19 May 2013

What's the Best Book to Revise AQA GCSE Language Exam Higher? Advice Straight from a Senior Examiner

The GCSEs are approaching fast, with the English Language Exam on June 4th. Are you ready?

The AQA GCSE has changed, and now, so has the textbook. Brand new for this year, 2013 students have the competitive edge with this brilliant book, full of worked examples, and tips straight from senior examiners on how to raise your grade in the Language Exam. AQA GCSE English and English Language Unit 1 Higher Tier by Beverley Emm is perfectly pitched.

Get my video review here.

The book is geared specifically for higher-tier students, and focusses on both the Reading and Writing sections. Most teachers, and students find this the hardest part of the course - as horror-stricken GCSE-mocks season usually proves, with capable students groaning at C and D grades. If you don't want a repeat of this in the exam, you need this book. 

Who will it work best for?
It would work equally well for students at home, or in class. The book aims to raise grades towards Band 4 (notional A and A*), but is clear enough for those predicted a C who might like to aim for a B, or even an A.

What's so great about it?
  • It's written by a senior examiner. The examples are specifically relevant to the exact type of questions that will be set. There's a practice paper at the end too, and it includes the mark scheme.
  • There are clear, stepped exercises you can use on your own, or in class, with very clear, worked examples of notional A and A* student answers that are highlighted to show why the piece gained its grade - with specific tips for improvement.
  • The level of detail is fantastic - down to individual phrases and precise techniques used - as well as what not to use. Each question on the reading paper tests a very specific skill: retrieval and understanding, presentational features, thoughts and feelings and language features.  If you don't know what these mean, then you definitely need this book. Understanding the paper is key to success, particularly for question four - where students often score worst.
  • There's a checklist so you can chart your progress on the areas that matter.

Top Tips from the Author, Beverley Emm

For question one, don't just list facts. You need to interpret and explain - to show that you understand the issue in the article. Be thorough and make sure you focus on both aspects of the question. For example, if it asks about 'good' and 'bad' points - you must include both. You must refer to the text - brief quotations are a quick way to do this. Don't comment on presentational features. Don't analyse language.

For question two, make links between the presentational features and the main part of the article, and QUOTE - and cite specific details from the picture. Short, embedded quotations are best. If you don't quote, you'll lose marks. Be specific about the effect. Don't write: 'The headline makes the reader want to read on'. Do write: 'the sense of danger in the word 'blah' suggests [blah] and makes the reader afraid, creating a mini-cliffhanger effect, which links to [this specific word or phrase in the main article]'.

Question three is about thoughts and feelings, so focus on these. There may be a change in thoughts and feelings part way through. If there is, make sure you pick it up. Be thorough in tracking the shifting thoughts and feelings and quote examples, then explain them in detail.

For question four, take care. It's the one students most commonly mess up. First, make sure you write about the text you've been asked to write about. Then compare it to another. Don't talk about audience and purpose. This question is all about language effects. You may like the useful list of language features which I've written for my own students.
Don't write 'the writer seems happy. I can tell this because he uses happy words'. Do write: 'the word 'glitters' and 'gold' suggest that the light is precious, but the natural beauty of the sunset is priceless, as if this is an experience he could have nowhere else.' Always be specific, give specific examples and explain the connotations of language - and phrases in their context.

The notes below are to help raise grades for Question Four with examples of student answers. These are reproduced by permission of Beverley Emm.

Question Four
Band 1
the writer uses descriptive language such as ‘paradise’
Band 2
the writer uses descriptive anguage such as ‘paradise’ to show how beautiful the valley is. this is better, but the student has still included no context.
Band 3
the writer uses descriptive language such as ‘paradise’ to show how beautiful the valley is. The words suggests that after walking for so long in the frozen snow, the characters have stumbled on a place that makes them feel confident they’ll be rescued.
Band 4
the writer uses descriptive language such as ‘paradise’ to show how beautiful the valley is. The words suggests that after walking for so long in the frozen snow, the characters have stumbled on a place that feels like heaven which makes them feel confident they’ll be rescued. The religious metaphor is continued with the words ‘blessed valley’ and ‘garden of eden’ the writer’s choice of language is almost suggesting a miracle has happened: the hand of god or some form of higher being has led them to this divine place and salvation.

What are you waiting for? Go get the book!