Question 2: getting tougher…

OK, this is where the road starts to get bumpier. As this questions is asking you to explain, in your own words, about how the writer creates certain effects (in other words, how the writer is trying to make you feel about something).

Don’t worry if you feel nothing yourself as you read (other than the icy grip of blind exam panic): imagine what the writer is trying to communicate to his or her readers in general. Mr or Mrs Average. Perhaps Jeff, or Jane.

You’ll notice below that I go into a lot of detail: probably way more than any of your teachers did. That’s not to criticise your teachers in any way: they probably didn’t have time to do this. But I do, and you need to make time to really understand the nuts and bolts of each question.

Think of it like learning a series of recipes before going on MasterChef or Great British Bake Off: it will help you to visualise what you need to do to ensure you nail that meringue when you’re on camera.

 

Look in detail at this extract from lines 8 to 18 of the Source:

 

The wind came in gusts, at times shaking the coach as it travelled round the bend of the road, and in the exposed places on the high ground it blew with such force that the whole body of the coach trembled and swayed, rocking between the high wheels like a drunken man.

 

The driver, muffled in a greatcoat to his ears, bent almost double in his seat in a faint attempt to gain shelter from his own shoulders, while the dispirited horses plodded sullenly to his command, too broken by the wind and the rain to feel the whip that now and again cracked above their heads, while it swung between the numb fingers of the driver.

 

The wheels of the coach creaked and groaned as they sank into the ruts on the road, and sometimes they flung up the soft spattered mud against the windows, where it mingled with the constant driving rain, and whatever view there might have been of the countryside was hopelessly obscured.

 

How does the writer use language here to describe the effects of the weather?

 

You could include the writer’s choice of:

·       words and phrases

·       language features and techniques

·       sentence forms.                                                                                        [8 marks]

 

 

As I believe I mentioned above, use those three bullet points. USE THOSE THREE BULLET POINTS (that’s me shouting). I think they should you say ‘you must include’ or ‘you will include or you’ll lose marks’. At least that would be honest.

Make sure you read that question carefully and underline the key words:

How does the writer use language here to describe the effects of the weather?

Not the weather itself – the effects of the weather. An easy mistake to make!

So, let’s use those bullet points and hone all our attention in on the effects, not the weather itself.

Remember: 8 minutes on this question. 2-3 minutes to read and underline, 5-6 minutes to answer the question. This means only 1-2 paragraphs. And did I mention you should ensure you refer to all the bullet points above? Just checking.

 

The wind came in gusts, at times shaking the coach as it travelled round the bend of the road, and in the exposed places on the high ground it blew with such force that the whole body of the coach trembled and swayed, rocking between the high wheels like a drunken man.

 

The driver, muffled in a greatcoat to his ears, bent almost double in his seat in a faint attempt to gain shelter from his own shoulders, while the dispirited horses plodded sullenly to his command, too broken by the wind and the rain to feel the whip that now and again cracked above their heads, while it swung between the numb fingers of the driver.

 

The wheels of the coach creaked and groaned as they sank into the ruts on the road, and sometimes they flung up the soft spattered mud against the windows, where it mingled with the constant driving rain, and whatever view there might have been of the countryside was hopelessly obscured.

 

 

MAKE QUICK NOTES

Now, rather than start writing your answer straight away, I want you to spend 1-2 minutes making notes on how these quotes describe the effect of the weather. You can either do this by scribbling in the margin of the question paper, or do a quick spider diagram/bullet pointed notes.

My preference is the spider diagram/bullets, for one clear reason: if you don’t finish the question the exam marker may look at your notes to see if there are any additional ideas there worth giving a mark to. This is why tippex is not your friend in an exam.

This is what you might jot down:

  • Opening complex sentence – long – suggest length of storm?
  • ‘shaking’ ‘trembled’ – suggests fear
  • ‘gusts’ ‘force’ – nouns – wind unpredictable, strong
  • ‘exposed’ – adjective – man has little control, vulnerable

I’ve done this as bullets because it comes out better online, but there is no right or wrong way of doing it. Just make sure you do it quickly – get short quotes, language features and structure down along with their effect.

Here are a couple of sample answers taken from the practice mark scheme.

A GRADE 5-6 ANSWER

For a solid, 5-6 answer, you want to make sure you use quotes and explain how they answer the question. I know this sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how easy it is to forget to quote when you’re under pressure. If you don’t, it’s hard for the exam marker to give you more than 1-2 marks, however good your explanations are.

