, you will need to deploy the specific style and descriptive techniques used when writing for these purposes. These will be covered in a separate post later, but the main thing to remember is that you have just spent most of the last hour finding these techniques and analysing their effect on the reader. Therefore, you have three perfect exemplars of how to use language effectively under your nose if you happen to forget what day of the week it is. Here are a few examples of Question 5 from previous years:

‘Write a letter to your local newspaper informing readers about the local leisure facilities are available for young people in your area and explain how they can be improved’

‘Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper describing your favourite place and explaining why others would like it’

      6.  Writing to argue and persuade

For this question, you will need to use a range of rhetorical devices to suit the audience and purpose. Whether you have been taught THE RED RASP, DAFORREST or the elephant one, you will need to use as many of these techniques in your writing to achieve the highest band. Here are a few examples of Question 6 from previous years:

‘Write an article in your school newspaper persuading young people to donate to charities for the homeless’

‘Write a letter to your headmaster arguing why school uniform should be abolished’

To achieve an A* in this section, you must ensure think beyond just using some of the rhetorical devices you have been taught. Remember to use sophisticated language, ambitious punctuation and use a variety of different sentence types and starters. Show flair and originality by using satire and irony. Be creative; be impressive.

HOW TO REVISE

Many students think that you can’t revise for this exam. Many students who think this fail the exam, much to my amusement.

The easiest way to revise for this exam is to read, read and read some more non-fiction stuff. Choose a newspaper article, a blog, a website and identify and evaluate the different devices used for the different GAP. Brush up on your knowledge of presentational devices, descriptive language techniques and rhetorical devices – especially the more complex ones such as irony/satire/sophistry. Zoom in on specific words and explore the different connotations one can infer from the lexis used. Think about the different interpretations from different audiences.

Next, there are a variety of different websites out there to help you revise (far better than this one, of course). Here are a few I recommend: http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/english/, http://www.bbc.co.uk/skillswise/english, and http://www.mrbruff.com/ – also, there are many helpful videos on YouTube (just type in ‘AQA English Language exam’)

Finally, attempt as many past papers as you possibly can in exam conditions. Make sure you are strict with your timings and have no distractions. All past papers can be found here on the AQA website: http://www.aqa.org.uk/subjects/english/gcse/english-language-4705/past-papers-and-mark-schemes (look under the ‘Unit 01’ tab). If you would like to receive feedback for your answers, please do not hesitate to waft it under your teacher’s nose – we really do like this!

Well that’s it for the content and summary of your exam. Watch this space over the next few weeks for different posts for each question and the style of the exam. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Enjoy revising!

Sir

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