GCSE English and English Literature Examinations GCSE English There are TWO examinations in English. You will sit the papers on different days, and you need to be aware of the different demands they make on you.
Paper 1: ( Unit 2431) Non-Fiction and Media Texts
[1 hour 45 minutes]
Section A: a test of reading skills Question 1: the selective summary
You will be given an extract from a work of non-fiction (an autobiography, or something of that sort). The question will ask you to extract from the passage some specific information. If the question says, as it does in June 2008 paper (where the passage was a chunk from Bob Dylan’s autobiography): “Summarise in your own words what the writer’s feelings were towards fame and his private life” you should read through the passage, underlining or highlighting, only those phrases and sentences that relate to the two prompts in the question, those dealing with fame and with the writer’s feelings about his private life. It may be that most of the passage deals with these two ideas to varying degrees, so you should try to highlight the most significant points. Use your intelligence to identify the most important ideas. This is a skill the exam is designed to test. Spend up to 5 minutes doing this. Now you need to show that you can organise this information into meaningful groups. Each group of ideas should be clustered together as a paragraph in your summary. It may be that the writer mentions ideas at the beginning and at the end of the passage that you think belong together. If this is the case, it’s actually desirable that you group them together within a paragraph of your own, because it shows that you’ve organised the information. Always be governed by coherence in this: a paragraph is a group of sentences relating to one central idea.
A summary should always be shorter than the original text. If your summary ends up being longer than ¾ of a side of the A4 answer booklet, it’ll be too long. Depending on the passage and the question, this equates to three to four paragraphs. So, using our question as an example, you might group the material you have highlighted as follows: •
points made by the writer that are solely to do with fame
points made by the writer that are solely to do with his private life
points made by the writer about the relationship between fame and his private life.
It may be that you wish to sub-divide any of these groups into two paragraphs (depending on the passage). It would be very unusual if the question gave you more than two or three prompts; so, three to four paragraphs should do it. Spend up to 3 minutes grouping the information into paragraphs. A list of bullet points will do. The final point concerns this phrase in the question: “in your own words”. This means that you should never use quotation, or simply copy phrases from the passage. You must convey the ideas in your own words. Remember that you need to be succinct, to be economical with words, so as to keep the summary short. Remember also that you must write in continuous prose, full sentences with accurate punctuation. Spend the remaining 22 minutes writing your summary.
Question 2: writers’ use of language
You will be given an extract from a media text (a newspaper article or something of that sort). The question will ask you to analyse two or three features of the passage: •
the ideas and arguments that the writer puts forward
the language used by the writer to make an impact on the reader
any presentational devices (pictures, headlines, formatting, etc.).
It will depend on the nature of the extract and the question, but you can pretty much guarantee to be asked to analyse the first two points. If the extract is an advertising feature, with pictures (as it was in June 2006), some comment on the presentational devices will also be necessary. The most important of the three bullet points, however, is the one concerned with language. This essay should be rather like an essay on a poem or novel, involving perceptive analysis of specific words, phrases, metaphors, hyperbole, antithesis, etc. and the effect of these techniques. The passage will have been chosen precisely because it contains interesting examples of language use. You must try to show an awareness of the writer’s purpose by drawing attention to the detail. If he or she is clearly trying to persuade you of something, show how s/he has attempted to do so. Spend five minutes reading and annotating the passage, trying to identify interesting features of language and content (and presentation if required). Unlike the selective summary (question 1), you absolutely must use short quotation to support your ideas, and you should also attempt to write a substantial amount. Aim for 2 sides of the A4 answer booklet, maybe more. The requirement for fluent, technically accurate, continuous prose in clear paragraphs remains the same. Spend the remaining 35 minutes writing your answer.
Section B: writing to inform, explain and describe
This is a test of writing rather than of reading. To do well, you need to demonstrate your ability to write fluently and engagingly, in a range of sentence structures, and paragraphs, using sophisticated vocabulary. Pay very close attention to the genre and audience given in the question. It may be that you are asked to write, say, a letter to parents about a school trip you’ve organised. If so, you must set your piece out as a letter, using an appropriate address and mode for signing off, and get the tone and content right for that audience. Alternatively, if you’re asked to write a magazine article for your own age group, make sure the content is right for sixteen-year-olds, but think of the cleverest, most sophisticated people in Year 11 and pitch the language and tone to them. If you allow the accuracy and quality of your writing to sink to the level of the most inane twitter on MSN, you’ll fail. Be careful of using too much slang or informal, colloquial speech. Paragraphing is very important: it’s not just an aesthetic device to make the writing look pretty on the page. A paragraph is a clearly focused idea. The opening sentence will identify that idea, and the other sentences in the paragraph will develop it in some way, or provide more specific detail. When you move on to a new idea, or want to make a different sort of point, in short, when the central focus of the writing changes, you should start a new paragraph. I should be able to gain a pretty full understanding of your piece by reading only the opening and closing sentences of each paragraph. Paragraphs can vary in length and, indeed, they ought to, since you’ll want to develop some ideas more than others. For this reason, you should spend three minutes making a few quick bullet points to identify the ideas and content you need to include. Don’t waste too much time producing an elaborate plan, but do take a few moments to think about the points you want to make, and the best order in which to make them. Typically, the question asks that you perform two of the three functions named: either inform and explain; explain and describe; or, inform and describe. I suppose they could ask you to do all three, but past papers haven’t tended to. So, you need to keep these terms in mind as you write. Ask yourself the following questions: •
Have I provided all the information necessary for this task and this audience?
