Saturday, 11 June 2016

Notes on AQA's Paper 2 - SEEK, LOCATE, DESTROY

Last year I shared my initial thoughts on Paper 1 of the new GCSE English Language exam. It was me, simply, walking myself through the paper and exploring what I will have to teach or focus on. Now, I am not a big believer of constantly teaching to test, but I am a big believer of ‘muscle memory’. This will be my only football reference to the Euros ever. I prepare students for exams like the way coaches prepare a football team. My lessons are similar to the silly sessions we see of footballers training.

A footballer exercises in a gym -  a student writes or reads something unconnected to the exam

A footballer repeats an action – a student repeats the same one skill over and over again

A footballer plays a friendly game - a mock

A  footballer plays a match – the final exam
At the heart of how I teach and my philosophy, is muscle memory. Our current Year 11s knew the mock paper inside out. It was funny listening to the students before and after the exam. They sounded like examiners. They knew the order to answer the questions: 6,1,2,3,4 and 5. They had three mocks in Year 11 and one in Year 10. By the final one, they knew the order to approach it. The order for answering things became an automated response. No thought necessary. With so many exams and so many methods to follow, our students need repetition more than they need direct instruction. I have told them the important stuff, but do they listen? No. They need to live it and repeat it to get better. Like students, I think teachers need to live through an exam paper.

Our Year 10s have already sat through two Paper 1 papers. One a practice and one a test. Now, they are going through Paper 2. Here’s some of my thoughts, ideas and observations as I taught the paper.

Question 1 – Choose four statements that are true
This one has created some of the most interesting results. There are a large majority of students who don’t think with this question. They search for a quick soundbite and accept that as fact. It is surprising how many students haven’t got four out of four. They rush it, because, in their eyes, it is easy and simple.

The thing we noticed was that the statements in the list get more subtle. The first few are about explicit facts and the final few are implicit facts. The last few statements are the ones students need to be careful with as implicit information might be from several points or involve more thought.
I spent this week working on this question getting students to think logically. The statement says this, but where is the text does it say or suggest that. The great thing is getting students to justify their point. They saw it as a challenge. We even, as a department, challenged the answers in AQAs mark scheme.  To quote my friends, the Daleks, SEEK, LOCATE, DESTROY.  I am going to use this explicit and implicit fact in lessons. Nice little starter to find the information and see if they can prove or disprove it.

Question 2-  Use details from both sources to write a summary of the differences
I do feel that summarising has been a skill we have underused over the years in English lessons. Usually, we have gone for the literary jugular every time and focused on literary techniques. This question had a lot of my students stumped. They find it difficult for the simple reason that you have to do more than copy bits. This one has X, whereas this one has Z. On a simple level, it is a spot the difference, but to increase the complexity you need to look at subtle things.

When teaching students this question, I have found a simple similarities and differences table helped. They need to start with a comparison element. Again, the issue is moving students from explicit differences to implicit differences, which makes for a rubbish table, when drawn. The similarities and differences table helps students to spot the explicit differences, but then I get them to add another row of boxes underneath it – ‘words to sum up – cannot be in the text’. Then, they try to describe it and summarise it.
I have written about inference words before, but for this question I think they are vital for students to make good solid inferences. For example, with the sample paper based on ‘Glastonbury Festival’ and ‘Greenwich Fair’, I used the following words as a way in to looking at inferences:

Inference words: optimistic; welcoming; consistent; cultured; educated; sophisticated 

Inference words: overcrowded; urgency; chaos; unsettled

When you look at the sample answers, it is the vocabulary that usually detonates an inference. For example, one sample paper uses ‘light-hearted’, ‘civilised’ and ‘theatrical’. All too often, we have relied on ‘this suggest’ or ‘this implies’ to create easy inferences. This, however, I think is problematic when you are looking to make sophisticated analysis. It is a helpful structure to use at the lower end, but it these ‘inference words’ that gets the marks and not the ‘this suggest’. If students are only making an inference when the sentence features ‘this suggest’, then they are wasting time.

Both ‘Glastonbury Festival’ and ‘Greenwich Fair’ seem to be chaotic and cluttered places with lots happening. However, there is a more laidback, easy-going attitude in Glastonbury and a frenetic, lively, urgent attitude.   

