So far, we’ve had posts on answering:
- Question 1
- Question 2 (general guidance, assessment, use of subject terminology, how to select great quotes, comments on language and example answers) 5 posts, you lucky people! There is literally NOTHING else you’ll ever need to know!
- Question 3 (guidance & assessment, comments on structure & example answers)
And today, I’ll be looking at Question 4. I’m going to cover some general guidance about the question itself and the way that you’re being assessed on this question. In truth, it’s going to pick up lots of things from Question 2, so you need to go back and re-read if you haven’t already. I’ll give you some tips on how to select details next time, as well as how to plan a great answer. The post after that, I’ll look at some sample responses and explain how the marks are applied.
So, to the question and the mechanics of Question 4.
It is the longest comprehension response on the GCSE English Language papers, worth 20 marks.
You should therefore treat it as if it is a mini-essay. It doesn’t need to be double or triple the length of Question 2 or 3, but if you’re writing a side, you need to consider if you’ve responded in enough depth.
In terms of time, you should be thinking of around 25 minutes. Again, that’s suggesting 2-3 sides of normal-sized handwriting. This question is designed to stretch you! And whilst there won’t be much difference in marks for Question 1-3 between someone who gets Grade 4 and someone who gets Grade 8, this is where better candidates can ‘open up the lead’ so to speak.
Unlike Question 1 which is largely predictable based on the first paragraph and finding information, or Q2 and 3 which won’t change, Question 4 has some bits that stay the same and other bits that will change.
Let’s have a look at an example, from the sample assessment materials available on AQA’s website – the paper I’m calling the ‘Mary’ paper.
Focus this part of your answer on the second part of the Source from line 19 to the
Question 4 is going to ask you to refer to the later section of the text. If Q1 refers to paragraph 1, Q2 refers to paragraph 2, Q3 asks you to refer to the organisation of the ideas in the whole text, Q4 pinpoints back in again now that you have an overview of the whole paper.
The questions build on each other, which is why it’s a good idea to do them in the order given. I’ve seen advice to do them backwards, which is just pointless, to be honest. By the time you get to Q4, you want to know the passage fairly well. You’ll have read it through once before answering, read parts of it twice for Q1 and 2, read some of it three times by Q3 and it’s a good idea to re-read the bit in question for Q4. That means you’ll have read it at least three times, and some of it four times. If you do them backwards, you’re doing the highest mark question when you are least familiar with the text. Silly, if you ask me.
So… the statement.
You then get a statement from a student or a reader. Is it made up? Who knows? More importantly, who cares? It will give an opinion on the text in those lines. Often, it’s been focused on the main character/s, but I don’t know if that will hold true of all exam series.
It will look like this:
A student, having read this section of the text said: “The writer brings the very different characters to life for the reader. It is as if you are inside the coach with them.”
Then it will ask you:
To what extent do you agree?
Now, when I first saw the paper, I thought that in fact it was a good idea to be arguing your viewpoint, that you could be agreeing for the main bit and disagreeing. I thought that the question was asking where you stood in relation to the statement and it wanted you to construct an argument.
Two years of teaching later, and, well, it does, but not really.
We’ll get to the markscheme later. Suffice to say that you need to engage with this statement. We’ll look at trends in the statement as well that might help you too.
Following that, you’re going to get three bullet points that won’t change.
In your response, you could:
write about your own impressions of the characters
evaluate how the writer has created these impressions
support your opinions with references to the text.
These are fixed. They are not ‘shoulds’ or ‘musts’, but like Question 3 (and unlike Question 2), better answers will do all of these things. However, you can’t use them like Question 3 as a rough sort of plan. For instance, the last bullet point is just advice that you must use quotes. And the second bullet point is telling you to comment on the text.
So they aren’t a plan. Just a reminder to PEE, to CQE, to PQE or whatever else it is you are doing. If I had to come up with an acronym, it would go like this:
- Respond to the statement and make a comment on it
- Support with quotes
- Identify methods
- Evaluate methods in relation to the statement.
