The AQA GCSE English Language Exam – Question Four

Compare the similarities and differences.

Questions Four is by far the most difficult question of Section A and you should aim to spend roughly 25 minutes answering this question; it is with 16 marks altogether. This first task for you complete, is to decide which source you are going to compare with source 3. You will then be asked to compare how the writers use language for effect in the two texts. This makes it the trickiest question and requires you to write a very detailed and analytic answer, explaining the similarities and differences of the two texts and the effect the language has on the reader.

Many students turn this question into quite the hullaballoo, especially when asked to comment on how ‘language is effective in the two texts’.  The easiest way to prepare for this question is to understand the language techniques used by writers to make their writing interesting. At SWA, you may know this tool-kit of techniques as either SOMP, THE RED RASP, DAFORREST, the counting elephants one, or may have even created a mnemonic of your own to remember them. Please see below for some of the language techniques and their definitions.

Name of rhetorical device


Teacher’s example

Rhetorical question A question asked for effect that does not expect or require an answer Would you like to be abandoned by your   parents?
Imperatives A form of a verb that   expresses a command; a ‘bossy word’ Get out now and do something about this   appalling practice.
Rule of three A list of three things. Smoking is antisocial, unhealthy and   disgusting.
Hyperbole Over exaggerating in   order to make a point Teachers will tell you a million times to   tuck your shirt in.
Emotive language Words which are designed to create an emotional response in the reader Children as young as eight are abandoned   and forgotten by their parents.
Alliteration A group of words which start with the same letter   or sound Smoking seriously sucks.
Repetition Repeating a word in order to make it stick in the   reader’s brain. Smoking is foul, smoking makes you smell, smoking   will kill you.
Flattery Saying nice things to somebody in order to make   them more likely to agree with you. As an extremely intelligent person, you must agree   with me.
Personal pronouns Words like “you”, “us”, “we” – designed to make   the reader feel included in the writing. You are the only one who can save us from this   horrible fate.
Facts and statistics Things which are true, used to convince the   reader. 85% of all parents would send their children to   private school.
Counter argument Giving the other side of the debate in order to   make your argument look stronger. It might be cool to wear skinny trousers, but they   are against school rules.

The more confident you are with these techniques, the easier question four becomes, especially if you also memorise the generic effect these techniques have on the reader and how they link to the genre, audience and purpose. For example, a writer might use statistics in a newspaper article published in The Times; this makes the article appear more factual, authoritative and persuasive to the educated reader.

If you can remember these techniques like the lyrics to your favourite Justin Bieber song, then question four suddenly becomes rather ruddy easy. Just highlight the techniques in both sources and spot the similarities in their effect on the reader. You must show the examiner that you can discuss how the writers’ choices of words, phrases and language techniques are relevant to the genre, audience or purpose of the text and how they are similar or different between the two texts.

Handy Hints for Answering Question Four:

  • Underline the key words in the question.
  • Read source 3 carefully and underline any language devices you spot.
  • List of 3, pronouns (you/your; we/our/us), rhetorical questions, emotive language, alliteration, figurative language (simile, metaphor, personification etc), repetition – think about what the effect of these are: to emphasise a point, to make the reader feel involved, to make them feel sympathetic or outraged.
  • Now look for evidence of informal or formal style (slang/chatty tone vs elaborate vocabulary and serious tone) – how are these relevant to the audience or genre?
  • Look at specific words, particularly verbs (action words – e.g. pounded, thrusting, slithered), adjectives (words that describe things – e.g. elegant, delightful, violent) or adverbs (which tell you HOW an action was done – e.g. furiously, tentatively, patiently) – consider how these choices are more effective than more basic words – e.g. “the writer uses adverbs to give a more detailed picture to the reader, such as when he writes how he “tentatively opened the tent”, which demonstrates how nervous he was feeling at that moment. This makes the reader imagine themselves in his position more clearly.”
  • Do the same for your other chosen text.
  • Write introductory sentence identifying GAP of both texts.
  • Now begin writing your comparisons, ensuring you use PEE to organise each idea and using comparing or contrasting connectives. Look for where you have identified the same technique in both texts which may be used for the same effect (similarity) or for different effect (contrast) or where a similar effect is produced through a different technique. You CAN discuss complete differences between the texts i.e. methods or effects which are found only in one text and not the other as these are contrasts too
  • Aim to make about 6-8 points in total, that’s 3 or 4 pairs of comparison.
  • Use Comparing connectives: Similarly, Likewise, Also, In the same way, Equally
  • Use Contrasting connectives: Whereas, Alternatively, Unlike, On the other hand, In contrast, Conversely

Question Four Exemplar:

Now you need to refer to Source 3, Everest The Hard Way and either Source 1 or Source 2.

You are going to compare the two texts, one of which you have chosen. Compare the different ways in which language is used for effect in the two texts. Give some examples and analyse what the effects are.

In the third text, ‘Everest the Hard Way’, the first sentence sets the tone of the piece straight away; the serious, tense and dramatic tone makes the reader feel nervous and anxious throughout. Similarly, the opening sentence of the first text, ‘Rafting on the Grand Canyon’ also sets the tone: light-hearted, humorous and exciting. As guide Ed introduces the fact that he has ‘just two rules… stay in the boat… and stay in the boat’, it create a feel-good and comic effect due to the repetitive phrase. However, in source 3, the use of the short, declarative sentence of, ‘A decision was needed’, makes Boardman’s narrative tense and rapid from the beginning. The verb ‘needed’ evokes a sense of urgency in the reader, emphasising the traumatic depiction of Mick’s death.

Language is used for different effects in both sources as the audience differs greatly. Source one has been written for a more popular, mainstream reader who would be interested in travelogues or those interested in ‘once in a lifetime experiences’. This forces Hyde to use less formal lexis throughout her article so that a greater range of readers can find her writing more approachable and understandable. For example, the colloquial noun ‘gear’ to describe the technical rafting equipment on her ‘Disneyland-like experience’ would appeal to a wider audience, and not just rafting enthusiasts. In contrast, source three uses many examples of field-specific lexis such as ‘the south col’ and the ‘runnels of ice’; this use of language is more appropriate to those educated readers who have an interest in extreme mountaineering, survival stories and outdoor adventurists.

Boardman uses a combination of hyperbole and emotive language to emphasise the risk of danger of his situation. The phrases ‘it was a miracle’ and ‘the axe had stayed in the ice’, makes the reader feel anxious and scared for Boardman’s survival, as it highlights the helplessness of his ordeal. However, Hyde describes her ‘white-knuckle… rollercoaster’ rafting experience as much more exciting and exhilarating. The connotations of ‘rollercoaster’ evoke feelings of a terrifying experience, but in a safe and controlled way. This appeals to the reader and the positive tone of the article makes them think that they might wish for a similar rafting experience one day; however Boardman’s pessimistic and disturbing account offers little to entice the reader to climb Everest.

Finally, the language is effective in both extracts for different reasons: the audience and the purpose. Hyde’s light-hearted and entertaining account of her rafting experience is designed for a less formal and varied reader, who is left wanting to book the next flight to Colorado. However, Boardman’s dramatic and serious account of his harrowing experience leaves the reader feeling relieved that he survived but still shocked and despondent that ‘Mick Burke is still on the summit…’

Review of this exemplar:

  • How many marks do you think this would achieve?
  • How many of the ‘handy hints’ have they included?
  • How could they improve?

Feel free to attempt this same question and post it in the ‘comments’ section below.

Any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

Always compare how language is effective in source three and another text of your choice.



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