AQA Paper 1: learning how to read

Let’s begin this mini course by learning to think like an examiner.

I’ll refer to how I would tackle the questions on this particular paper in such a way that the exam marker’s pen would fly over the paper dropping marks onto it like fairy dust. If exam markers were fairies. Which I don’t think they technically could be.

One more thing before we dive under that exam bonnet. These are my techniques. They might be different from how your teacher taught you to approach the exam. And you might read them and think ‘nope, not for me’. And that’s ok. I won’t take offence.

But: I can pretty well guarantee there will be something in here that will help. So, have an open mind as you read these and imagine how they might be of use when you’re sitting in your exam and the world has shrunk to the 60cm by 80cm size of your graffitied exam desk and the noise of someone sniffing three rows behind you (yes, we invigilators hate them too: please take tissues into the exam).

Remember: you are trying to get inside that dark and lonely world: the world of the examiner’s head.

So put aside all emotion, take a deep breath, and let’s play the examiner game!


As we all know, Section A is the reading section. What does this mean? Of course, you’re not just going to read. You are going to show that you understand what you’ve read.

And how will you do that? Roughly speaking, by demonstrating four skills:

  1. How well you can pick words and phrases out and list them;
  2. How well you can write about the effect certain words and phrases have on the reader (more later who that mysterious reader is);
  3. How well you can write about how the structure of the writing adds to the effect of the words on the reader;
  4. How well you’re able to use evidence from the text to back up (or contradict) a statement about the text.

Four questions. All worth differing amounts. In the practice paper, it’s 4-8-8-20. As I said before (you’ll find I do repeat myself from time to time – there is a reason) you should look at about one minute per mark.

If you’re 30 minutes into the exam and you’re not yet on question 4? Get on to question 4. As 100% of 20 is worth a lot more than 50% of 8. Do you follow? Of course you do.


One thing before we start. For every single question, make sure you understand exactly what it is asking you to do. (I may have said this before – see, I do repeat myself a lot.) I’d suggest underlining the key word or words in the question, and every sentence you write should link back to these key words. We’ll see this in action as we go through the questions.

This is an extract from my book available for only £1.99 on Kindle: The Examiner’s Head

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