The AQA GCSE English Language Exam – Question One


Keep. It. Simple. Stupid.

Question One – ‘The Facts’: Question 1 is by far the easiest question on the paper and a lovely way to kick off this exciting 2 hour and 15 minute exam. Question 1 will always be based on source 1 and is worth 8 marks. You should spend roughly 12 minutes writing this answer, allowing three minutes to read and annotate the text beforehand. You are usually given a rather optimistic three pages to write your answer in the booklet provided, but should aim to fill two at these (by all means fill all three if you have the handwriting of an ogre). The question will ask you to read and understand the source. It is testing your ability to retrieve information from the text and infer meaning from the language used. To achieve the highest marks, you must synthesise the information into your own language and support your summary of the article with quotations. In a nutshell, you are being asked to summarise the text in your own words, pointing out the subtle meaning. Although this is a fairly easy question, there are still a number of banana skins to fool you. Firstly, don’t overcomplicate your answer by treating this question like Question 4 – a language analysis questions. You should not be focussing on the rhetorical devices or descriptive language used and the effect this has on the reader. Nor should you comment on the headline, subheading and picture. Just provide a summary of the article in your own words and look for the subtle meaning. Handy Hints for Answering Question One:

  • Summarise the whole article by making a variety of different points.
  • Always use short quotations to support your point.
  • Focus on the beginning, middle and end of the article and whether the tone remains the same throughout
  • Don’t just re-write the text; make sure you summarise the information in your own words.
  • Focus on any different perspectives in the article and explain which one the writer agrees with
  • Examine any inconsistencies and contradictions in the article
  • Focus on how the article develops; does the writer change their mind at any point?

Question One Exemplar: rafting Question One: ‘Rafting on the Grand Canyon’

What do we learn from Hyde article about where she has been and what she has been doing? From the article, written by Elizabeth Hyde, we learn that she went rafting on a ’13 day, 225-mile trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.’ In addition to this, she describes the trip as a ‘Disneyland’ like experience, emphasizing how she found it scary, yet ‘exhilarating’. On the trip, she was not only joined by her husband and three children, but 17 other strangers, who would be packed onto ‘6m rafts’ and squished in with ‘masses of gear’. Hyde describes how the group is eclectic, ranging from her teenage daughters to ‘a couple in their mid-70s’. We can infer from this that the trip would appeal to all ages, but only those looking for a once in a lifetime, ‘whit-knuckle’ experience. The fact she was with these strangers meant that she couldn’t be shy as they would be ‘eating, sleeping and bathing together’, thus a lack of privacy was one thing the group had to get used to. Despite this, the fact that they were on the water for ‘five to eight hours a day’ in ‘one of the most spectacular environments on earth’, we can infer that the group would share a range of fantastic memories ‘screaming with the thrill of the rafting experience’. Hyde also describes how helpful the ‘army of river guides were’ with regards to learning about the Grand Canyon. She describes the different geological features in detail with a comprehensive knowledge of the rock formation. Furthermore, she paints a picture in the reader’s mind of the ‘roller-coaster’ ride of the rapids where the passengers ‘perched on the side tubes’, adding a sense of danger. The article finally describes how she broke one of the charismatic and adventurous guide’s (Ed) rules: ‘to stay in the boat’. She explains how she was ‘ejected’ from the raft, ‘sucked down and spun around’ in the river before ‘being spat up towards the sunlight’. We can infer from the word ‘gasping’ that she was thrilled to be alive after such a terrifying experience. Overall, the experience of rafting down one of the ‘biggest rivers in North America’ is narrated with such passion and exhilaration, that the reader is left wanting to ‘run away and become a river guide’, just like Hyde.

Review of this exemplar: How many marks do you think this would achieve based on the criteria below? How many of the ‘handy hints’ have they included? How could they improve? mark scheme q1 Feel free to attempt this same question and post it in the ‘comments’ section below.

Any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

Keep it simple,



6 thoughts on “The AQA GCSE English Language Exam – Question One

  1. From Elisabeth Hyde’s article, we learn that she adventured on a 13-day, 225 mile trip down the Colarado river down the Grand Canyon. She travelled with her family and some strangers, totalling up to 22 passengers embarking on the journey. Elisabeth describes the age of the passengers ranging ‘from our 13 year old twin daughters to a couple in their mid 70’s.’ This demonstrates that the trip can be enjoyable for all ages, as long as they are up for a ‘white-knuckle, rollercoaster ride.’