- Comment on the ideas in the statement, the meaning of the quote and its effect
That’s very mechanistic though.
Basically, the question is asking you to respond to the statement, discuss the writer’s methods, evaluate the ideas mentioned in the statement, evaluate the methods and use evidence from the text to help you.
The question is asking you:
What are the ideas?
How are they conveyed?
So, how are you being assessed? What are markers looking for when they mark?
First, we’re looking for you to respond to the statement. Now, bear in mind that many of the statements have TWO bits.
- The writer brings the very different characters to life
- It is as if you are inside the coach with them.
Those are two different things to respond to. One is about the characters being life-like. The other is about how the writer makes you feel as if you are a part of the scene.
It’s the same on the ‘Alex’ paper.
The statement to respond to is:
A student said: ‘This part of the story, set during breakfast time, shows that Alex is struggling to cope with his mother’s illness.’
This really only has one focus – Alex struggling to cope.
So it’s not always true that there are two bits to the statement, but if there are, you need to deal with both bits.
When I’m reading what one of my students has written, then, I’m asking myself if they are responding to the statement.
And then I’m asking myself if they are doing so in a simple way, a way where they’re trying to explain their thoughts, a way which clearly explains their thoughts or a way that really explains their thoughts.
It’s the difference between saying:
“Yes, the characters are lifelike” (simple) or “the characters are lifelike because the way the writer describes the tiny actions of the characters is very realistic, such as the old man who ‘muttered in his beard’ ” which promises to be something better than just ‘I agree’
In other words, you need to explain WHY you agree.
Your response to the statement is therefore the first thing I’m looking at.
Secondly, I’m looking at your use of quotes to support your response. What details have you picked out? I’m making decisions about how precise they are, how relevant they are, how well they support your view. Embedded, precise quotes are hands-down better than copious copying and unselective detail, but how good your quotes are is not necessarily something I’m marking. If you have great quotes and you’ve used them in the right way, you’ll write a better essay, but they don’t lead to a mark for quotes as such.
Third, I’m looking at methods. Writer’s methods is deliberately vague in the markscheme. It means simply ‘anything the writer does’. That can be their use of words, language, imagery and figurative language, like Question 2. It might be aspects of development that are similar to Question 3 (although you’ll find there won’t be any crossover with Question 2 because it’s about a different part of the text.) And it can be about all those wonderful things I’ve been advising my students to steer clear of on Question 2 and 3, such as sentence lengths, sentence types, voice, viewpoint, point of view, narrative viewpoint and perspective. Tone and presentation of the author’s perspective might also fit in here too. Anything goes, as I said.
Basically, how does the writer craft the text to create the ideas presented in the statement.
What does the writer do to make the characters seem lifelike?
How does that work?
Coming back to long-dead papers of years gone by, it’s very much about the author’s technique and purpose. What are they doing? Why are they doing it? What effect does it have on us? How does convey a particular idea?
The fourth and final thing I’m assessing in my students’ work is how well they’ve commented on the effect of the ideas and methods.
Now, that is a lot of things to assess. It’s a lot of things to include in an answer. There is sometimes what I call the ‘Crackerjack’ effect. Now I’m showing my age. Crackerjack was a kids’ TV programme on in the 1970s where there was a game called Double or Drop where you had to hold a load of prizes and if you got questions wrong under stress, you’d get a cabbage added all the things you had to hold. If you dropped them, you lost everything. My point is that, under stress, you’re more likely to drop stuff if you’ve got a lot to hold on to. That’s why this question is hard. You’ve got a lot to hold on to, and sometimes you’re going find you just can’t remember to do it all. You get so carried away responding to the statement that you forget to add any methods, or you are so involved with discussing the figurative language that you forget to respond to the statement.
If I had to say anything, it’s make sure you manage to respond to the statement in each paragraph, and you try to explore a method from time to time.
Next time, I’ll look at all the stuff you can do before you even start writing to make sure you get the very best of the marks available to you.