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GCSE English Language paper 1: question 4

img_3035This is the 20 mark ‘critical evaluation’ question – the one where the question seems to be longer than your answer. But don’t worry – this question is supposed to be a chance for you to really show off your ability to connect with what a writer is trying to say and the effects they are trying to create. You’re not writing a review of the story. What you need to do is think –

  • This is what the writer wants us to think or feel about a character/situation (the words in the statement)
  • These are the methods they use to create this effect
  • This is how the method works to create this effect

Let’s have a look at a question. Once again, to save any overlaps with any mock exams you might be doing, I’m going to use this extract from Susan Hill’s The Mist in the Mirrorhere.

The gallery was dark, high and narrow, with only a foot or two of passage between the bookstacks, and the wooden rail. I switched off my torch. The air up here was colder, but at the same time oddly dead, and close, as though the dust of years, the dust of books and learning and thought, was packed tightly, excluding any freshness.

The soft breathing came again, from a different place, in the darkness just ahead of me and I began to edge forwards, and then to stop, move and stop, but it was always just out of reach. I looked down into the great barrel of the room below. Every shadow seemed like a crouched, huddled figure, every corner concealed some dreadful shape. There was no one there. There was nothing. There was everything. ‘Who is there?’ I said. ‘What do you want of me?’ Or would have said had not my throat constricted and my tongue cleaved to the roof of my mouth, so that no sound was possible. I wanted to run but could not and knew that this was what was intended, that I should be terrified by nothing, by my own fears, by soft breathing, by the creak of a board, by the very atmosphere which threatened me.

But, after a time of silence and stillness, I summoned up enough strength and steadiness of nerve to walk slowly, step by step, around the gallery, glancing down now and then but seeing nothing, until I came to the last staircase, and by that descended to the ground again. As I returned to the corridor, closing the door of the library behind me, I caught sight of a light moving about irregularly on the opposite side, and, as I rounded the corner, I glimpsed a dark-coated figure walking slowly, and holding up a lantern – the porter, I supposed, on his rounds, and felt a wave of relief so great that it all but felled me and took my breath, and I was forced to lean against the wall for a few seconds, so giddy did I become.

Here is a typical question 4 (remember, the question will direct you to a section of the extract):

 Now focus on the paragraph beginning “The gallery was dark…” to the end of the extract.

A student said “This part of the extract is effective in that it really gets across the narrator’s feelings of panic and anxiety.”

To what extent do you agree? In your response, you could:

  • consider your own impressions of the narrator’s feelings
  • evaluate how the writer shows these feelings
  • support your response with references to the text

(Everyone always asks ‘do you have to agree?’ My advice is: yes, agree – it might save you a lot of time and effort. If you don’t agree, or if you agree with it only partly, then that’s fine but you need to be able to support your opinions whatever the case.)

Let’s say we agree with this statement and that Susan Hill really does get across the narrator’s feelings of panic and anxiety. What next? The three bullet points are there to help but it’s also important to look at the mark scheme for this question – here are the descriptors for level 3:

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-16-11-16

There are four things outlined in the mark scheme here:

  1. Write about the effects the writer is trying to create;
  2. Which methods has the writer used to create this effect? What is a method? A method is anything the writer has done on purpose to create an effect – more on this later;
  3. References: these can be examples of methods and/or quotations
  4. Stay focused on what the statement is asking us to do.

Thinking about the question on The Mist in the Mirror then:

  1. What are the effects? Well, the question is here to help us so the key words in the question are PANIC and ANXIETY. There might be other effects linked to these words: he might be nervous, fearful – all of these link to the main words in the question. If you read the last paragraph again

But, after a time of silence and stillness, I summoned up enough strength and steadiness of nerve to walk slowly, step by step, around the gallery, glancing down now and then but seeing nothing, until I came to the last staircase, and by that descended to the ground again. As I returned to the corridor, closing the door of the library behind me, I caught sight of a light moving about irregularly on the opposite side, and, as I rounded the corner, I glimpsed a dark-coated figure walking slowly, and holding up a lantern – the porter, I supposed, on his rounds, and felt a wave of relief so great that it all but felled me and took my breath, and I was forced to lean against the wall for a few seconds, so giddy did I become.

there is also a feeling of relief however, so you might want to say something about this. But look at this closely – the narrator feels relieved but his response to this relief is to become unsteady. It is as if the sense of panic has caused him to lose control over his emotions.

2. Now on to the methods. Remember, a method is anything the writer has done on purpose to create an effect. These could be:

  • description of character, setting
  • use of language devices such as metaphor, simile, personification
  • words!
  • use of macro structural features such as contrasts between narrative moments, paragraphs etc
  • use of micro structural features such as listing, sentences

When thinking about the methods, it is useful to think ‘why has the writer chosen this method?’ If you do, you are already beginning to EVALUATE the effect of the writer’s methods. Evaluation really is about how effective the writer’s methods are in getting across the ideas in the statement.

