AQA ENGLISH LANGUAGE PAPER 1 QUESTION 4: THE BIG ONE

This is the big one. The one you should spend a full 20 minutes on. Not the one you rush through because you took too long on questions 1-3 (I really cannot stress this enough).

This question asks you to state your opinion on a fictional statement by a fictional student, using evidence from the text to back up your point of view. 

Now, you have three ways of going about this. You can either agree with the statement, disagree with it, or have a mixed response. My suggestion would be to go for the third approach: to remain sufficiently open to find evidence that backs up the student’s comment, but also look for ways you could argue the opposite.

THE QUESTION

Here’s question 4:

Focus this part of your answer on the second part of the Source from line 19 to end.A student, having read this section of the text said: “The writer brings the very different characters to life for the reader. It is as if you are inside the coach with them.”

To what extent do you agree?

In your response, you could:

·       write about your own impressions of the characters

·       evaluate how the writer has created these impressions

·       support your opinions with references to the text.                         [20 marks]

First of all, look carefully at the question and underline those key points:

  • Line 19 to the end. Please don’t refer to the whole passage!
  • It’s about how the writer brings the characters to life. Nothing else. Just the characters.
  • And use the… yes, you know. I don’t even have to tell you now, do I. You will be a Jedi yet.

Let’s look at lines 19 to the end:

The few passengers huddled together for warmth, exclaiming in unison when the coach sank into a heavier rut than usual, and one old fellow, who had kept up a constant complaint ever since he had joined the coach at Truro, rose from his seat in a fury; and, fumbling with the window-sash, let the window down with a crash, bringing a shower of rain upon himself and his fellow-passengers. He thrust his head out and shouted up to the driver, cursing him in a high petulant voice for a rogue and a murderer; that they would all be dead before they reached Bodmin if he persisted in driving at breakneck speed; they had no breath left in their bodies as it was, and he for one would never travel by coach again.Whether the driver heard him or not was uncertain: it seemed more likely that the stream of reproaches was carried away in the wind, for the old fellow, after waiting a moment, put up the window again, having thoroughly chilled the interior of the coach, and, settling himself once more in his corner, wrapped his blanket about his knees and muttered in his beard.

His nearest neighbour, a jovial, red-faced woman in a blue cloak, sighed heavily, in sympathy, and, with a wink to anyone who might be looking and a jerk of her head towards the old man, she remarked for at least the twentieth time that it was the dirtiest night she ever remembered, and she had known some; that it was proper old weather and no mistaking it for summer this time; and, burrowing into the depths of a large basket, she brought out a great hunk of cake and plunged into it with strong white teeth.

QUALITY DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN QUANTITY

Now, let’s get one thing clear. Quality does not necessarily mean quantity. Just because it’s worth 20 marks, does not mean you have to write 20 pages. You should aim to write more than the previous answers, but remember that the examiner is looking for your opinion, backed up with quotes.

My advice therefore is to spend 8-10 minutes reading and making notes, and 10-12 minutes carefully writing the answer.

Remember: your focus is on how the writer brings the characters to life, making you feel like you’re in the coach with them. So look at concrete descriptions, both what you see and what you hear (it’s easy to forget sound in novels – but it is there).

As before, ensure all the notes you make refer to those three bullet points: your impressions, how you think the writer has created them, and quotes. You can make notes on the question paper or spider diagrams – again it’s up to you. There is no right or wrong answer here providing you do spend some time finding your evidence and jotting down initial ideas.

This answer is less about specific language techniques or structural choices (unless they help you to explain how the writer makes the characters come alive). No need to name every noun a noun and every verb a verb. (Try saying that quickly.) It’s more about the how well you explain how the quotes answer the question.

KEEP YOUR DISTANCE

Even though it says ‘your own impressions’, I would suggest referring to yourself as ‘the reader’. ‘We’ and ‘us’ are also a good to use: they make things a little more personal. Referring directly to yourself (‘I think that…’ or ‘such a such made me laugh’) can make the writing sound a little juvenile.

So, keep it formal and a bit distant – you’ll actually find it easier and are less likely to say ‘I think the writing is boring and I wish the person behind me would stop sniffing’. Now that is too personal.

A GRADE 5-6 ANSWER

Here’s one part of the sample 5-6 answer (not the whole answer, but you can see how it works):

The writer brings the characters alive by making them behave and react differently. The ‘old fellow’ from Truro loses his temper with the driver but makes things worse for everybody by opening the window and ‘bringing a shower of rain on himself and his fellow-passengers’. This amuses the reader because the man is angry and foolish. We also understand the irony of his actions and how pointless it is cursing the driver, who the reader knows is doing his best. The writer makes the man seem unreasonable and out of control by the use of excessive, almost violent words like ‘rogue’ and ‘murderer’.

Not much different from the previous answers, is it. You would continue in this way, making sure every single sentence refers to how the writer brings the characters alive.

This question is primarily about your interpretation of the passage and how it answers the question. This is why it’s worth more: it’s asking you to do a lot more for your marks. All the more reason to take at least 20 minutes over it. (I think I’ve made my point.)

A GRADE 7-8 ANSWER

Here’s the 7-8 answer. Again, not the whole answer, but it gives you an idea of what would get you those top marks:

We might think that the passengers are a unified group because the writer refers to them collectively: ‘The few passengers huddled together for warmth’, but their actions suggest how different they are. The ‘old fellow’ is short tempered and pompous with a sense of his own importance, but also ridiculous in his actions. The writer’s choice of the word ‘petulant’ shows how his behaviour was childish. He also makes rash statements – that he would ‘never travel by coach again’ which the reader knows is of no interest to the driver he is swearing at. In the end, he is reduced to muttering. These complexities help the reader understand the stresses of the journey and the different sides to the man.

Let’s see what this adds to the grade 5-6 answer:

  • an understanding of the contrast between the passengers huddling and how different they actually are;
  • a short but accurate summary of one character with one choice word (petulant) summing him up well;
  • an added comment on the man using the connective ‘also’;
  • an understanding of how the reader is positioned in relation to the characters (‘the reader knows’);
  • A final sentence which sums up how the reader is helped to understand both the atmosphere of the cabin and the character.

This is an extract from my book available on Kindle: The Examiner’s Head. The book contains all of papers 1 and 2.

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