There is an exam question that deals with something called ‘Presentational Devices.’ AQA and all the other exam boards offer advice on each one, as does the BBC Bitesize site, but here for you, are just a few ideas. It is the question that always catches everyone out in Section A of the exam and so, take real notice of this in your revision. It is vital you understand these concepts as listed below…

PRESENTATIONAL DEVICES – well, some of them! 

  1. Illustrations and photographs

Writers use devices like these in order to find a visual way to engage the reader’s interest in a particular topic.  However, this is not the only reason.  Often, an illustration of photograph can be used to impact on the reader’s point of view about a particular topic.

  1. Captions

It is important to look closely at the caption that accompanies a particular picture.  Very often the caption does more than just explain what is in the picture: it can be used to inflect additional meaning on to the image. 

  1. Colour

Colour is a subtle way to control the reader’s interpretation of material.  Very often, a specific colour carries specific connotations and associations.  It is important to think about the colours that are used in a text and the possible emotions or feelings that the writer is trying to evoke as a consequence.

  1. Charts and diagrams

Simply, charts and diagrams allow the writer to condense facts and statistics into an easily accessible visual form.  It allows the writer to take raw data and present it clearly so that the reader comes to think that the writer’s ideas have a basis in quantifiable fact.

  1. Logos and Slogans

Logos and Slogans are important because they are visual representation of an individual’s or organisations collective identity.  In some texts identity is a powerful element of why the text is convincing: that is, because the reader can identify with the values of the group or individual promoting a particular idea, they are more likely to accept it.

  1. Font  Styles

The different font styles that a writer employs are key to their strategy in communicating with the audience.  The writer may adopt particular font styles in order to draw the attention to a specific point or to distinguish between different words or phrases in the text.

  1. Titles

Titles play a central role in any text: they dictate the tone and meaning of the text from the outset.  A title is more than a description of a text’s content, it indicates to the reader the approach that the writer is taking to a topic.  Titles may carry concealed or implied meaning that only becomes clearer once the text has been read; alternatively, they might also indicate, from the outset, the writer’s perspective on a particular topic.

  1. Sub-headings

Sub-headings are both a presentational and structural device.  At a very simple level, sub-headings help to divide information clearly so that the reader can follow a writer’s argument with clarity.  However, they also form a much more subtle purpose when used effectively.  Sub-headings can also be used to condense a complicated argument into carefully managed segments.  This approach is not simply concerned with helping the reader to follow the argument, but also leading them to believe that each stage of the argument is leading to a logical conclusion.  In turn, the text can be ultimately more persuasive. 

A Note about Presentational Devices

You should see presentational devices as integral to the success of any text.  They have not been included by the writer or design team primarily for decorative effect.  They help to enhance and extend the meaning of the text that the writer has produced.  When writing about persuasive devices, you need to think about what they add to the text.

Illustrations and Photographs

Illustrations and photographs are key elements of a text’s construction.  The use of visual images is both engaging and stimulating for the reader.  It is important to remember that each individual sees something different in a visual image.  In other words, how we interpret visual imagery is subjective.  However, illustrations and photographs help us not only to engage with a topic, but they might also visually represent the image that is being written about, or be included to alter our perception of a particular topic. 

Describing Visual Imagery

Although our interpretation of visual imagery is subjective, there exists a methodology for analysing visual texts.  In order to think about what a picture is showing us we can think about what is illustrates superficially, but also what it implies beneath the surface. 


Captions do not simply describe the contents of a picture.  Instead, they offer an additional comment on the topic matter.  Very often the writer will use an image to add meaning to their text.  In turn, the caption is another way that the writer can control the way that the reader thinks about a particular topic.


Colour is a slightly more subtle device that writers or designers can use to enhance the meaning of their texts.  This is because of the subconscious associations that we make with what different colours represent.  It is important to think about how colour is used in a text.  Very often it can be used as a way of directing us to think in a certain way because of what we associate the colour with. 


Another key presentational device used by writers and designers are logs.  Logos are important because they do two central things.  The first is that they promote the identity of an individual or organisation with which we associate the logo.  Secondly, the logo itself promotes the values and ideals of that person or organisation.