Have I provided enough detail, explaining clearly what I mean?
Is there enough detailed description to show (rather than simply tell) the reader what I mean?
Spend 30 minutes writing your answer. As fluency, accuracy, and clarity of expression are essential, you are advised to spend at least two minutes proof-reading your work at the end. Don’t scribble over the script, or scratch out rejected words with an untidy scrawl. A single, horizontal line through the offending mistake, with the correction (if required) written above it, is perfectly acceptable. If you’ve missed out a word from a sentence, add λ to the appropriate gap and write the missing word just above its apex. Obviously, it’s easier to add in missing punctuation. Delete unnecessary punctuation with a single oblique /. Indicate an omitted paragraph break with two obliques //. Indicate where you wish to have a later paragraph inserted earlier in the text with an asterisk*. Clearly, you can’t afford to do this too often, as you’ll make the script impossible to follow; hence, the importance of planning beforehand. Corrections, done well, can actually reassure the Examiner of your competence, and if s/he is havering between two marks, effective corrections might persuade him or her to award the higher one. In summary, writing tasks are marked out of 30. Approximately a third of those marks are for getting the content, language, layout and tone, as indicated in the question, appropriate; another third are awarded for the cogency and organisation of paragraphs and sentences; the final third for spelling, punctuation and grammar.
Revision It’s very easy to devise your own practice questions for Unit 2431. Simply select extracts from good newspapers and try writing a selective summary, or an analysis of the language. Almost any article from anywhere in the newspaper should be okay for the selective summary. For articles with interesting language, look for pieces by columnists, and bits from the comment sections at the back of the main paper. A A Gill writes very entertaining restaurant and television reviews for The Sunday Times. Rod Liddle and India Knight are also good writers. Pieces by these people would work for the analytical, writers’ effects question. Self-devised writing tasks might be related to the content of the articles you choose. Always attempt such tasks within the time-frame suggested here. Ask your parents to read this guide, and then give you a mark for your efforts. Your teacher will also be happy to mark and give feedback on any practice essays you write, but remember that you’ll be on exam leave soon after the Easter holiday, so don’t leave it too late. Much better to turn up on the first day of the Summer term with a batch of timed-essays for your English teacher,
Paper 2 (Unit 2432): Different Cultures, Analysis and Argument [1 hour 45 minutes] Section A: Different Cultures
This is a test of reading. You will be given a choice of two essay titles on Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (or Opening Worlds or The Old Man and the Sea). One will be a passagebased question. If you attempt the passage-based question, 60-70% of your answer should be focused on the language and content in the passage. The remaining 30-40% should include connections from the words, phrases and ideas in the passage to events in the rest of the novel. For example: “When Achebe describes Okonkwo as walking on his toes “as though ready to pounce” in this passage from an early chapter, he makes him sound like a predatory animal, and this use of animal imagery is distinctive to the Ibo culture he depicts in the novel, where fables and idioms nearly always refer to the distinctive flora and fauna of their pre-colonial Nigerian home. More importantly, it implies Okonkwo’s short-temper and tendency toward aggression, a weakness in his character that brings him so much trouble, such as his chastisement for beating Ekwefi during the Week of Peace, his exile to Mbanta, and, of course, his decapitation of the court-official at the end of the novel. This is just one example of Achebe skilfully foreshadowing the tragedy to come, so as to create an anxious sense of inevitability for the reader.” If you choose the whole text essay, you must still include detailed analysis of the language of the novel, but you will need to choose the words, phrases and episodes for close analysis yourself. A clean copy of the text will be provided for you in the examination room.
