What should I expect?. In the examination, you will be given two pieces of unseen writing to read. The writing will always be non – fiction / media and you will be asked four or five questions. The texts could be about anything but they may possibly be linked by a common theme.
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The exam board give us the following information about the questions:
Question 1 will be a straightforward test of the candidates’ ability to take information and ideas from one of the texts.
Question 2 tests reading and understanding text, and selecting appropriate material. It also tests how writers use grammatical, structural and presentational features.
Question 3 (or 3 & 4) and will test the candidates’ ability to read and understand texts, and select the material appropriate, and develop your exploration of writers’ ideas and viewpoints.
Final Question refers to both texts. The question will test candidates’ ability to select material appropriate to purpose, to collate material from different sources and make comparisons and cross-references.
You should make close reference to, and quote from the sources to support their comments and analysis.
Skimming and scanning techniques
Skimming and scanning are ways of reading a text quickly. You will need these skills when you are looking for information in the texts.
Skimming is when you very quickly read over a piece of text. You do not need to read every word, you are only finding out the main points or the gist of a text.
Scanning is when you very quickly read over a piece of text, this time however, you are looking for a particular piece of information. For example, in the exam you could be asked to locate three reasons why smoking is on the increase for the under 16s. To do this you would scan the article looking for key words like ‘smoking’, ‘increase’ or ‘under 16s’.
When reading any type of non fiction text, try to find the PAF.
PAF means PURPOSE, AUDIENCE, FORM
The purpose of a text is most important. What is the text trying to do? Is it trying to make you buy something? Is it trying to give you advice? Is it trying to give you balanced information about an event? How do you know this? What gives it away?
Who do you think is the intended audience of this text? Is it a child? Is it a teenager? Is it an adult? How do you know? What gave it away?
What kind of non fiction text is this? Is it a letter, a newspaper article, a review? How do you know? What gives it away? Do you know the features of each kind of non fiction text type? This will be helpful for the writing section too.......
Picturesand illustrations. Most of the source materials in the exam will have pictures on them. Remember, you are looking at newspapers, magazines, web pages, charity leaflets etc – all of these will have carefully chosen pictures on them.
Think about the purpose of your source material. If it is a charity leaflet for example, its purpose may be to persuade you to donate to that charity. You need to comment on how that picture in the leaflet helps persuade the reader to part with their money. Perhaps it could be for the RSPCA and the picture on the front is of a cute kitten with a broken paw. You would need to state how that picture a) gets your attention and b) persuades the readership to part with their money. There may be a picture of a smiling person holding up their dog who wants to thank all the lovely people who support the RSPCA. Why is this picture there? How would it persuade the reader to donate?
Colour is another key feature that you can comment on in your exam. If you are analysing the presentational features of an advert, try to think about the colours and why they have been chosen.
For example, the colour red may be used to symbolise love or passion, white purity, green nature, blue the great outdoors. Use your imagination, there is no ‘set’ answer providing you can justify your point of view.
Take care though. It is not enough just to identify a colour, you clearly have to analyse the intended effect on the reader.
One of the key skills you will need for this exam is to locate, retrieve and interpret information. This means to read between the lines – to look for clues as to how the writer really feels about something.
You can discuss both language and presentational features when writing about inference i.e. reading between the lines.
Humour / sarcasm. A writer might poke fun at a topic or mock it to show that they disagree with it.
Exaggeration. A writer might go over the top about the topic. This implies that they like or don’t like something.
Repetition. A writer could repeat a statistic or a phrase to show they do or don’t like something.
Rhetorical questions. This is a technique often used in writing an argument and its function is to get the reader to agree with what the writer thinks.
Positive and negative language. Words often carry positive and negative meanings. It might be nice to be called ‘curvy’ but not so nice to be ‘fat’.
Emotive language. This is language that stirs up the emotions. If the writer uses language like ‘unimaginable cruelty’ when discussing animal experiments, they are probably not in favour of them.
Look for any imagery in the text. Imagery is where the writer tries to paint a picture in the reader’s mind to help them relate to what is being described.
Imagery is often used in poetry and fiction but you also find it in non fiction texts. Look out for:
Similes – compares one thing to another using the words like or as (flat as a pancake)
Metaphor – describes one thing as if it were another (you are a tower of strength)
Remember, it is not enough just to identify imagery. You need to explain clearly, in detail and in your own words what effect this imagery has upon the reader.
Another technique to look out for in your text is sensational or emotive language.
Emotive language is often used by writers when they want to manipulate the reader’s feelings.
Quite often emotive language will be found in adverts, charity leaflets or a text where the reader passionately believes in or hates something they are writing about.
Examples could be: the animals used are often cold, lonely and starving.
