AQA · AQA new specification · For Pupils · Reading skills · Teaching Ideas

GCSE English Paper 1 Language Question

Here are some of your model answers to the language question on The Mist in the Mirror  (follow the link for the text) and some thoughts following our lessons last week. Here is the question again:

Look at the section beginning “It was as I approached…” and ending with “stillness of the room”.

How does the writer use language here to convey the narrator’s feelings?

You could include the writer’s choice of:

  • words and phrases
  • language features and techniques
  • sentence forms.


A really good tip for the language question is to select two or three quotations from the extract and really zoom in on them. The selected quotation should contain at least one word that you can say a couple of things about.

The language question is not about technique spotting. Sure, there is reference to techniques in the mark scheme but notice that the TOP BULLET POINT refers to ‘effects’. The SECOND bullet is all about choosing the BEST quotations.

The bottom bullet does not say ‘uses sophisticated techniques’. Instead it says ‘makes sophisticated and accurate use of subject terminology’. In other words, it’s not the TECHNIQUE that gets you the level 4 but what you say about it.



What is a Technique?

Well, a technique is anything that the writer uses to create meaning. At the most basic level this is WORDS – and this should be a default position. If you can make reference to VERBS, ADJECTIVES, ADVERBS, PERSONIFICATION, SIMILES AND METAPHORS etc then that is fine, but none of it matters unless you say something about the effects that the writer is trying to convey.

So: don’t get bogged down with technique spotting, it’s irrelevant unless: (a) you provide an effective example that links to the point you’re making about the question and (b) you go on to write in detail about the effect.

Don’t forget that for this question you can also refer to sentences. However, be careful not to talk about the sentence as a structural feature  of the whole text (i.e. ‘the sentence is a pivotal moment in the extract as after this, the mood changes’) – instead, think about how the way the sentence itself is structured creates an impact: is it the use of a list, the repeated clauses which contain a powerful verb, etc?


Effect is not necessarily what the effect is on the reader – although it can be. Think  more about WHY THE WRITER HAS CHOSEN THOSE WORDS

  • Do they want to show how the narrator is scared?
  • Do they want to create an atmosphere of claustrophobia or confinement?
  • Do they want to make the reader see how the narrator is affected by these sounds?
  • etc etc…




We put together a little model structure for you to follow – it looks like this:



Okay. So we looked at this extract:

It was as I approached the last few bays that I heard what at first I took to be the soft closing of the door at the far end of the room, but which went on, even and regular, like the breathing of someone asleep, a sighing that seemed to come out of the air above my head, as though the whole, great room were somehow a living thing, exhaling around me. I glanced up at the gallery. Someone was there, I was certain of it. The wood creaked. A footfall. I was as far from my way of escape as I could have been, trapped alone in this empty place with – whom? What?

‘With nothing,’ I said, aloud and boldly, scornfully – but then started at the sound of my own voice. ‘Nothing.’ And went to the spiral staircase nearest to me, and began to climb, my steps echoing harshly in the stillness of the room.

There are several things that you could select here:

like the breathing of someone asleep, a sighing that seemed to come out of the air above my head – here the verbsbreathing and sighing – actually act as nouns, as if the action itself has become a real, tangible thing. This adds to the sense that the room is alive (which links to the later point about the room being ‘a living thing’ of course). The words breathing and sighing seem to suggest something harmless and even innocent I suppose, but set alongside the context – the fact that the narrator feels isolated and on edge – the words are IMBUED with more sinister, or at least more threatening, CONNOTATIONS. The geography of the sounds – the fact that the sounds seem to come from ‘above’ him – also perhaps have some importance. That they above him also implies that they have a dominant position, placing him in a position of vulnerability perhaps.

great room were somehow a living thing, exhaling around me – Now the room is personified once more but there is again something quite unsettling about this phrase. Calling it a living ‘thing’ seems to suggest it is something inhuman (which of course it is) but the personification doesn’t humanise it, it does the opposite. The fact that is is ‘exhaling’ around the narrator suggests that he is inside this beast, like Jonah inside the whale perhaps, which also adds to the sense of confinement and claustrophobia which is present throughout the extract.

Many of you also commented on the word ‘creaked’ – you were right to see this as onomatopoeia and to state that the sound adds to the sense of menace is appropriate. Some went a little further to suggest that it also links to the room being alive and that the word ‘creaked’ adds also to the gothic atmosphere of the text.

At a sentence level, you might comment on the long, breathless sentence in the first paragraph. Why is it breathless? Why has the writer done this? Well, look first at what the narrator’s emotions are. He is fearful, anxious and so the FORM of the sentence matches his mood. But this isn’t all (and you shouldn’t stop there) – look at the multiple sub-clauses that contain words linked to breathing – exhaling, sighing, breathing – it is as though the sentence itself reflects the nervy, anxious feelings of the narrator.

Here is an example:




Notice that it’s not the use of techniques that makes this response effective: it’s the layers of interpretation that the student goes into. It’s really important to understand this. This response picks out some of the words from the wider quote and digs deep into the meaning. Here’s another that we did in class (from the revision paper we are doing in period 6):


Again, look at the depth of detail that you went into. The technique referred to is simply ‘verb’s but look at what you did with this – the layers of interpretation are important.





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