The AQA GCSE English Language Exam – Question Five

Describe. Inform. Explain.

Question Five – ’The Facts’:

Hooray! Congratulations on getting through the analytic reading section of the exam and welcome to the creative questions.

Question Five is the first question of Section B, the writing section of the exam, requiring you to write a long answer either describing, informing or explaining – or a combination of two of these writing purposes. You are recommended to spend around 25 minutes on question 5 and can achieve a maximum of 16 marks. It is really important to note that 6 marks are awarded for accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar, so you are not only assessed on your creativity but the quality of your written expression.

Remember that this is a non-fiction exam; although you can make up the information, it still needs to be believable and authoritative. No writing about wizards or battle royale, unfortunately.

This question will ask you to write in a specific genre, for a specific audience and a particular purpose.

For example,

A website (genre) called The Best and the Worst is asking for contributions.

Write an entry for it which describes (purpose) the best meal you ever had and the worst. Explain (purpose) the reasons for your choices. (As the Audience has not been specified, write for a wide-ranging audience, blending a mixture of formal and informal language to suit a variety of ages and social backgrounds)

Writing for Different Purposes:

Writing to describe: paint a picture for the reader

  • Use plenty of well-chosen, descriptive vocabulary – ambitious adjectives, verbs and adverbs.
  • Deliberately include simile, onomatopoeia, metaphor, personification (SOMP)
  • Use sensory language by describing what you can see, smell, taste, hear and feel
  • Use a variety of short and long sentences for effect
  • Use ambitious punctuation

Example: On the wall behind the counter were row upon row of sweetie jars, their lids so round and wide the assistant would barely get her hand around them. There were sweets of vermilion and rose, saffron and lemon, and twists of amber and green. Pear shapes, lozenges and elegant little comfits, wine gums with ‘port’ and ‘brandy’ embossed upon them, and black and white humbugs as shiny as a marble floor. Some shone emerald and deepest ruby like the precious gems, others pale and delicate in old-lady shades of violet and lavender. Fairy drops and barley sugars, chocolate toffees and midget gems, fruit jellies, glacier fruits and sugared almonds, all imprisoned in glass jars so large it took two hands to upend their contents into the weighing scales. Dazzled and confused, I would ask for the little chocolate buttons covered with gritty multi-coloured sugar dots called rainbow drops, or perhaps some Parkinson’s fruit thins, which were rather like glacier fruits but with sharper, more distinct flavours.

Writing to explain:

  • Use clear, simple, factual sentences;
  • Use technical language (if appropriate)
  • Gives reasons for your point.

Example: What made the sweets so special was the way the beautiful colours transferred onto your tongue and lasted on your taste buds for hours.

Writing to inform:

  • Should be FACTUAL
  • Written in the PRESENT TENSE
  • Addresses the reader as YOU
  • It is clear, unbiased and informative.

The table below shows which genres and purposes have come up so far on the exam papers


Date Purpose Genre of text
Jan 2011 ‘Tell’ & explain * Article for a website
Jun 2011 Describe & explain Newspaper article
Jan 2012 Inform & explain Letter to newspaper
Jun 2012 Describe & explain Blog Entry
Nov 2012 Describe & explain Letter to newspaper travel editor
Jan 2013 Describe & explain Blog entry
Jun 2013 Describe & explain Website article

Writing for Different Genres:

Letters:  Follow the correct format for a letter – if a personal letter, then your address on top-right corner and the salutation Dear [name of who you are writing to] and a formal sign-off (yours sincerely if you know their name, yours faithfully, if it’s just to Dear Sir or Madam)

Magazine or newspaper articles: Do NOT write in columns. You get NO extra marks for this. However you SHOULD aim to keep paragraphs fairly short and avoid heavy blocks of text. If writing to inform or explain, consider using bullet points to give some facts.

Blogs: These will consist of a headline and a date. They also have short, concise paragraphs and the typical structure is to present the first paragraph and then invite the reader to “Click here to read more”. You would then write the rest of your article beneath that….as if the reader had then clicked to expand the page.  You should read various blogs to get a feel for the style – well done, you’re already doing it! The writing is far more informal than newspaper or magazine articles and often written in the first person (“I”). There may be hyperlinks where the reader could click on a word or phrase to be taken to another webpage so to imitate that, you would underline certain words.

Writing for Different Audiences:

For Section B, you have to think very carefully about the audience you have been asked to write for. The first thing to consider is: how formal does my writing have to be; and what is the tone of my writing? For example, if you have asked to write to your Head Teacher, you would write with a formal and polite tone, whereas there would be room for a more relaxed tone when writing to ‘young readers’ of a school newspaper. You must always consider the type of person reading your text and how you should use language effectively to achieve your purpose.