AGAIN – You’re not writing a review of the story, you’re just saying:

  • This is what the writer wants us to think or feel about a character/situation (the words in the statement)
  • These are the methods they use to create this effect
  • This is how the method words to create this effect

Looking at the extract again, here are some methods that we might use (and a brief explanation) from the first paragraph:

  • the height of the gallery – the writer could have used this to create a sense of isolation. Height can mean power, but here, because he is off the ground, the narrator might feel trapped at the top of the spiral staircase.
  • the description of the place in the first paragraph – there is only a ‘foot or two of passage’ which the writer has used to create a sense of claustrophobia/confinement; ‘the air is colder’ – again, why has the writer done this?
  • The phrase ‘oddly dead’ – there is a sense of perplexity in the narrator’s tone here which sows the seed of doubt. The writer is perhaps trying to foreshadow the sense of panic later on …
  • The repetition of ‘the dust of years, the dust of books’ – the writer’s use of this example of ANAPHORA foregrounds the word ‘dust’ and shows us that this space has been neglected. However, add this to the final clause in the paragraph – ‘packed tightly, excluding any freshness’ and you begin to think about that idea of claustrophobia again. Indeed, some of my pupils thought that there was something coffin-like about this description.

So, even with these few examples, we have looked at a range of methods: description of place, words, techniques, sentences …

Notice that in my brief evaluations, I have emboldened the phrase ‘the writer’ – this shows that I know there is a writer at work and it tells the examiner that I am starting to evaluate what the writer has done and its effect and staying focused on what the question is asking me to do.

Writing an answer

  • Use the key words in the statement to kick off your paragraphs: ‘One way the writer shows the narrator’s sense of anxiety is…’; ‘The writer shows that the narrator feels a sense of relief through the …’
  • Say three things about a method if you can (show/suggest/symbolise for example)
  • Use these sentence stems to get in your evaluation: ‘this shows’; ‘it could be said’; ‘the … could also represent…’
  • (TIP – more perceptive answers will have the confidence to speculate: ‘the writer might also be trying to suggest that..’ for example)

Here are two examples from my class:

img_3044img_3045

Some questions answered:

  • How much do I have to write? Answer – try and include two to three moments from the extract to support the key words in the statement. If you can, use moments from different parts of the extract.
  • Can I refer to other parts of the extract outside the selected section? Answer – you can do, but always make sure that you connect them to things you’ve said about the selected section.

Here’s part of a response to The Mist in the Mirror question:

The ending to the extract is extremely effective in conveying the narrator’s loss of emotional control whilst in the library. The way the writer describes the narrator’s movements adds both to his sense of nervousness and his anxiety. He ‘began to edge forwards, and then to stop, move and stop”: the repeated verbs which contrast between movement and mobility suggest indecision and hesitation reinforced by the use of the verb phrase ‘edge forwards’ which compounds the sense of anxiety which the writer has built up throughout the extract. These high levels of anxiety also affect the narrator’s ability to perceive the world around him: he imagines that ‘every corner concealed some dreadful shape’; this sense of impending danger reinforces the gothic atmosphere of the text and adds to the narrator’s emotional instability. The writer’s use of the phrase ‘There was nothing. There was everything” also foregrounds the uncertainty of the narrator’s mind and his emotions. These two short sentences are contradictory, as if he cannot believe his own eyes, doubting his own mind. For me, the writer has succeeded in conveying the narrator’s fractured psyche which also puts in doubt the events of the previous passage: if he is falling apart psychologically, then perhaps everything is in his imagination.

Screen Shot 2016-11-27 at 16.11.29.png

Here’s another question based on the extract from Daphne Du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now which you can find here.

  1. Read the rest of the extract from “The canal was narrow, the houses on either side seemed to close in upon it” to the end of the extract. A student, having read this, said: “This part of the extract changes the atmosphere and mood quite dramatically.”

To what extent do you agree? In your response, you could:

  • write about your own impressions of the way the atmosphere and mood are created
  • evaluate how the writer has created these impressions
  • support your opinions with references to the text.

And here is a superb response:

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-17-13-26

 

 

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8 thoughts on “GCSE English Language paper 1: question 4

  1. This was super helpful as I had no idea for how to answer this question. Very helpful for my upcoming exam

    Like

    1. Hi Michail
      About 20 minutes. I’m telling my students to spend 1hour on section a and 45 mins on section b. For section a: 10 mins on reading and annotating to begin with. Then 5 on Q1, 10 on Q2, 10-12 on Q3 and 20 on Q4. I know this adds up to about 57 minutes (!) but it gives you a bit of leeway.
      Hope this helps

      Like

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