So, here come the next few months in quick succession and before you know it, the 17th May will soon be with us and you will be sitting the first of 4 exams in English which are designed (by an ever increasingly nasty government) to put you to the test in your reading, comprehension and creativity.
The exam dates are as follows this year:
17th May – Literature Paper 1
24th May – Literature Paper 2
5th June – Language Paper 1
12th June – Language Paper 2
The Literature papers are what they are; combinations of the three texts you studied, such as Macbeth for the Shakespeare, A Christmas Carol for the 19th Century text and An Inspector Calls, for the modern text (play). You may have your own variations and as long as you answer the questions, keeping to the question, then all shall be well, but be careful.
I have used an analogy a lot in my teaching, which I will share later and since 2014, not one single student I have taught it to, either in a classroom, or at their home through tuition, or online in the same fashion, has ever gone below a C grade, when that was the way, or a Level 5, which we now consider to be a good C grade of old, or at least colleges and employers do.
So, all you can do is learn and revise the important quotes from each text that you think fit the bill. Don’t let anyone tell you that your quotes are rubbish. You think they are worthy of learning and they will stay with you whether you get the chance to use them or not, so believe me when I say this, the text questions that ask you to look at a chunk of text and then analyse the rest of the book mean just that. Write about the text in front of you, then what went before it and then what happens after it to the end of the text.
If it is a 5 act play, learn 4 good quotes from each act, like “is this a dagger I see before me?” Learn what it means, where it fits into the story (context) and learn how to use and develop that lovely thinking mind you have. In essence, with literature, there is no wrong answer, so long as your point can be backed up with evidence from the text. So, when you say Scrooge is a miser (notice the present tense there, on purpose) use the infamous quote of “he was a hard fisted, hand to the grindstone, Scrooge, a squeezing, grasping, clutching, covetous old sinner.”
I love it when Rizzo does the line in the movie!
Then you have the poetry to do as well, which your teacher should have prepared you for, but with each poem in the Power and Conflict section covered on this website, give them a read and take a few notes. You may not always agree with me, but that is the joy of poetry. I respond as I do because I am nearly 62 and have seen so much more life and experienced so much more love and joy, as well as pain.
I’ve also been in so many incarnations, re my work. I was not always a teacher, but a miner, driver, chef, tour guide abroad, so when I read a poem like Charge of the Light Brigade, because I was 3 years a soldier, it makes me respond in a certain manner.
With those exams done – I purposely do not mention the unseen poems here because I have dealt with them elsewhere on this site – you then have the 2 language exams. Now if your teacher has been any good (and many are not, sadly) then s/he will have set you up and prepared you, but ask this; where is the chance for many marks to be lost?
The answer, of course, is found in Section B of both exams.
80 marks across 2 exams!
That is only my opinion, of course, but so many things go wrong with creative writing in exams.
Let me tell you a true story. Sarah was one of my students. She worried like mad at the beginning of the year. She was an adult student. She had not got that elusive C grade but was so good at analysis of a text so Section A of both exams were relatively okay for her, but this teacher unlocked something in her creative side, encouraging her to go for it in such writing and she found she loved it, but the description/story in Lang Paper 1 and the article in Lang Paper 2 threw her completely.
So I shared the analogy I mentioned earlier, of a train journey. Writing a story or a description or an article, is like taking a train from one place to the other, say from Grantham to London, or A to B. If you stay on the train, you will get off in London and will achieve success.
Writing these 40 point beasts is the same.
If, however, you get from A and half way to B and have what we might call a Brainwave, an idea that seems so good and you ‘go with it’ then you may just end up at C, or Ipswich, even though there is nothing wrong with Ipswich! Your story then does not resemble the task, only in the first half, so the maximum a marker would give you, even if brilliant, would be 20 marks out of 40.
There goes your level 5 down the river! Or a 9 becomes a 7 so quickly because you have lost so many marks by making that error.
Then, when you get to the article, you do the same thing; share a great idea about how to argue against the opinion shared – always that format now with AQA – and you realise that there are three or four words in the title that you ignored totally. Thus, you only did half a job.
Look at a paper 2 article question from AQA and see what I mean.
But that article is important, so how do you write a measured article for a website, or press paper etc? Here is a link for you to see. You may recognize it.
BBC Bitesize can appear a little patronizing at times, but this one is so good so you need to look at it to get this right, for what they say here is excellent for this last exam of the English Language side of things.
The one that I looked at earlier today with my students asked you as students to consider the idea that we have become “obsessed with travelling long distances,” whilst at the same time saying that such things were bad for the planet. How much did we agree with that statement?
I asked for a plan and one student did a fabulous one, which I am pointedly not sharing here, but it was only one sided, when according to the link above, it needs to hit both sides of the argument based on the words in the title. He had made the same error Sarah did.
This was the question/task
“People have become obsessed with travelling even further and faster. However, travel is expensive, dangerous, damaging and a foolish waste of time.”
Then it asked “Write an article for a news website, in which you argue your point of view on this subject.” It offered 24 marks for content and the other 16 for the old devil called SPAG – Spelling, Punctuation And Grammar.
Note also that it said to plan the thing for 5 minutes, which the student did, but it did not mention the 4 words or think about arguing both sides of each one – expense, danger, damage or foolishness.
So, how do we do it?
The answer is to split the page into two with a vertical line in the middle and then split the page into 4 rectangles. One for each word above.
That’s 8 rectangles!
You then need to figure out why people think these things and why you disagree, assuming that you know why these things even go through someone’s mind. Add your thoughts into each rectangle.
Then you need to write a balanced argument using words like on one hand and with all things being equal, assessing both sides of the argument asked for, before you then write down what you truly believe at the end. Then, you have a balanced argument worthy of a 9 mark and grade and will simply blow the mind away of your markers.
Is this what you wish to happen when they read your exam script? I certainly want it for every single student who reads these thoughts. If you do not or are not bothered by what you get, then you are half way to failure, which is a great pity, for we teachers only want the very best for you in late August.
So go for it and blow us all away with your thoughts and writing. That’s the point of exams in the first place, to be a place where you get your chance to show off your skills.
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