AQA English Language Paper 1 Question 4 (updated and animated)
December 3, 2019
In AQA English Language Paper 1 question 4,
you’ll be directed to a specific part of the text, and given an opinion on it, perhaps
from a student or a reader. You’ll then be asked to what extent you agree with that
opinion. The assessment objective is A04, to evaluate
texts critically and support this with appropriate textual references.
Let’s look at a typical question: Focus this part of your answer on the second
part of the source, from line 18 to the end. A reader said, ‘When Brightly is in the
church, he enjoys his time there, and it has a positive effect on him, even though his
life is hard.’ To what extent do you agree?
In your response, you could: Consider your own impressions of Brightly
Evaluate how the writer has created these impressions
Support your response with references to the text. [20 marks]
So the first thing to say here is that you can agree, disagree or have a balanced view:
all three approaches are valid, so there is quite an element of free choice in the question.
Now as a 20 mark question, you should spend around 25 minutes on question 4. That means
you’ve got enough time to re-read the section of the text in question and make your mind
up whether you will agree, disagree or have a balanced view.
The key skill in question 4 is evaluation. You’re evaluating essentially two things:
the ideas in the source in relation to the statement in the question, and number two
the methods used by the writer to convey these ideas.
A continual sticking point for many students has been with the evaluation of methods, so
let’s look at that in more detail, focusing on that second bullet point: to ‘evaluate
how the writer has created these impressions’. The wording here can vary slightly. Sometimes
it’s been ‘evaluate how the writer conveys’ something, or ‘evaluate how the writer creates
a sense’ of something, but the point is essentially the same thing: to evaluate the
methods the writer has been using. Now there has been some confusion with this
question at times: given that it’s not assessing a02: use of language and structure, the question
is ‘well, which methods can I actually write about?’.
Well the good news is I’ve looked through the past mark schemes and you can write about
pretty much anything: Language
Linguistic choices Irony
Themes / message / moral symbolism
Imagery Sentence length
Verb tense Narrative voice
Colour imagery Religious imagery
Sensory description And that’s just the things that have come
up in the papers we’ve had so far. In other words, you can write about any method
the writer has used, if you feel that method has created the impression you’re writing
about. Now, all I would do, and it’s something
you can do as well because this paper’s available free of charge to download at mrbruff.com
Is I would re-read the source from line 18 onwards (obviously I’ve already read the
whole thing once at the beginning of the exam so I’m familiar with the story, and I might
have some ideas about the question already) And I would underline, or circle or star anything
that seemed to be important in helping me to make a decision about whether, when Brightly
was in the church he enjoyed his time there and it had a positive affect on him.
And I might look at this sentence: ‘ A hymn was sung about Jerusalem the golden, where
happy souls were indulging in over-eating themselves in a sort of glorified dairy filled
with milk and honey And I might pick out some of the language
choices there that seem to suggest that positivity – the religious language of ‘Jerusalem,
souls, glorified’ and perhaps the positive imagery from ‘golden’ and ‘happy’.
And those are of course language examples, and it’s not just that you just look at
language, but that’s the sort of approach I would take.
Let’s have a look at a sample paragraph which explores the methods of imagery, contrast
and irony. I agree with the reader that Brightly enjoys
his time in the church, and it does have a positive effect on him. Even once he has left
the church, he is still thinking about his time there, and the song he heard for ‘some
days’. In fact, it had such a positive effect upon him, he even visits a ‘public library’
to look up Jerusalem on a ‘map of the world’. However, what it is that he enjoys is the
song about milk and honey, and the irony is that although the church gave him hope, it
did nothing to satisfy his hunger, and he ‘left the warm church without any of the
promised milk and honey’. This imagery of the ‘warm’ church contrasts with the description
of ‘barren village’ and ‘piled rocks’ where Brightly spends the rest of his time.
This contrast illuminates how little Brightly has, and how the joy he takes from the song,
is only ever fleeting, because it describes a place that is out of Brightly’s reach.
Therefore, the positive effect it has on him is merely superficial, and has no real tangible
benefit to Brightly’s life. As you can see in this paragraph, the two
evaluative skills are there: there’s the evaluation of the source in relation to the
statement, where the answer suggests that Brightly is indeed positive, but it’s superficial
and fleeting. And then there’s the evaluation of the methods the writer uses – the methods
of imagery, contrast and irony.