Here’s the examiners’ mark scheme exemplar for a grade 5-6. It’s not necessarily the full answer, but gives a good idea of the type of answer that would get this mark. Let’s take a moment to understand what it’s doing:

The opening, complex sentence is long and so gives the effect of a never-ending storm. Then nouns like ‘gusts’ and ‘force’ are used to show the reader how unpredictable and strong the wind was. The effect of the wind on the coach is built up by the writer’s use of verbs –‘shaking’, then ‘trembled’, then ‘swayed’. The word ‘trembled’ makes it sound as if the coach is almost frightened of the weather.

So, we have:

  • ‘complex sentence’
  • ‘gives the effect of’
  • ‘nouns like’
  • ‘used to show’
  • ‘effect…is built up by the writer’s use of verbs’
  • ‘the word … makes it sound as if…’

To get formulaic about it, what the candidate has done is this:

The opening, complex sentence is long Sentence forms
so gives the effect of a never-ending storm Effect
nouns like ‘gusts’ and ‘force’ are used Language feature and quote
to show the reader how unpredictable and strong the wind was Effect
The effect of the wind on the coach is built up Effect
by the writer’s use of verbs Language feature
–‘shaking’, then ‘trembled’, then ‘swayed’ Quote
The word ‘trembled’ Quote
makes it sound as if the coach is almost frightened of the weather. Effect

 

Now I think you see. Everything in that paragraph does one of three things:

  1. Uses one of the bullet points – words, language features or sentence forms;
  2. Uses quotes;
  3. Explains the effect.

And all of them answer the question. Do this in your exam and you’re pretty well guaranteed that level 5-6.

A GRADE 7-8 ANSWER

Now, I’ll be honest with you. As I think we’ve started well so I wouldn’t want to fool you or get you thinking that if you follow this guide to the letter you’re guaranteed a top mark. Life ain’t like that.

The really top marks (8 and 9) are hard to teach. Some students just have that bit extra. You may be one of those people. If you are, thanks for reading this, and I hope some of it helps, but you’re probably less in need of my help than others.

However: I will give you some tips for how you can get that level 6 (which is still pretty good by the way) up to a 7 and maybe even an 8. I’m just not promising anything.

Let’s look at an exemplar of a top grade answer to the above question. Again, not necessarily the whole answer but a decent indication nonetheless.

Don’t be intimidated by this – it’s been written by an examiner (they like to show off sometimes). Once we look at its ingredients we can start to see how we can apply some of these to our own writing.

The opening paragraph consists of a single, complex sentence perhaps reflecting the onward movement of the coach. The adjective ‘exposed’ and the noun ‘force’, evoke the idea of vulnerability, danger, and how little control man has over the power of nature. The verb ‘rocking’, progresses the cumulative effect of the list of verbs, ‘shaking’, ‘trembled’, ‘swayed’ leading to the simile, ‘rocking between the high wheels like a drunken man’ suggesting the coach is lurching haphazardly, its movement out of control.

Not bad, is it. But it’s actually not much different to the first answer. It still uses those three things I mention above: one of the bullet points, quotes, and an explanation of their effect.

This 7/8 mark answer shows two things that make it differ from the first answer:

  1. The language and sentence structure are more sophisticated
  2. The analysis is deeper showing sparks of original thinking

That’s it. It’s not doing something incredible or impossible. It’s just using a broader vocabulary, more complex sentences, and shows the candidate has thought deeply about the effect of the language on the reader.

We can break it down in the same way as the first answer. You’ll see that it’s doing almost the same thing in the same order.

Keep reminding yourself: if you break your answer down into chunks, and make sure every chunk as at least one mark attached to it, you’ll get your fair share of fairy dust.

 

a single, complex sentence Sentence form
perhaps reflecting the onward movement of the coach Explanation – notice the word ‘perhaps’, which shows the candidate confident enough to suggest original ideas (it’s ideas like this that get the top marks)
The adjective ‘exposed’ and the noun ‘force’ Quotes and language features
evoke the idea of vulnerability, danger, and how little control man has over the power of nature Explanation using more sophisticated language: ‘evoke’
The verb ‘rocking’ Quote and language feature
progresses the cumulative effect of the list of verbs, ‘shaking’, ‘trembled’, ‘swayed’ Quote and language feature – notice how the candidate builds on the first idea using ‘progresses’
leading to the simile, ‘rocking between the high wheels like a drunken man’ Quote and language feature – again building up ideas using ‘leading to’
suggesting the coach is lurching haphazardly, its movement out of control.

 

Explanation – like ‘perhaps’ above, ‘suggesting’ is the language of exploration. Examiners love this.

 

See? Pretty well the same with more sophisticated, exploratory language which enables the candidate to go deeper and test ideas.

YOUR TURN

Still not convinced you can do it yourself? I don’t believe you. Let’s look at another example and work through it together.

