AQA English Language Paper 1 Question 3 (updated & animated)


In the summer 2018 exams, more than a quarter of a million
students failed to achieve above half marks in AQA English language paper 1 question 3. This question is less about what is happening, and more
about where it’s happening and why. And in this video we’ll look at how to maximise your marks in this tricky structure analysis question. Question 3 is an 8 mark question, analysing
the writer’s use of structure. The assessment objective is:
A02: Explain, comment on and analyse how writers use language and structure to achieve effects
and influence readers, using relevant subject terminology to support their view.
But just as question 2 focused only on the language element of this assessment objective,
question 3 focuses only on the structure element. So what does it actually mean to analyse structure
in an extract? Put simply, structure is about how the text
is organised: the order things take place in. Structure analysis is less about what’s
happening in a source, and more about where it’s happening and why. There’s a subtle
difference between the what and the where, but it is absolutely essential that you get
your head around it. One of the most common mistakes I see is that students end up writing
answers to question 3 that are pretty much the same as the answers they are writing to
question 2. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen for you.
Let’s look at a sample question: You now need to think about the whole of the
source. This text is from the beginning of a short
story. How has the writer structured the text to
interest you as a reader? You could write about:
What the writer focuses your attention on at the beginning of the source
How and why the writer changes this focus as the source develops
Any other structural features that interest you. [8 marks]
So there are two things students struggle with: no.1 what kinds of things are structural
features, and no.2 how do I write about them in a way to get above 3 or 4 marks. Let’s
start with a quick overview of some of the most common structural features:
Flashbacks and flashforwards – where we go back in time or forward in time from the current
moment in the story Shifts in focus and perspective – where the
focus changes perhaps from outside to it, or from setting to character, from action
to dialogue Zooming in and out – where the description
moves like with a camera zooming in close to one detail and then zooming out to a broader,
bigger description Repetitions – where something appears throughout
the text, for example continual references to weather
Cyclical structure – where a story begins or ends in the same place
Foreshadowing – an advance hint of something that is to come later
And on it goes However, it’s important to point out that
the source may have none of these – structure is all about the shifting, moving, changing
focus of an extract. You might only be able to write about these more subtle points such
as alternating between action and dialogue, building up of tension, or the move from outside
to in. Whatever you find, it’s not enough to just
spot these structural features and even to add some generic comment on effect such as
‘it draws you in’ or ‘it makes you want to read on’. No, once again, just like in
question 2, analysis of effects should be precise, and contextualized to a specific
point in the text. And that’s tricky. It’s tricky because
what it essentially means is this: depending on what the extract is about, and what happens
in it, the effect of the structural device could be totally different. Let me give you
a quick example: in ‘Frankenstein’ chapter 5, Frankenstein creates a monster, bringing
it to life, and just as that happens, there’s this flashback. In that example, we could
say that the flashback is used as a digression to create tension, as the reader feels more
and more anxious to return to the tale of the monster, probably imagining all the awful
things it is doing. But in our extract here with Brightly, there is also a flashback.
It’s a flashback to the Church service and the song which inspired him how to name his
dog. But is it used as a digression to create tension? Not at all. It’s used perhaps to
illustrate the power of hope upon Brightly, and how dark and miserable his life was that
a song about a ‘glorified dairy filled with milk and honey’ had this amazing effect
upon a man who was ‘very hungry’. In this way the writer has demonstrated how hunger
and despair can destroy a person so that a simple song can provide such solace/hope.
And that’s how you get beyond the half marks so many students fail to: Write about the
effect in a specific way, avoiding vague and generalised comments. Let’s have a look at a sample paragraph:
The story begins and ends with Brightly moving along on his journey. The story begins with
Brightly wearily walking, ’Up the road…to St Mary Tavy…came Brightly, his basket dragging
on his arm.” and ends with him dreaming about ‘a little cart’ as he ‘tramped
the moor’. By beginning and ending the story with Brightly’s journey, the writer creates
a circular narrative where Brightly is trapped in his life of poverty, and mirroring the
cycle of poverty Brightly finds himself in. The writer illuminates how it doesn’t matter
what Brightly dreams of, he is still hungry and homeless, walking across a landscape he
is too blind to appreciate, and unable to ever achieve his dreams.

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