This essay has proved to be useful to thousands of students and teachers in my school, and beyond. It provides useful reflections for the best students prior to their exams, and shows some of my hopes prior to their exam. Enjoy!

With four weeks to go until the English language exam, and three weeks until the English literature one, it is due time to reflect on how we (my Year 11 class) have approached its requirements.

There are two requirements, analysis and creation (reading and writing.)

We began the analysis of non-fiction in Year 11, heavily benefiting from the extensive inference practice of the previous year (not to mention their KS3 experience). Just after Christmas we had extensive practice in focussing on purpose and audience and developing our answers to the presentation question. This was, for me, a step forward for the students.

As we approach the remaining tasks for Paper 1, we should realise that we have developed some guiding principles. I’ll outline these principles later, and will show how these can be refined for the final stage of exam preparation (as well as given my students necessary skills for analysis that will stay with them the rest of their lives.)

Before I do so, I am happy with how my students were able to answer the language comparison question. Essentially, it required:

1) An understanding of how to identify the purpose and audience of a text precisely.
2) An understanding of how to write succinctly (that is, combining additional, contrast and consequence analysis so that it is evaluative.)
3) An understanding of how to produce a plan.

In understanding the above, my students were able to practice the analysis of language in articles, with the language comparison practice coming more extensively nearer the exam.

So, the principles of answering a question on the reading section of Paper 1 are:

How much should I write?

1)  Halving the number of marks to get a number of points which to analyse.

There is no set number of points to make for each question (although at least the exam board have seen fit to grant each question an equal number of marks this year.) The exam criteria does not give a specific number of points to be made, although:

– it does fit that you receive one mark for the point, and one mark for the analysis of that point.
– four is a sound number. It just sounds nice!
– in truth between 3-5 points could be made in the time allocated.

The major principle I would make is that it is important to write a lot about a little. Therefore, having a few points analysed in depth is better than having a large number of points with cursory analysis. One unnamed English teaching blog high in the google rankings recommended writing 8 PEE points (!) which is a recipe for thin analysis.

As I might blog (and copyright!) more extensively elsewhere,  my students aim to include (in their PEE) additional, contrasting and consequence analysis. We have connective stems to aid this analysis, but this depth of analysis is not always possible  (or even desirable) with every point.

Therefore, I would recommend that my students aim for 4 points (with at least one point, maybe two – or more) showing evidence of additional, contrast and/or consequence analysis.

Finally, I would have my students realise that the extensive number of pages are designed for the students who write 4 words per line: they do not need to finish the booklet!

How long should I write for?

2) Doubling the number of marks to see how long to spend on each question (in practice, this works out to one and a half minutes per mark for each question plus 15 mins reading time.

135 minutes in total.
– 60 minutes on the writing section = 75
40 marks /75 = about 112 seconds per mark (!)

Therefore, in class and revision I would practice writing at two minutes per mark, especially if you aren’t writing for the full 16 minutes. In practice, the actual writing of the answer should be for 12 minutes, but in practice the reading of the article and the writing of the answer is combined.

My personal preference is to read the question, and then use this to inform the reading of the article. For example, 15 minutes after the exam starts, the first article should have been read and the first question answered. However, you cannot rely upon the exam not starting a few minutes later due to unforseen circumstances.

9:00 – start

9:15 – first article read and answered
9:30 – second article read and answered
9:45 – third article read and answered
10:15 – language comparison question planned and answered

Of course, the reading time is not equal across all the questions. In addition, the reading time needed for the fourth question on language comparison is not a true reflection, as the articles would have been read (and analysed!) previously. Therefore, I feel that there is a little more time to play with for each of the first three questions.

Of course this kind of blog question needs to be asked at the same time as the previous one – the amount written and the time written are guides to ensure that a certain amount of analysis is evident.

What style should I aim for?

Students are marked on clarity for the reading paper, not variety. Therefore, I would preface each new device you find, or point you make, with firstly, secondly, thirdly and/or a discernible paragraph. You can use linking connectives to extend analysis (similarly, this follows onto) but this is not necessary (or strictly marked for.) A lazy marker (or an exhausted, human one at 1am) might spot your connectives and your analysis and happily give you due marks.

I would in the first sentence write the purpose and audience for the article. The intention of this is so that your analysis is specific to the article – even just reiterating the purpose and audience in a way that applies it to the technique/device spotted is better than the generic commentary about alliteration providing emphasis et al. Of course, if there isn’t a distinctive audience (usually by gender or age)  then simply write what the purpose of the article is. While this isn’t inherently marked, it is so useful that it immediately raises the marks of the rest of the answer as soon as you start analysing.

With this covered, what are the principles of answering the writing question?

The key thing is variety, of paragraph length, vocabulary, sentence length and sentence starters.

I would say, too, that students should answer the longer question first. It seems a strange thing to do, but it has more marks (and more depth.) I would ensure that you genuinely do offer 25 minute to the final question (although, again, the unnamed teacher above suggests 20 minutes.)

I would ensure, too, that you have one substantial paragraph, and one very short paragraph.

In the past, students could plan more substantially (and hence more skilfully!) That is no longer the case. Some teachers argue that no plan at all should be written. I think is foolhardy. I think between 3-5 points written as phrases and perhaps numbered is needed for the plan, as well as writing the purpose and audience in note form.
What is the most important to remember before an exam? 

The purpose of an exam is to test how you cope with pressure. 

Before an exam, focus on a mantra or a few principles rather than the reading of text books. Go into the exam thinking ‘purpose and audience’. I say it to my students as they enter the hall. Write your acronyms and mnemonics on the insert. Be decisive, and use your keenness and nerves to justify the substantial work and sacrifice you have made and given. Should you fail, you can return. Your intelligence does not change during a test. Do your best, and forget the rest.