Section B: a test of writing Question 1: writing to analyse, review and comment
Pretty much everything I’ve written about Section B of Unit 2431 (writing to inform, explain, describe) also applies to this writing question. The central difference is that instead of informing, explaining and describing (which are pretty straightforward instructions to understand) this task requires analysis, review and comment. So what do these terms mean? If the question asks “How independent do you think you are?” (as it did in June 2007), you might proceed in the following way: Analysis (as opposed to literary analysis of a play or poem) involves breaking down the issue into its constituent parts, so as to consider the elements in turn, and how they fit together. It’s a bit like taking apart a watch and examining the mechanism. “What is independence?” ought to be the first question you ask yourself. Are there different types? What does it look like? When I took my first steps I acquired some. When I learned to speak I gained even more. What else does it involve? Taking a job gave me some financial independence from my parents. But I’m a long way from being able to follow my own career path, or buy my own house, or move to London. What about decisions? Can I make my own moral judgements? Do I need advice on some matters? Which ones? Do I need other people? Are there different degrees of independence? Are all of them even desirable? Would complete independence be lonely? Or impossible? When have I demonstrated these different types of independence? Would independence be judged differently in other cultures? Which ones? How? What about the past? Would a Victorian chimney-sweep regard my level of independence as a luxurious form of dependence? Does education matter? Am I postponing my independence by staying at home and completing my education in the hope that better qualifications will help me to achieve more independence later in life? Etc. etc. etc. Asking these questions will help you to avoid generalisations and plan a more detailed response. Reviewing implies a degree of balanced objectivity, and an informed, knowledgeable style. A writer called to review something, be it a play, a book, a restaurant, a film, an album, will generally try to appear fair and informed: being too judgemental, or argumentative, can create the impression of being overtly biased. Admittedly, some reviewers do pan the play/book/film they’re reviewing; but, the more sophisticated end of the genre will generally try to appear balanced. In the context of the exam, you’ll be reviewing an idea, so the need
for balance is even greater. There’s nothing wrong with giving strong opinions, but this isn’t meant to be an argument in which you convince someone of a particular point-of-view, so wherever you do express a strong sentiment, you ought to balance it by attempting to consider the question from another point-of-view. Examine the issue from a variety of perspectives. To this end, conjunctions and conjunctive phrases such as: however; alternatively; nevertheless; some might argue that…, but…; contrariwise; etc. create the desired impression of fairness. A reviewer, of course, is also employed because s/he knows something about the area they work in. You want to sound knowledgeable. Comment really does mean what it suggests: that the Examiner is interested in your ideas. However, you don’t want to start ranting like a maniac about your pet hates. Those journalists who have advanced to writing for the comment sections of the broadsheet newspapers are employed to comment on the issues of the day because they are, generally, informed, balanced, intelligent and sophisticated. Your ideas need to be convincing. Detailed examples always make for a more convincing response. The ability to refer to relevant current affairs, or history, as well as examples from your own life, will also lend an air of authority to your work. Use an open-ended conclusion. You don’t have to force home a point. You might wish to end with a question.
Question 2: writing to argue, persuade and advise
Pretty much everything I’ve written about Section B of Unit 2431 (writing to inform, explain, describe) also applies to this writing question. However, this piece of writing requires you to create a convincing argument. So, the first thing you should do is take a side. Spend five minutes planning your answer in the following way: •
list some convincing points you could make in defence of your position
identify examples, especially those from history or current affairs, which back up the points you wish to make
anticipate a few arguments that might be raised by someone arguing against you in a debate
consider your riposte(s) to these counter-arguments.
You don’t have to provide a counter-argument and riposte to every point you make. But including a couple will lend weight to your argument. Remember that it’s a piece of writing, not a spoken debate, and that you don’t, therefore, have a chance to respond to points of information after you’ve written the piece. Try and blow them out of the water in the first instance. When you come to write your argument, try to use language in a persuasive way. Don’t rant, but rhetorical language and devices, cogent paragraphs (with a variety of conjunctions), and sophisticated vocabulary will make you more convincing. In short, you must be mindful of two things: •
ideas which are convincing
writing which persuades by virtue of its elegance and sophistication.
The question may specify a given genre and audience. You should always make sure you write in a manner appropriate to the terms of the question. You can practise both writing tasks by writing in response to articles of interest in the news.
English Literature There are two papers, but you take them at the same time; so, effectively, it’s one long exam of 2 ¼ hours. Clean copies of the texts will be provided in the examination room. You know what you need to do; but, just to remind you of the format of the paper, here’s what it includes.
Unit 2441: Post-1914 Drama
Death of a Salesman, The Caretaker, Journey’s End
Discuss themes; remember subtexts. Blend detailed comment on the effect of words and phrases with overview of, and cross-reference to, the whole play. Never forget that it is a play to be performed to an audience.
Unit 2442: Post-1914 Poetry and Prose Section A: Post-1914 Poetry (Larkin and Fanthorpe, et al.)
[1 hour 30 minutes] [45 minutes]
Write about the effect of words, poetic devices, structure and form; comment on tone; compare and contrast poems. Engage with the detail, and relate this to the whole poem(s). Use a critical vocabulary, where appropriate. Section B: Post-1914 Prose (Things Fall Apart, et al.)
Discuss themes. Blend detailed comment on the effect of words and phrases with overview of, and cross-reference to, the whole novel. Consider narrative voice and point-of-view. Never forget that it is a novel addressed to a reader. You will have a choice from three questions for each text. Never attempt the creative writing question; only ever attempt the passage-based question or the whole text essay Always use, and comment on, supporting quotations. The best way to revise is to re-read the texts, make notes, and attempt timed-essays.