In the last few posts, I’ve been looking at the paper itself, Question 1, lots on Question 2 and this time we’ll be moving on to Question 3. Question 3 is commonly known as ‘the structure question’. I’m going to spend a bit of time talking about what structure is and what structure isn’t, since it’s still a bit of a minefield to some, despite the copious guidance sent out from AQA.
This question was hugely, massively overcomplicated and it needn’t be. It builds on Question 1, which looks at the first information, and Question 2 which looks at an early paragraph. It’s helpful that it builds up in this way. Question 3 then looks at the whole text.
The question itself is new, which is part of the problem as to what it involved. That said, the question is not going to vary. Most of the language of the question is going to be the same. It is worth 8 marks and should take you around 10 minutes to complete. The space given is two sides, and that should be more than enough for most candidates, excepting those with larger handwriting.
Remember that one of the problems of getting your timing wrong on this question, as for Question 2, is that it will penalise you, time-wise, later in the paper, which is worth 75% of the final mark. It’s just not worthwhile labouring over this question and trying to squeeze out three sections under the misguided notion that there are three bullet points and you must address them all. Yet I’m still seeing things on the internet saying this is a trick and you should cross that ‘could’ out and you MUST or SHOULD refer to all the bullets. The bullet points are there as a structure for anyone who wants to use them. They are not a straitjacket or a trick.
So, now that’s out of the way, let’s get to the question itself.
It asks you to ‘think about the whole of the source’.
Then it tells you where in the text the passage comes from. That might be interesting if you are thinking in terms of how the writer involves the reader in the narrative, or how they tie up loose ends if it comes from the ending. This information is helpful as it aids you in understanding the position of the extract as part of a whole. Mostly, it’s going to come from the beginning or from an interesting bit.
The question then asks you:
“How has the writer structured the text to interest you as a reader?”
It once again, like Question 2, gives you three bullet points to help you. As a reminder, these are could not should, but students aiming to hit 4 or 5 marks of the 8 available may find the bullet points about the beginning of the source and as the source develops will give them a simple focus that helps them access the low-to-mid range marks of the markscheme, as indeed it does for candidates aiming for 7 or 8 out of 8. Unlike Question 2, where the bullet points give you ideas of things you may want to look at, Question 3 benefits from a closer following of these bullet points.
That said, those bullet points are suggestions. You will not be penalised if you don’t use them or you find other structural features interesting to write about.
Before I move on to how this question is marked, I want to focus a little on what structure is, and what it isn’t, what it could include and what it’s best to steer clear of.
Structure simply means “the arrangement of and relations between the parts of something more complex”
That definition is worth bearing in mind here. It is about how the ideas are organised, the sequence of those ideas, and the way the ideas follow or precede one another.
Organisation. Sequence. Links & connections.
Those three things cover most of the structural aspects you will ever need to write about.
That’s Question 3 at its most simple.
Organisation. Sequence. Links & connections.
There are some questions I would be looking for to prompt me:
- What changes?
- What develops?
- What is introduced?
- Why this, here, now?
And I would be looking at how we get from the beginning to the ending, asking these specific questions.
Some of the aspects you might want to explore are:
- changes from a big focus to a small focus
- narrowing in
- zooming out
- shifts of time
- shifts of topic
- shifts of person
- shifts of place
- sudden introductions or changes
- gradual introductions or changes
- shifts in narrative position
- external actions of characters
- internal thoughts of characters
- shifting point of view
- circular structures
This is not a list for you to learn or to go spotting those features in the text.
Above all, I care about “Why THIS, HERE, NOW?”
Mostly, you are going to be looking at beginnings, endings and shifts in between. You are going to be looking at the whole text, or shifts between paragraphs, but very little on sentences or at word level. You could look at sentences or words, but there will be so much in the text to look at for whole text, or paragraph to paragraph, that you will not need to. Not only that, but you will tie yourself up in knots trying to write about structure when you’re writing about sentences or language features.
In AQA’s ridiculously helpful booklet Paper 1 Question 3 Further Insights, you are given 12 questions that may help you to explore structural features:
Possible key questions move from the what, to how and on to why. They could include:
1. When I first start to read the text, what is the writer focusing my attention on?
2. How is this being developed?
3. What feature of structure is evident at this point?
4. Why might the writer have deliberately chosen to begin the text with this focus and therefore make use of this particular feature of structure?
5. What main points of focus does the writer develop in sequence after the starting point?
6. How is each being developed?
7. Why is the writer taking me through this particular sequence?
8. How is this specific to helping me relate to the intended meaning(s) at these points?
9. What does the writer focus my attention on at the end of the text?
10. How is this developed as a structural feature?
11. How am I left thinking or feeling at the end?
12. Why might the writer have sought to bring me to this point of interest/understanding?
Those questions will help you find interesting things about organisation and the way the ideas are put together.
Now for the markscheme…
Like Question 2, the things we are marking you on are not equally weighted. Your comment on the effect of this arrangement of ideas is the most important thing. Then I’m looking for your use of evidence and your subject terminology. I’ll look more on comments in a future post.