    Throughout the article, we feel as though the trip was, although dangerous, filled with exhilaration and excitement. The juxtaposition seen in the sentence ‘screaming with the thrill of it’, sums up the article perfectly. We get the sense that the whole trip was a fun-filled time, no matter how scary it seemed. She begins a sentence with ‘rocks, rocks everywhere’, but then describes the ‘terracotta sandstone, flaky green shale’ and the ‘massive maroon cliffs’. This contrast between simply seeing the rocks, and then seeing specific details shows us that she has developed her own knowledge of the nature surrounding her during the experience. This proves how influential the guides were when they informed the passengers of the area around them.

    Furthermore, any sentence that she begins negatively; she instantly contradicts her point with a positive one. For example; she describes the seating on the boat being the ‘tightest packing system I’ve ever seen’ but then summarises it as ‘prime seats with great views.’ This shows how no matter what the boat trip had to offer, it could be taken in a positive way. Elisabeth also captivates the reader towards the end when she mentions breaking the rules. She describes being ‘sucked down and spun round’ and ‘gasping for air’ however she says she still felt ‘exhilarated.’ This shows us that in order to enjoy the boat trip you would need a brave and adventurous personality like hers.

    • Clare, congratulations on this wonderful effort!

      You have clearly understood the article and have used a range of short, accurate quotations to demonstrate this. I like the way you support your understanding with inferences throughout your paragraphs, such as your reference to the trip being for all ages and that overall Hyde has a positive experience despite the dangerous events of her trip. You have clearly made perceptive and detailed comments in your third paragraph when you mention how influential the guides were in explaining the environment around them. Furthermore, you have used sophisticated vocabulary to explain your understanding of the article in a clear and coherent way.

      To improve, try to think about providing as much detail from the article as possible. For example, in your second paragraph, you refer to the ‘rocks’ and ‘maroon cliffs’ in your third sentence and could have extended this section by including that they were perched on the edge of the rafts on ‘prime seats’ and ended up ‘straining their necks’ to see the all the wonderful and spectacular views. Furthermore, in your third paragraph, try to vary your sentence starters to ensure your A* written expression is consistent throughout.

      Overall, this a very pleasing attempt and you would achieve the higher marks.

      To conclude, reflect upon any challenges or difficulties you faced when answering this question. Did you manage to read and annotate the text in only a couple of minutes? Did you manage to write your response in less than 12 minutes? How could you fully prepare for this question when sat in the scary school hall on Tuesday morning?

      Best wishes,
      Mr Morris

  2. After reading this article, ‘Rafting on the Grand Canyon’ written by Elizabeth Hyde we learn that Hyde along with ‘my husband and our three teenagers’ take a breathe-taking experience ‘in the middle of a 13-Day, 225-mile trip down the Colorado river through the Grand canyon’ along with 17 stangers in a cramped, claustrophobic atmosphere ‘6m rafts, masses of gear, an army of river guides scurrying about’.

    Futhermore we can infer that the trip was open to all ages ranging from ’13-year-old twin daughters to a couple in their mid-70s’ suggesting that anyone who was up for a once in a life time experience ‘a white knuckle, roller coaster ride’ and anyone could join in and be part of it.

    We learn that Hyde didn’t stick to Ed’s rules which was ‘Rule number one- stay in the boat!’ And the consequence left Hyde ‘gasping for air’ this confirms the excitement of the journey and it’s dangers throughout.

    Hyde also describes view significantly ‘flaky grey shale, massive maroon cliff streaked with black’ resulting Hyde straining her neck ‘I kept straining my neck gazing up’ suggest the ‘one of the most spectacular’ views were a must to see, and she was ready to miss any second of it!

    Overall we infer from this text that they have had a once in a life time leaving a breathe-taking experience from the views to socialising with their fellow ‘mixed group’.

    • I like the way you have covered the entire article and have a blended mix of inference and retrieval. Furthermore, you give a clear outline of the article, showing your understanding through use of many different quotations. Finally, you use discourse markers well to develop your points and show the reader you are focusing on what the question has asked.

      One target: a small point, try not to repeat yourself in your explanation and quotation (“straining my neck” in the penultimate paragraph). Think about how you could vary your expression by thinking of different synonyms and connotation (similar words and linked meaning).

      • Thank you for taking time to read my reply!

        I have just been finding these questions very hard and the most I can achieve is a C, I know this is because I over-complicate the text so much that my mind goes blank, and I repeat myself and just ending filling up paragraphs that have no meaning. Have you got any tips in order to avoid doing so?

        Thank you.

  3. Essentially, all you need to demonstrate for this question is that you can read an article and show your understanding. Therefore, the first task is just to choose four or five key pieces of information which become the foundation of your paragraphs and your topic sentences. If you are stuck with this, just focus on one sentence in each of the article’s paragraphs and focus on how the text develops.

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