We should be getting students to blend inferences into their writing. List them. Pair them. Start sentences with them. End sentences with them. The more the better. This year for me has been the ‘Year of Inferences’ because my Year 10 class as so used to looking at inferences in everything that they can look at any text and give me press-ups. Each time they get to the floor they give me an inference word. They only stop the press-ups when they chuck a quote in.
I sometimes prepare inference words for texts, so I challenge students to competition. A holiday to Skegness if they come up with five of my words. The following are for the ‘Watercress Girl’ and ‘Living Doll’ KS3 sample tests.
       Time consuming
       Fairy tale
       Hard work
       Lacked care

Students need a new set of vocabulary for describing and summarising texts.

More on Inference Words here.

Question 3 - How does the writer make you feel ….?
This question seems to be a carbon copy of Paper 1 Question 2. The structure of a student’s response needs to be fairly straight-forward. Technique / Quote / Effect. The problems come with the effect and technique elements of the response.

It seems, from looking at the samples, students need to be making lots of references to techniques used. No longer will Tom who learnt rhetorical questions off by heart will be safe. Students need to look at a range of techniques and not just the safe ones like alliteration, repetition and lists. There must, I think, be at least one reference to word classes in their responses. The verb …. The noun… The use of the pronoun… Come on the knowledge gained in the KS2 SPaG tests must be repeated somewhere. Plus, they must use them correctly!

The biggest problem, I fear, will be the effect element. Students need to move from comment to explain to analyse when exploring the effect. One issue is the question. Looking at the ‘Greenwich Fair’ example, we see it refers to ‘make you, the reader, feel part of the fair’. All too often, students latch on to a phrase like this. Everything then, in a rush, is clumped together with this one phrase. And this make us feel part of the fair. I have discovered from teaching this that we need to get students talking about effect more effectively and better. For years, I have struggled with students who saying the ‘writer wants to read on’.
In my attempts to get students to comment more effectively about the effect, I have used the following set phrases:  

A sense of ….
A feeling of ….

This has now expanded with teaching this question to these phrases:
The excitement of…

The fear of …  
The (emotion) of…

Furthermore, there are two things, I think, when exploring effect: the reader’s emotional reaction to the text; and the reader’s engagement with a text. These are two separate things and I rarely see students refer to them both. We could simply put these separately as feeling and thinking. The reader feels… The writer feels… I feel that we need to make these two explicit for the students. What is the reader thinking? What is the reader supposed to feel?

The list of verbs creates a sense of movement and urgency. The reader will see that this will inevitably finish as a high state of urgency cannot be maintained for a long periods. This will make the expect it to finish at some point.   

More on effect here.

Question 4 – Compare how the writers have conveyed…
This question for us is very similar to Question 2. In fact, I just think it is Question 2 with added terminology. We have been using the following structure to teach this question – inference or viewpoint (connection) / quote / technique (method) / Explanation.  

The issue it seems to be the viewpoint element. I am using the following to explore viewpoints of the text.
       more realistic
       more vivid
       more engaging
       more humorous
       more atmospheric
       more positive
       more visual   

The viewpoint is more distant that Question 2's inferences. It is positioning the student far away from the text. Where as the inferences in Question 2 are about precise aspects of the text. This is about wider inferences and combining those inferences with writing style. The list above are a combination of content and style phrases, which is what, I think, students need to explore for this question. How does the style vary?

I will add more phrases in time, but again, it is vocabulary that will help students cope with this question. The other aspect I have been teaching related to this question is a summative comment at the end. It seems students need to make three detailed paragraphs and a paragraph for conclusion. The ending needs to stretch and be quite perceptive and profound. Exposure to this question will help develop that.  

Our students are completing a full mock next week, so I will see what will be the next step to focus on. This is what the back of the exam paper looks like.

Feel free use, but I do ask you credit the source when adapting.  It has a list of targets to make the marking for teachers easier and a box to show students how many marks they missed.  All part of the 'muscle memory'. Students will see what muscle need working. Teachers will learn the key aspects of each question.

Thanks for reading,



  1. Wow - as a new teacher this is so helpful. Very clear way to engage students in these questions.

  2. Thank you - this is really useful.

  3. Love literacy vic14 June 2016 at 14:10

    I'm going to share this round Brighton and Hove. schools- fantastic, rich thinking here- thank you so much!

  4. Wow. This resource has been a great find. My sixth form is going to run the new spec as a pilot scheme this year and there isn't much out there but your resource is an absolute gold-mine. You have provided detail and v relevant information. Thanks again. Please continue posting your thoughts on the new spec.