Slogans are effective tools that writers use in their texts.  Essentially, a slogan is a short and pithy phrase that sums up the essence of a product or organisation.  Some slogans use what is called phonological patterning.  This is devices like alliteration and assonance, for example, which are designed to make the slogan memorable by using the same sounds in the slogan.  Alternatively, the slogan might just be a very short phrase that focuses the reader on a particularly unique element of the product or text in general.


Like the use of colour, font styles are another way that the writer and designer can subtly control how you perceive a piece of text.  Fonts carry with them a number of perceived meanings.  One of the first things to think about is the level of formality implied by the font.  The second is to ask yourself if the font is being used to draw your attention to a key idea in the text.  The third, is the font designed to draw a distinction between ideas in the text.


Headings are another key element of a text.  They work to provide us with an initial sense of the writer’s topic, but also their purpose.  That is, headings are more than just illustrations of what will be contained in the piece, instead they can offer us an early insight into the writer’s perspective on a particular topic.  You should look closely at headings to determine whether or not the writer is presenting their ideological perspective in addition to an indication of what they intend to write about.


As well as the main titles in a text, you might also think about how the writer’s approach is developed by their use of sub-headings.  This will be important because very often, sub-headings do more than simply ‘break up’ the text; instead, they often provide a way for the writer to guide the reader through their argument by continuing to insert headings that deliver their ideological impact.


How do you revise? Are you the person that stresses before an exam? If so, then try this. It has never failed to settle a student before and during the exam in over 17 years of teaching. 

1. Revise in whatever way you find best. You know what is best for you. Revise [for GCSE English] the glossary of terms shown earlier on this blog. Then practice using them in rough. Get used to using alliteration and simile. They bring your work to life. 

2. As you revise, make a plan of action. Do not revise for longer than 4 weeks, whatever the subject. On week 1, you soak yourself in the subject. One week 2, you cut it down to compartmentalize it. On week 3 you start using neumonics [acronyms etc] to help you remember the elements of the subject. We use APPIL – I wonder who will be able to remember it when they see this. Then, on week 4, you get someone else to ask you questions based on past exam papers. 

3. You need to stop revising 2 days prior to the day of the exam, even if you have several exams, so you have to be organized in advance. In other words, if your exam is on a Thursday, you stop revising that subject on the evening of the Tuesday. You then have the day BEFORE the exam off. Go to Alton Towers or something, to take your mind off the subject. Go the cinema and enjoy a film. You may be asking why – it is simple. Imagine dusting a room. When you have finished dusting, you can see dust in the air, flying about all over the place. This is what your learnt information is like on the day you stop revising. It needs a day to settle. Then, by the day of the exam, you will be ready to let the information free. You will feel like you do before you are sick. Then, when you sit the exam, it will flow out of you. This is particularly effective if doing a subject like History, where dates and facts have to be remembered. 

4. On the day off, before the exam, do nothing related to studies at all. Again, you need to plan your diary well for this to  happen. Where there are 2 exams one day after another, you cannot do this, but be sensible with the revision. All will be well. 

5. Assuming you have done all of this to the best of your ability, there is one thing more I have to say – go into that exam being confident in your own abilities. Teachers and family will say “good luck” for the exam. My sentiments are that I never say that. Instead, I add that “luck is for the ill prepared” which means that if you have not prepared for this exam, then you will need all the luck in the world. 

6. Enjoy the examination. Am I a nutter I hear you asking? No I am not, but there is a section in the AQA 4700 English exam that asks you to be creative, so this is your chance to SHOW OFF your skills in writing. Do not be boring. Do not be dull. Do not do what the rest of the Lemmings do. Swim against the flow expected of you and as you do so, enjoy the experience. Yes, it is a test, but that does not mean to say you cannot have some fun in the process. 


I hope this helps. 


Typical Exam Task – Section B

As we head towards June 3rd this year, and the exam in English, assuming you are doing the AQA 4700 course of course, I am reminded of some of the tasks that the exam sets and so here is one for you to consider.