Remember – it’s not enough to identify emotive language. You have to clearly explain the effect it has on the reader.
Repetition is a very common technique and often (although not exclusively) used in sales. The word or phrase is repeated throughout the text to make it stick in the reader’s mind. It could be the name of the company, or it could be the word ‘bargain’ or words like ‘best ever’.
It is not enough to simply identify examples of repetition – you have to explain in detail the effect on the reader.
Something similar is the use of three. You will know all about this from writing to argue or persuade. The technique to spot is where the writer uses a list of three to emphasise a particular point – ‘it is wrong, disgraceful and we shouldn’t stand for it’.
Remember – it’s not enough to identify the repetition – you have to explain in detail the effect on the reader.
Quotations, statistics and anecdotes are used often in newspapers and magazines and sometimes in sales texts. They are used to add interest and credibility to a text.
For example, a charity leaflet might highlight the fact that ‘156 more people were helped last year through the generous donations made by people like you.’
They might go on to say that Prince Charles supports the charity and feels ‘This charity holds a special place in my heart’.
They may also choose to have a few lines about how the charity has helped a particular person. ‘Robert, 16, was struck down by this terrible illness during his GCSEs.’
Remember – it is not enough to identify quotation, statistics and anecdotes – you need to explain in detail the effect upon the reader.
Humour and or sarcasm is an easy technique to identify and comment on in an exam.
Think about the purpose of the humour – is it there simply to entertain and make the writing more lively? Or, is it there to manipulate the reader into thinking in a particular way. For example, if you were reading an article about the justice system in the UK and the judge in a case was mocked as being ‘old as the hills’ and ‘doddery as a dodo’, you might be prejudiced about what he said.
Remember, it is not enough to simply identify humour and sarcasm in the exam – you need to explain in detail the effect upon the reader.
Lucy Jones uses a range of techniques in this article in order to make it interesting and engaging for her readers.
The article begins with a dramatic headline which could exploit the potential readers interest in crime and punishment. ‘Land where killers are free to go hunting’. This plays on the double meaning in this headline implying that murderers are allowed to carry on without fear of punishment. This sensational headline will immediately grab the readers attention and compel them to read on.
The article begins by stating the traditional beliefs of the Inuit people who make up ‘80%’ of the population and highlights a totally different attitude to crime and punishment. By using statistics the author adds credibility to the story. This can be seen throughout the article as it concludes with the statement that ‘fewer than 1% of criminals in Greenland re-offend.’
Jones describes in detail the alternative methods used in this country. She uses quotes from officials ‘we take the convicts out hunting-even the murderers’. This gives the article a more personal voice and the use of the qualifier ‘even the murderers’ again makes the article seem more sensational.
The final question will always be a comparison of the two texts. The key to answering this question is to a) make sure you are analysing the presentational devices and the language and b) ensure you are answering the question in depth and writing about both texts.
An example question might be:
Compare and contrast what Simon Bateson and Sarah Lord say about the use of capital punishment. (10 marks)
So, how do you compare the texts?
In the final question you will always be asked to compare the 2 texts.
There is no set format for answering this question.
Perhaps the easiest way is to analyse Text 1 and then compare it to Text 2 saying in what ways they are similar but different.
On the higher paper there are not usually bullet points to help you structure your answer. You must therefore structure and plan yourself.
Make sure you use a wide range of connectives when comparing the texts.
Remember to look for the PAFs of each source and write about how well each text succeeds in its chosen purpose.
Look out for and comment on the following techniques – they tend to impress the examiner........
Sentences and paragraphs
Short sentences suggest tension and speed. Short paragraphs are often used in tabloid newspapers making them easier to read. Very short paragraphs attract the reader’s attention.
Long sentences are mainly used for description and are full of detail. This is the same with long paragraphs. These are often used in broadsheet newspapers.
Look for question and exclamation marks. Question try to draw a response from the reader while exclamations often stand out and attract attention.
Use of imperatives
Commands often appear in advice leaflets, ‘try this tip at home’ but can also be used in persuasive texts ‘ Give money now’.
Try to link the language to the audience
You might wish to comment on more sophisticated language for an educated audience and a more colloquial vocabulary to a teenage audience etc.
A common language technique to spot and comment on is the use of the personal pronoun ‘you’ or ‘us’.
This technique is commonly used by the writer to make the text feel more personal to the reader, as if it is aimed directly at them personally.
Quite often, rhetorical questions will be used for added emphasis, such as ‘Do you think it’s right that.......’ or ‘Would you like that for your children?’
Sometimes, colloquial language is used. This is the kind of chatty, informal language that you would use with your friends.
Remember – it’s not enough to identify the personal pronouns – you have to explain in detail the effect on the reader.