Handy Hints for Answering Question Five:

  • Read the question carefully and understand the GAP by underlining the key words in the question.
  • Make sure you write an effective plan before starting your opening sentence. Mind-map your topic with at least 5-6 points, which can then be turned into paragraphs.
  • List all the techniques needed for the purpose of your writing: SOMP, sensory language, short sentences, etc.
  • Try to begin and end your writing in a creative way; think about including as many techniques as possible.
  • Remember to make it sound factual and believable, but make everything up if you haven’t got a Scooby-Doo about the topic of the question.
  • Make sure you proof-read your work, checking for spelling, punctuation and grammar (but don’t force you to settle for an easier word than an ambitious one)
  • A* answers need to be original and have flair. Try to be as creative and interesting as possible – make sure your work stands out.

Question Five Student Exemplar:

Write a brief article for a website of your choice telling your readers about an interesting or unusual journey or travel experience you have had. Explain why it was memorable.

Speeding down the River Dart

“The route is simple.” The man at the rental told us. “Just enjoy.”

My family and I were on holiday in Dartmouth and this was the one thing I had been looking forward to. Renting out a boat. The day was perfect. Fluffy clouds floated lazily across the bright blue sky. The sun beaming down on the deep blue sparkling river. Little ripples splashing against the side of the pier as a beauty of a sailing boat glided past. We were renting a small motor boat to go up the river and see some of the most beautiful sights in the area: the viaduct arches, the Royal Navy College and the many wildlife supposed to be found on the shores.

We were all on the boat safely and dad started up the engine. Immediately the boat roared to life as we turned then sped across the water. The cool breeze blowing our hair off our faces, the spray whipping up behind us. The refreshing smell of salt water wafted up our noses.

As we left the boat rental behind the Royal Naval College come into view. It sat majestically on a hill peeping over the tops of the luscious green trees.

“Here’s a clearing” called Dad you can see it better from here.” And you could. The Union Jack blew in the wind from the roof, there were huge black + gold gates with the wording on. The building itself was a Royal reddy-orange colour, with concrete supports. There was complete silence as we moved just past the clearing each of us staring back at it. Then just like that, it was gone. Hidden amongst a dense forest of green broccoli trees. “Wow” I whispered “It’s all so beautiful.” Again we remained silent, just the noise of the engine working gently in the background.

We come to a place full of reeds were a family of ducks were resting. I spotted something. A brown creature sat poking his whiskers at the reeds.

As quick as a flash he turned and dived beneath the surface. I mimed to everyone to be quiet as dad turned off the engine. We sat their for a few moments before … Yes! The otter popped his head up cautiously. We didn’t dare move a muscle. And then it swam swiftly, past the front of the boat before climbing out of the water shaking itself and leaping off between the trees! My mouth hung open. What great luck. The man had told us that otters were rare at this time of year, and we had seen one.

Unfortunately, it was time to head back as the town came into view again we noticed some sea cadets training in miniature wooden boats with sails. We waved at them. They waved back.

We were travelling faster now and we made it back to the port, just in time.

The trip was the most memorable experience of the holiday. The sheer beauty of the place and seeing the rare otter had left us stunned with amazement.

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?

Success Criteria for A*:


  • writes in a way which shows clarity of thought and communicates in a convincing and/or compelling way
  • engages the reader with detailed and developed ideas, perhaps abstract concepts
  • makes and sustains the purpose, intention and objective of writing the article, e.g. by affecting the reader, evoking response
  • writes a formal article, the tone of which is appropriately serious but also subtle, employs e.g. reason, some sophistication
  • uses linguistic devices such as the rhetorical question, hyperbole, irony, in an effective and appropriate way
  • shows control of extensive vocabulary with appropriately used discursive markers

Organisation of Ideas

  • writes a whole text in continuous prose
  • employs paragraphs effectively to enhance meaning including, e.g. the one sentence paragraph
  • uses a variety of structural features, e.g. different paragraph lengths, indented sections, dialogue, bullet points, as appropriate
  • presents complex ideas in a coherent way

Written Accuracy

  • uses complex grammatical structures and punctuation with success
  • organises writing using sentence demarcation accurately
  • employs a variety of sentence forms to good effect including short sentences
  • shows accuracy in the spelling of words from an ambitious vocabulary
  • uses standard English consistently

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

Any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!


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