Just how much could you write in 35 minutes, which is the time allowed? They specify a page, but I say if you can do more, then be prepared to do so. An example of one of these scripts is to be found on this blog.

Have a go at this in your own time and see. Make sure you knock up a 2 minutes spider diagram beforehand. You can do this in the exam booklet to keep you on task.

TASK: Your school or college has set up its own radio station. Write the script for a short radio broadcast informing students about a good place to visit in your area.

Remember to:

 write a script

 use language to inform.

Try to write approximately one side of your A4 answer booklet.                      (16 marks)

The Color Purple

I was asked recently to explain an A level Lit response in an exam situation, so here is the question and my attempt at an answer. Would you agree with my analysis?

Extract from Saturday morning “Shug put Nettie letter in my lap” (page 109) until “she take and sling it back in the shaving box” (110).

Explore how Walkers manipulation of Celie’s voice conveys attitudes towards Mr_’s deception and examine how Walker shows how realisation has changed Celie’s perspective on her relationship and the circumstances that have shaped them as the novel progresses.

Concepts of deception and realisation are things that Walker uses in her novel to bring about the gradual realisation of her chief protagonist, Celie, throughout the novel. It is her voice that brings this novel alive, her mix of non-standard Creole English that allows the reader into the mind of this young oppressed woman as she comes to terms with her predicament.

In this extract, the reader observes just how naive and uneducated Celie really is, both in the ways of the world and the ways of the person she lives with, Mr_. Walker though, uses the character of Shug Avery, to help Celie realise that her life is more than oppressed. As Shug puts the letter into her lap, she sees several things; stamps with pictures of “peanuts” on them, a postmark saying “Africa” and a picture of a “little fat Queen of England.” But she fails to understand that the letter she has in her possession comes from anywhere in particular. In her uneducated and naive state, she does not make the connection between a Queen, a continent and the fact that this letter is from overseas. This not only shows naivete and a lack of education for the times, but also just how much she as an oppressed black woman accepts her life situation as being normal for the black woman in the southern states of America at the time the novel is set. She says she “don’t know where England at” and then links this with the fact that she does not know where Nettie is either. Such is the lack of understanding in this downtrodden character that the audience feels her sense of pain and frustration and sympathizes with her plight.

As the text continues it is Shug who has to inform her that Mr__ has been keeping her letters from Nettie away from her on purpose. But Celie’s response of “Naw” signifies a lack of understanding that he is as mean as he is. To her, such actions as he has perpetrated on her are normal. Indeed, the black American woman of the time would have added that this was the life of women at that time in America. To be black and female, one had to expect such a life. It was their allocated lot in life in a society that gave them no rights and fewer laws to protect them. As she responds in the negative, the reader is left incredulous because it is obvious that Mr__ is withholding her letters from Nettie, which illustrates his meanness to Celie, but her lone small voice holds true to herself, trusting the man who oppresses in a way that keeps her locked up in his squalid little world. The negativity of her response is antonymous with the reality of her existence and she cannot see it, or refuses to see it, again showing the depth of the plight she is in.

It is the reinforcement showed by Shug when she adds “Humph, he that mean” that imposes the reality of her existence on Celie and her dawning sense of realisation about her relationship with Mr__ to the point where she suddenly begins to observe the true nature of the man who dominates her so effectively and so callously. But even as she becomes more aware at this point, she is still asking “but how come he do it?” She knows that Mr__ knows that Nettie is everything to her and always has been and that by denying her the right to read Nettie’s letters, Mr__ is denying her a chance to live, but she still is naive enough to ask why a man, at that time, would stoop to such a manner of behaviour as this. It is a thing common in the Black Feminist experience that man dominates and the black woman has little or no say. It is something that they not only expect, but live with and only until recent times, continued to suffer. So by asking Shug this, she is doing so in an incredulous manner, showing she understands now something of what is happening to her, but also that she remains incredulous as to why. Shug’s response of not knowing but saying she will find out shows how much she wishes to see Celie grow and develop as a woman in that time, and also something of what Shug herself may have had to endure up till this point.

