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Reflections on GCSE English Language Component 1, Summer 2019

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In this blog Nancy Hutt, the subject officer for Eduqas GCSE English Language, reflects on this summer’s Component 1 assessment, using the Principal Examiner’s report as her starting point. For a full commentary on the exam, please read the full report here

Section A - Reading

Key points

Candidates should:

  • Read the text and the questions closely and carefully and identify the focus of the question;
  • Avoid a prepared approach which involves looking for certain literary devices or opportunities to use subject-specific terminology;
  • Comments and inferences should be linked to textual evidence;
  • Track the text methodically to help structure their response and make a range of points;
  • Maintain a coherent stance when responding to the evaluation question.

A list is fine for question 1

Bullet points are perfectly acceptable here. However, they should be coherent in themselves and should not rely on the examiner’s knowledge of the text.

Locate facts …

Question 1 asked for a list of what was learned about Jonathan in the specified lines and, to some extent, the candidates could simply locate facts about him. Marks were available for a straightforward and clear selection of relevant points. For example, the first and obvious point to make was that Jonathan moaned about everything taking so long and later he also complained about the mess.

… and make inferences based on the text

However, there were also opportunities to make inferences and comment on Jonathan’s character. The simple facts cited above prompted some candidates to make valid inferences about him being judgmental or lacking understanding.

But make sure responses are based on the specified part of text and answer the question asked

For question 1 there was plenty to say about Jonathan’s character, but some candidates were imprecise, overstated their comments or relied on information from the introduction.  It was important to select five relevant details from the lines given, focus clearly on Jonathan and deal with information quickly and efficiently.

For question 2, which concerned his wife, a small minority carelessly misread the question and wrote about Jonathan.  Misreading immediately cost those candidates five marks. Each question should be read at least twice before putting pen to paper.

Plan your time

 It’s important for candidates to plan their time wisely.  Overall, they should think in terms of roughly a mark a minute, and thus try not to spend too long on the 5 mark questions. 

Remember that “what happens” is as important as “how”

Candidates are familiar with the demands of a ‘what impressions?’ type question now (question 2 this summer) and generally they handled it well commenting on what happens as well as the language used by the author. 

Questions 3 and 4 also offered plenty of scope to select and comment. For the latter question, the omniscient author told the reader some of what Frances was thinking and feeling but action and dialogue were also important.

… and don’t over-complicate the “how”

One strand of AO2 requires candidates to comment on and analyse language and when answering question 4 the choice of language offered plenty of opportunity to select and analyse relevant parts of the text.

However, candidates should avoid making ‘searching for devices’ their starting point and focus more on the text itself. The best way to tackle the type of question which asks “How does the writer … ?”  is to link comments to evidence and to embed any relevant terminology in a systematic exploration of the text.

Track through the text

Tracking through the text makes for a more coherent answer, shows an awareness of structure and helps to ensure that a relevant range of points, from the beginning, middle and end of the extract is covered.

For example, question 3, perhaps the most challenging of the reading questions, prompted a wide range in the quality of responses. Only some candidates really grasped the chronology of events in this part of the story and careful tracking here would have helped them to do this more successfully.

Tracking was also a very helpful approach to question 4.

When answering the “evaluate” question, establish and maintain a coherent stance

Question 5 required the candidates to range across the whole text and evaluate Jonathan in his roles as father and husband. In response to a question that assesses AO4, it is vital to establish a coherent stance. The candidates could put the emphasis in different ways but the evidence was mixed and the reader’s perception of the character developed and changed as the story progressed to its conclusion. The best approach was to follow the narrative structure as that allowed the candidates to see how the writer manipulated the reader’s response to the character.

Section B – Writing

Key points

  • Whether writing from the imagination or from real experience, candidates need to ensure there is enough detail and development of plot and character to give their work a feeling of authenticity.
  • Candidates should aim to write a brief plan before starting their narrative in order to improve its direction and structure.
  • Candidates should try and establish a relationship with the reader/engage the reader via devices such as asides, statements, questions, humour, a distinctive voice etc…
  • Most candidates need to pay more attention to technical accuracy and should try to leave five minutes at the end to proofread their narratives.
  • The inability to control tenses continues to be an issue. When candidates start writing in a particular tense, they should try to use that tense consistently unless there is a valid reason to switch between tenses.

Write enough – but not too much!

Most candidates do try their best to produce a narrative which has some detail and substance. However, some are too brief and thin to develop plot and characterisation convincingly and often they provide limited evidence on which to base a fair assessment. There is nothing to be gained from writing endlessly but examiners do need enough evidence to inform their judgement.  There is no need to overwhelm the examiner but the narratives should have some substance and development.

Keep an eye on technical accuracy

Technical accuracy is still an issue for many candidates across the range of ability.   Candidates should be aware of spelling or punctuation features that cause them particular problems, and try to build in a little time at the end of the exam to check for any errors.

As a general rule, stick to the same tense throughout

Inconsistency with tenses is becoming a particularly serious problem for far too many candidates, even those who are perfectly competent in most aspects of writing. Candidates should practise writing in different tenses before the exam to see which tense they feel most comfortable with. Writing ‘tenses’ on the question paper as they write their narrative in the exam may also be a useful reminder to candidates to check they are using tenses consistently.

Focus on one or two key events…

This was particularly applicable to the primary school task.  Some responses were rather unfocused but the best had an anecdotal quality and a sense of authenticity.   

…and make it believable

For the fourth option, any job which proved unattractive for any reason was an acceptable choice. Some were unconvincing or lacking in clear structure but most were perfectly valid. Perhaps, out of all of the options, the attempts to be imaginative in response to this title and write narratives based on organised crime or bank raids were generally less successful than those which were based on real experience of actual jobs in restaurants, petrol stations and shops. However, even if candidates had to use their imagination here because they had never had a job, as long as the story was coherent and believable there was no problem.

I hope you have found this brief overview useful.  Remember to have a look at the full report for more detail, and don’t forget that we’ll also be looking at this summer’s assessment at the CPD events this autumn.  You can book your place here.

Next time I’ll take a look at Component 2.