We’ll look at the opening of a book you may well know. If not, it’s a great book and worth a read. It’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck. Who knows, it may even come up in the exam. And if it does, you all owe me.

Look in detail at this extract from the opening of ‘Of Mice and Men’:

 

A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool. On one side of the river the golden foothill slopes curve up to the strong and rocky Gabilan Mountains, but on the valley side the water is lined with trees- willows fresh and green with every spring, carrying in their lower leaf junctures the debris of the winter’s flooding; and sycamores with mottled, white, recumbent limbs and branches that arch over the pool. On the sandy bank under the trees the leaves lie deep and so crisp that a  lizard makes a great skittering if he runs among them. Rabbits come out of the brush to sit on the sand in the evening, and the damp flats are covered with the night tracks of ‘coons, and with the spread pads of dogs from the ranches, and with the split-wedge tracks of deer that come to drink in the dark.

 

How does the writer use language to describe the natural world?

 

You could include the writer’s choice of:

·       Words and phrases

·       Language features and techniques

·       Sentence forms

 

 

OK: you’re going to start by taking your trusty black pen and

  1. underline the key words in the question that will focus your answer;
  2. underlining any words and phrases in the extract which refer to the natural world.

Have a go using the extract above before moving on. Use the Kindle highlighter in place of your pen.

Here’s my underlined extract:

A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool. On one side of the river the golden foothill slopes curve up to the strong and rocky Gabilan Mountains, but on the valley side the water is lined with trees- willows fresh and green with every spring, carrying in their lower leaf junctures the debris of the winter’s flooding; and sycamores with mottled, white, recumbent limbs and branches that arch over the pool. On the sandy bank under the trees the leaves lie deep and so crisp that a lizard makes a great skittering if he runs among them. Rabbits come out of the brush to sit on the sand in the evening, and the damp flats are covered with the night tracks of ‘coons, and with the spread pads of dogs from the ranches, and with the split-wedge tracks of deer that come to drink in the dark.

 

That should be enough to keep us going. You should now spend a 1-2 minutes creating a spider diagram (as we did above). Remember to include each of the three bullet points: words, language features, sentence forms.

Now, when you write your response using these notes, aim to use a similar formula to those outlined above. Something like this – tick them off as you write them:

  • Language feature
  • Quote
  • Effect
  • Language feature
  • Quote
  • Effect
  • Sentence type and quotes
  • Effect

And so on. Just keep doing the same thing: refer to quotes, features and sentence types, and explain how they answer the question. The more you do this the easier it gets. And when it becomes second nature you’ll start doing more interesting things with your writing: seeing patterns developing, testing out ideas, having original insights.

If you don’t know how to approach writing the answer in the first place there’s little chance you’ll access these higher marks.

MY EXAMPLE

Now that you’ve had a go with your own answer, here’s an exemplar version. I’m sure you didn’t look at this before you did yours. Of course not.

The opening sentence of the passage uses the adjectives ‘deep’ and ‘green’ to introduce the natural world of Salinas. This is furthered by the rich, evocative alliteration of ‘the water is warm’ and the almost onomatopoeic verb ‘twinkling’. The following complex sentence builds one image on top of another, suggesting that there is almost too much beauty to take in: the adjectival ‘strong and rocky…mountains’ contrasting with the ‘fresh and ‘green’ willows, perhaps suggesting that the novel itself will contrast strength and fragility. The final complex sentence brings animals into this natural world: the repetition of the animals’ ‘tracks’ and ‘pads’ suggestive of their repletion on the ground, developed further by the monosyllabic word choice which has a hypnotic effect on the reader.

OK, I probably went a bit overboard there (yes I was showing off), but I did it for a reason. I wanted to show you how using this very strict formula does allow you to build one idea on top of another.

You may have noticed that I did something else in that passage, which is a real ‘top marks’ thing to do. I suggested that the opening paragraph might in some way link into one of the novel’s themes (this is called foreshadowing).

Of course, I am at an advantage as I have taught the novel many times so know full well that the theme of strength versus fragility is a dominant theme, but do look out for anything that really stands out in the passage, as you can be sure that it’s standing out for a reason – particularly if the passage is from the opening of a novel, as writers like to give hints about what is to come in the opening pages.

There’s one other thing I did there, which I think is really useful: I used colons to introduce my explanation.  Both the last two sentences started with quotes and language features and then used a colon (one of these : ) to show the examiner that I am extending my ideas even further. It’s a brilliant technique and the mark of a top-flight candidate.

Which you are, by the way.

This is an extract from my book available for only 99p on Kindle: The Examiner’s Head

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