As the two women concoct the plan to seal the envelope and place it back in Mr__’s pocket, the reader sees that there is a growing sense of deviousness to Celie’s character. Her voice, supported by that of Shug, becomes one that is now prepared to fight back, to find new ways of getting to the truth behind Mr__’s behaviour and her relationship with him, but just as much as she sees him walking around all day with the letter in his coat pocket, she also begins to watch him more closely. This in itself signifies that her levels of trust are diminishing and as she begins “to feel a lightening in the head” the reader senses her voicing out her thoughts, almost like a soliloquy, to the point where she finds herself standing behind Mr__ with his razor, ready to take the next step.

The reader is unsure what that next step will be, thinking that she may use the razor to exact some form of revenge on Mr__ for his behaviour to her thus far. He has, after all, abused her, both physically and sexually on a series of occasions and behaved in an abominable manner resulting in her forced compliance in all matters of life. It is only natural then that Celie should begin to voice and enact her thoughts of revenge on this brute of a man. It is then in the text that the reader sees the way Walker takes the tension of this time and alleviates it by the use of laughter. When Shug begins to laugh, it lightens the tension, and when linked with the “lightening” in Celie’s heart and mind, we begin to see just how Shug is important to the character of Celie in her growth and development, her realisation that her relationship with Mr__ cannot continue.

The final section in the excerpt shows just how astute Shug really is. Sensing the tension in the air she is able to defuse it, whilst also bringing about a sense of peace to the scene. Celie is simply standing by, as it were, observing how a lady can control a man, even in the direst of circumstances. When Mr__ realises she has the razor, he is quick to tell Celie to put it down, showing perhaps, a sense of fear, but also guilt, because by being so controlling and dominant, he must recognize that at some point, Celie’s growth as a woman will get her to the point where rebellion will follow naturally. His reference to women “always needing to cut this and shave that, and always gumming up the razor” is perhaps a sexual reference, but it is also one that shows dominance and his right to dominate in that societal situation at the time.

Clearly, this extract shows a degree of growth in understanding from Celie, via the intervention of Shug Avery, but it also shows just how much Celie is a figure of subjugation and subservience, a woman whose needs are not being met by the man she is forced to live with and that as she grows and matures, so does her understanding of the world around her. She has been developing from the point where she was totally naive, through negative experience at the hands of her father and then the Mr__, to the point where knowing a woman of Shug Avery’s ways and attitude allows her to grow. These scenes from the novel show a female protagonist at a turning point in her development, which will inevitably lead to the ending where she is able to be happy for the first time in such a long time and end her diary with the word “Amen” or “so be it,” reflecting that she is then able to say that everything in her life, albeit some of it horrible, has happened for a reason and that reason is to be content with the things in her life at the end of the story. Her voice is strengthened at the turn of every page. Her attitude to deception is increased at every life event and she can finally understand the nature of a loving relationship, something Mr__ will never be able to give her.

R Johnson


Can You Do This Task?

Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to time yourself to 35 minutes and complete 500 words hand written, of the following title. Once done, see how much you have done. No planning. Just writing, like you would do in the exam in section B. 

Title: Take the end of a film and use it as the starting point for a piece of writing.

Go on, have a go and then post it below this…

Time Management [Exam]

Hi there. When you last sat the exam, did you run out of time? If so, then try to follow these time management guide lines for the exam in June. 




Q3……….10 MINUTES

Q4……….15 MINUTES

Q5……….22 MINUTES



Q1…………10 MINUTES

Q2…………13 MINUTES

Q3…………15 MINUTES

Q4…………22 MINUTES 



Schools and colleges say the same thing as AQA do, that you need to spend 25 minutes on the first task and 35 on the final one, but I disagree, thinking it pertinent to spend 20 minutes on the first one in section B and 40 minutes on the task that carries the most marks, so you can concentrate on accuracy. It is, in the end, entirely up to you how you manage your time, but if you have scored 9 or above in the Controlled Assessments all year, to not plan your exam properly and run out of time [and therefore stand a chance of messing the exam up] would be a travesty. 

So, be warned! Time management is up to you in June!