That subject terminology throws yet another curveball for teachers. It means things like ‘the writer focuses us on… the writer zooms in… the writer changes perspective when… we have a change of focus when… the writer uses a flashback when… the writer shifts from the character’s actions to the character’s thoughts when… ‘
Yet again, ‘sophisticated’ for 7 or 8 marks seems to have been misconstrued by some teachers. You can see this dotted around the internet and Youtube with references to Freytag’s pyramid and Todorov’s Narrative Sequence… terms that are practically useless for candidates and hard for most candidates to get their head around. Whilst (many?) teachers will understand that you apply theories retrospectively, writers don’t write to a kind of recipe. You can analyse Shakespeare in many ways: his cultural New Historicism, via Marxism, via Feminism, via Homer Simpson’s Theory of Life, if you like…. but Shakespeare didn’t set out with Feminism, for example, in mind. Unless he was a time traveller or particularly insightful about the cultural ideologies that would follow. The truth of the matter is that when young minds are introduced badly to narrative features, they then write about them as if the writer were making deliberate choices in line with political or theatrical thought. Very unhelpful. Not least when all I want to know is why the writer put this idea before the one that follows, or why he repeats one idea from the beginning to the end.
No Freytag’s Pyramid, if you please. I don’t even want you to go and look that up if you’ve never heard of it. Likewise with Todorov’s Narrative Sequence. If you’ve stumbled across these on Youtube, please just put them aside and don’t over-complicate it.
Being able to identify the exposition or the rising narrative, the dénouement or the falling action is no more useful for Question 3 than identifying Horseshoe Monkeynuts is on Question 2. Just in case you’re off on Wikipedia looking for Horseshoe Monkeynuts, it’s not an actual linguistic term, but it’s no less ridiculous than someone seeking the cataphoric references in a text. Feature spotting is not your friend.
There is no hierarchy in which ‘beginning, middle and end’ are less ‘sophisticated’ in terminology than ‘exposition, rising action and dénouement’.
What I’d like, please, is some subject terminology about structure.
Yes, about structure.
Now…. this is where it gets tricky.
Is Narrative Voice a structural feature? Is an omniscient narrator a structural feature? Is tense a structural feature?
Well… they CAN be. Sure, they CAN be.
But telling candidates that it IS structure and focusing on them is not really about ‘organisation and arrangement of ideas’, is it?
Writing about narrative viewpoint or tense can often be a real dead-end, so I’d tend to avoid them completely in favour of the whopping great big list of actual organisational features I gave you above.
Likewise sentences. In the “Further Insights” booklet, there is a very good example of how you can write about sentences for Question 3. What it is essentially getting at is the need for you to write about the content of that sentence, not its construction. This is not the place to write about simple sentences, compound sentences or complex sentences. They are not structural devices about the arrangement of ideas. No, it is the ideas they contain that are the bit worth writing about.
I can happily show you how to write about sentences in ways that will satisfy a marker for Question 2 or Question 3, and the different ways you need to explore them.
In my opinion, and this is very much my own opinion, it is better to completely ignore sentences altogether on Question 2 and 3. They are such a minefield that you can easily end up writing about them in ways that aren’t about language or structure and that lovely fat paragraph you have about compound-complex sentences (??!!!) is not only hard to mark, it is worth nothing. Writing about sentences in the wrong way on either question is as if you have suddenly started writing in Spanish. It’s very nice, dear, and it may well be perfectly interesting and accurate in its own way, but it’s not within the small little box of my markscheme and I don’t know what to do with it.
Best avoided completely.
Not only that, but there is SO MUCH you can write about that if you get to the point where you feel you’ve got to feature-spot some random made-up sentence type then you need to revisit what you know about structure, and what structure means. Like on Question 2, the chief examiner will have picked out a text so rich in language and structure that you could write about it for five hours without ever once having to refer to sentence types or sentence lengths.
When I get a response that is two paragraphs, and it focuses on the narrative viewpoint in one and the sentence lengths in the other, it is really, really hard to mark. Not only that, it shows very limited understanding of what structure ACTUALLY is. It’d have to be done in such a way that it’d take me 5000 words to explain it. I’d rather the answer was focused around Freytag’s Flipping Pyramid.
Finally, where it comes to the comment, we need specifics, not generalisations. Please avoid the following: “makes the reader want to read on, hooks the reader, makes the reader interested” without developing. Anything like those, or even posh versions, is just ‘simple response’ that is applicable to most, if not all text.
So, in summary:
- You need some structural language, but you don’t need to ever know the word dénouement. There is no hierarchy that says ‘the focus at the beginning’ is worse than ‘the exposition’.
- There are lots of things to avoid. Narrative viewpoint and sentence structures are two of those. They are hard to write about in terms of the arrangement of ideas. Best avoided unless you are absolutely sure about how you can use these to writer about how the ideas are arranged.
- There are hundreds of things you can write about, and AQA’s booklet will help you if you don’t believe me
- The comment is worth more than your quotation or your use of structural features. Your comment is what I’m after, not your fancy language.
In the next post, I’ll look at these ideas in practice, so you can see how I would approach a text in terms of structure, and the kind of comments you might want to make that will move you to 5, 6, 7 or 8 marks.