- practice papers are your best friends - love them
- learning to write well will make your life much easier
- quote well and often
- plan to keep a good structure
For the poetry exams the examiners want to see how well you know the poems. Upside down, inside out etc so the best thing you can do is read through your annotations/revision sites to make sure you have all the material necessary and filed away in your brain. Then you will want to be doing past papers: the more timed essays you write, the more chance the one you get in the exam is very similar to something you’ve already written.
Make sure that for each poem (I'll focus on Lang as I've already taken the exam but this applies for Lit) you know the keys points of analysis and have it up in a page which you can easily revise from. This makes it easier when you come to do practice papers to form PEE (point, evidence, explanation) paragraphs without having to think on your feet how to write it. You can mould the material then to most questions ie if you like setting in Nothing’s Changed you can bring it in to questions asking about feelings, providing you word it right. It is crucial though that you do answer the question – there is no way you can write everything you know down about the poem so make sure you only stick to the points which are relevant and sophisticated, while covering structure as well as language etc (though the latter should be your main focus). Quality really is more than quality – analyzing one line in a lot of detail can get you more marks than several only fleetingly.
One of the key discriminators between the A and A* is the way in which you express your ideas. This is English – a lot of it tests whether you can write well. The examiners are looking for style, fluency and just a little bit of flair. There is much you can do to learn this if you don’t have it – except reading anything always helps to improve your own writing voice. It may be worth trying to learn neat ways of putting across your points so they come across well in the exam or noting down nice phrases your teacher uses. It is especially important that your introduction and conclusion don’t just follow the formulaic “in the essay I am going to” but instead make a point and make it well: this will be the last thing your examiner reads so you want to it to wow them.
The other key thing is linking. A lot of candidates fall down because they don’t effectively move between the two poems throughout their essay – if you write all about one poem, then the next etc you are looking at a C. You need to make sure you know how and why the poems fit together – this is especially important with literature. Teachers swear by different structures for the literature essays: say, link poem A & B with regards to language, then B&C with regards to theme, then C&D with regard to tone, then D&A with regards to structure, then variants on the same. There is no set way to get you the marks. While it’s true these do work, I find it is best to mould your plan around the poems – if you find lots comparable with style but little with language, that’s okay. Just make sure you talk about them roughly equally. For language you’ll want to be doing 1 paragraph one poem, next para the other and so on – although I often find almost every para ends up mentioning both at least briefly. Try and explain the relevance and impact of the links rather than just stating them. You may find it helpful to plan before you start (especially with Lit) so that you can get your ideas straight.
This is the area I struggled with most – so I’m not sure I’ll be that much help! However, I found that the thing which helped me – which you should focus most of your time on – was doing lots of practice papers. For media the question are all centered around for AOs which the examiner needs to spot:
• Engage with the texts and quote appropriately, developing your points (PEE)
• Know the difference between fact and opinion
• Follow an argument (what does a text say? Where is the author wrong?)
• Again, quote effectively and reference all sources making good links
• Know how writers use linguistic, structural and presentational devices (think rhethorical questions/emotive language, order of piece/repetition, use of pictures/layout) and how these impact the reader.
This means that the exam papers (while having different texts) are all remarkably similar: once you can follow one argument, you should be able to follow them all and so on. Going over papers and learning the set answers (with your teacher pointing you in the right direction) are the best things to do. Try and analyse media things all around you – the mag you’re reading or a billboard sign – to get in the swing of it.
Original Writing tasks
It’s very hard to give advice on this given the level of subjectivity there is – but I’ll have a stab. My teacher advised us to do the Persuasion and Description tasks 99.99% of the time if you were aiming for an A/A* as apparently they are the easiest to score highly on.
For persuasion you want to be cramming in the rhetorical devices (emotive lang, rhetorical questions, rule of 3 etc) as much as possible and writing fluently and concisely. Again, reading may help you develop your style. Read through famous persuasive speeches (I’m thinking Obama, MLKing etc) and see what they have done and try to imitate it. The examiners seem set on giving the most boring tasks about developing your school/young people’s issues year on year so those are the best to practice on. Keep your audience and appropriate tone in mind but don’t be afraid to be a little outrageous stereotyping-wise. If you can work in humour it will liven up the marking for the examiner!
For description you need to be using all those language techniques (similes, metaphors, personification etc) while trying to write in a lively, engaging manner. Zoom in on small details of a scene and try your best to not write a story. Maybe try putting a slightly original slant on the question to liven up the marking for the examiners (though don’t go too far… like I did!). It is often best to do a quick plan for both of these two to ensure you cover the important areas and don’t just ramble on without any focus.
(I will fill this in as soon as I have started revising myself – as I haven’t done the exam yet. Maybe someone more qualified could give me a hand?)