I know. You’re probably bored with seeing these ‘how to’ hacks – as if reading 8 things can change your life or whatever. And you also probably know that you should be revising, not reading other people telling you how to revise or get a grade 9.
But bear with me. Because I think that the following 8 hacks should help you a lot. I’ll be creating a screencast of this as well: sign up to my mailing list by dropping me a line and I’ll send you the link when it’s done: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find all this in my short guidebook on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2q8M4IS
The below is based on the AQA English Language paper, but to be honest could be applied to most papers. Maybe not Cake Decorating. Yes, there used to be a GCSE in that.
#1 MAKE SURE YOU READ THE FRONT PAGE OF THE EXAM PAPER
Read the front page. Carefully. Then read it again. Why? Because it’s important, that’s why.
- Answer all questions.
- Use black ink (not sparkly purple).
- Don’t write outside the box (examiners never colour outside the lines).
- Don’t use tippex – cross out (neatly please). Tippex is nasty and pointless.
- Look at how you’re being assessed (in AQA Language, it’s reading in section 1 and writing in section 2).
And the best reason for reading it through? Bullet pointed lists have been scientifically proven to calm you down. I know you feel calmer after reading the above. Don’t deny it.
#2 UNDERSTAND EXACTLY HOW MANY MINUTES YOU CAN SPEND ON EACH QUESTION
Look at the number of marks per question, and how long you have to complete it. For AQA Language it’s about one minute per mark. You have one hour 45 minutes for this paper. You’re expected to spend about 45 minutes on each section with 15 minutes for reading. There are 40 marks per question. So don’t spend twenty minutes on question one when it’s only worth 4 marks.
That would be a bit like paying £20 for a packet of Walkers crisps.
#3 MAXIMISE YOUR EFFECTIVENESS IN READING THE PASSAGE
A controversial tip for you – don’t read the whole extract before you start to work through the questions. What? Why? That makes no sense! Well it does, actually. As you’ve no idea what you’re looking for. And you’ll be stressed. So if you read it through cold it won’t go in. And probably stress you out even more.
So – go straight to question one. And only read the number of lines it tells you to read. Now, underline the words and phrases that answer the question. And then write those in the spaces on the answer paper. Four marks that no one can take away from you. Not ever.
Now on to question 2. Same again. Read the section it asks you to then answer the question. Question 3? Well, if it asks you to read the whole thing then do so. And because you’ve read the first two sections carefully already you should feel like you know this pretty well.
Remember: play the game. Maximise your time.
#4 UNDERSTAND WHAT EACH QUESTION WANTS FROM YOU
Make sure you understand the differences between each question: what they are asking you to do. This is important. For example:
- Question one is asking you to pull out some information and list it.
- Question two is asking you to analyse how the writer creates particular effects. It might give you bullet pointed suggestions of a few things you could include, such as certain words and phrases (aka short quotes), specific language (nouns, verbs, simile, metaphor etc.), and types of sentence (short, long, simple, complex etc.). Use those bullet pointed suggestions. All of them. As they will make you calmer. Trust me.
I’ll give you a worked-through example in a later post. This should make these differences much clearer.
#5 WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE
No, I don’t mean avoid swearing in the exam room. I don’t think you’re allowed to anyway (unless it’s that voice in your head). I mean making sure you use language-y language.
What do I mean? Well, name the parts of each sentence. Noun, verb, adjective, adverb. Talk about adjectival clauses and complex sentences. Mention simile, metaphor and alliteration. Whether it’s prose, poetry or drama, using these words will bring you riches. Or at least marks.
#6 KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A AND B
This one seems obvious, but again it’s important. Section A tests you on your reading. Section B on your writing. Any spelling, punctuation or grammar mistakes you make in section A won’t be so important – it’s the quality of your reading and ideas that count.
Section B? Spelling, grammar, layout, handwriting: worth almost half the marks. 16 out of 40 to be precise.
Write well in Section B.
#7 BORING IN DOESN’T HAVE TO MEAN BORING OUT
Let’s be honest. The Section B prompts you’re given to ‘stimulate’ your imagination are often very dull. Even a best-selling author would be hard pressed to come up with something sparkling and original when they have to write about the weather. Or a train. Or a train in some weather.
Guess what? Those best-selling authors aren’t in this exam. You are. So it’s up to you to impress the exam marker with something compelling and entertaining.
Remember Jeff: 500 exam papers. Let yours be the one that jumps out at him and makes him spill his Nespresso over his chinos (such a blatant teacher stereotype). Let yours be so full of originality that he laughs and claps his hands together and shouts ‘finally, here it is!’ At least let yours be the one he can actually read.
Think about ways in which you can make the opening sentences interesting. Maybe a one word sentence. Or start half way through the action. Or half way through a conversation.
I’ll give you some suggestions in a later post.
#8 GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO CHECK
I know what you’re thinking. He cannot be serious. Yes, every teacher says it. But no student ever in the history of students has done this. Allow five minutes to read through and check your answer? Ha!
But look at it like this: if you were only to read through your Section B answer, realised that you’d forgotten to put in paragraphs, then used the universal // symbol for ‘oops I should have put a paragraph between these two sentences’, you could raise your grade from a maximum 5 (C in old currency) to a 7 or 8.
I’m serious. This is the land of exam markers we are talking about. It’s not like the real world.
This is an extract from my book available for only 99p on Kindle: The Examiner’s Head