2019 Edition: AQA English Language Paper 1 Question 2
September 10, 2019
In the 2018 summer exams, fewer than 40% of
students achieved above half marks in AQA English Language Paper 1 question 2, proving
once again that this question is less about spotting language choices and more about writing
about their effect in a manner which is precise and contextualised. In this video we’ll
look at how to do just that. AQA English Language Paper 1 question 2 assesses
the language element of assessment objective 2:
Explain, comment on and analyse how writers use language and structure to achieve effects
and influence readers, using relevant subject terminology to support their view.
Now in this exam, what we mean by language analysis is pointed out in the bullet points
of the question: a writer’s use of word/phrases/language features and techniques and sentences forms.
In this question, you’re given a section of the text (historically around 6 to 10 lines
in length) and asked to analyse how the writer uses language.
Let’s look at a typical question, based on the sample paper which you can download
free of charge at mrbruff.com. Look in detail at this extract, from lines
8 to 17 of the source. How does the writer use language here to describe
the setting? You could include the writer’s choice of:
Words and phrases Language features and techniques
Sentence forms. Now it’s worth pointing out that those bullet
points COULD be followed – but you don’t HAVE to cover all three, especially if you
run out of time before you can do so. In fact, in the November 2018 paper, the examiners’
report pointed out that there were no sentence forms worthy of analysis in that particular
extract of the text, so the key thing about these three bullet points is that you COULD
write about all three, but you don’t have to.
As an 8 mark question, you really only want to spend around 10 minutes on this question,
and yet many students spend way longer, because there are just so many different examples
you could write about. However, you don’t have to write about everything you find. Obviously,
if you spend too long on this relatively low mark question, you’re going to run out of
time on the longer, higher mark questions to come. So keep an eye on the clock and don’t
go over ten minutes or so. Now the assessment objective for question
2 refers to the use of ‘relevant subject terminology’, and this has led some students
to approach the question as if it is all about feature spotting – looking out for similes,
metaphors, personification, that kind of thing. But this question is not simply about identifying
and labelling language features: it’s all about effect.
And the mark scheme makes it very clear that you can only achieve half marks at best if
you write about generic effects such as this is powerful, or it draws the reader in or
it creates a picture in our heads. So, they key to this question is to be specific
about the effects the writer’s language choices have, or explain a reason behind the
writer’s choices. Your comments have to be specific to the text – they need to be
precise and contextualised to the extract. One way to do this, is to read the extract
and ask yourself ‘what is the specific effect that the writer is trying to achieve?’ Sometimes
it might be an emotive effect like creating a sense of fear, or mystery, and sometimes
it might be something else, like revealing something key about a character. And it’s
not necessarily only one thing: for example, an extract might use contrasting positive
and negative language to symbolise the contrast between a character’s dreams and their reality.
So let’s look at the extract and ask ourselves: what is the specific effect the writer is
trying to achieve? Brightly had a home. The river saw to that;
not the Tavy, but the less romantic Taw. On the Western side of Cawsand are many gorges
in the great cleft cut by the Taw between Belstone and Sticklepath. These narrow and
deep clefts have been made by the persistent water draining down to the Taw from the bogs
above. In the largest of these clefts Brightly was at home. The sides were completely hidden
by willow-scrub, immense ferns, and clumps of whortleberries, as well as by overhanging
masses of granite. The water could be heard dripping below like a chime of fairy bells.
In winter the cleft appeared a white cascade of falling water, but Brightly’s cave was
fairly dry and quite sheltered. He had built up the entrance with shaped stones taken from
the long-abandoned copper-mines below. The cleft was full of copper, which stained the
water a delightful shade of green. So What effect is the writer looking for here?
Well, of course there’s more than one possible answer, but I would certainly say that language
is used to make the setting sound idyllic and appealing.
And once you’re clear on that effect, THEN you can pick out words, phrases, language
features and techniques and sentence forms that create that effect.
But remember, it’s not enough just to spot one of these things: you need to be able to
clearly explain the effect it has, avoiding vague and generalised comments that could
be applied to ANY text. Let’s finish this example by looking at
a sample paragraph: The writer describes the setting in a way
that makes it sound idyllic. The sounds of water resembles ‘a chime of fairy bells’.
This simile conveys how delicate and pretty the sound was, and emphasises how lovely it
would have been to hear if you lived there. It’s almost as if the surroundings are magical,
and trying to resemble a real home for Brightly, who lives outside like a homeless person.
The ‘fairy bells’ symbolise a magical sentimental world, that perhaps provides an
escape for Brightly’s difficult existence. If you found this video useful, please do
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