The iGCSE English Language exam is on Tuesday. Here are some top tips for success.
Start with question 3: By starting with this one, you will hopefully ‘bank’ a large number of marks and it will help you to feel confident.
Keep an eye on the time: It is important that you don’t leave any question unanswered or incomplete. Mark schemes for Q1 and Q2 require even and balanced responses.
Read the focus of each question carefully: You need to ensure that your answers address exactly what is required. A slight misunderstanding can cost lots of marks.
Question 3 advice
Highlight points and number them: Numbering as you look for points ensures that you have enough. If you get more than 15, you can choose the best ones.
Make sure that your points are clear: If your points are not clear, the examiner might think that you don’t really understand what you are writing. Ensure short and unclear answers are expanded with a noun or verb to make sense e.g. ‘Northern Lights’ becomes ‘You can see the Northern Lights’. Ask yourself: if the examiner had not read the text, would they understand my point?
Don’t just copy quotations: Sometimes a quotation isn’t the full point. Quotations can be fine but make sure that you change anything that needs changing.
Be precise: If the weather is freezing, then it is ‘freezing’ or ‘very cold’. It is not just ‘cold’. Be careful with plurals e.g. writing ‘dog’ when it should be ‘dogs’ will lose the mark. Writing ‘is’ when it should be ‘was’ will lose the mark.
Don’t repeat yourself: Check that none of your points are similar. If you said that Lapland was not too far away and also said that Lapland is a three and a half hour flight away, you would be repeating yourself.
Question 3b (summary) advice
Don’t write an introduction or a conclusion: It is a summary and should be concise- this means keeping things short.
Reorder things: Don’t just list ideas in the order they appear in the text. This will show that you have skilfully organised things.
Group similar ideas together: It shows that you fully understand the text and can help you to ‘squash’ things up
Use discourse markers to structure the summary: These help your writing to be fluent; it flows better. They prevent it from becoming too much like a list. e.g. Additionally; However; In fact; Equally; Despite this
Use your own words: You will get a low mark if you don’t!
Don’t develop points: It is a summary so you can’t do this. Leave that for Q1.
Question 1 advice
Make sure that you understand the text fully: It’s a reading exam and knowing the text well will make both Q1 and Q2 much easier. Ways to aid understanding could be to underline facts and details as you read or reflecting after each paragraph on what it was about.
Highlight 5 or 6 ideas per bullet: This will allow you to have lots to choose from. You want 4 or 5 for each bullet if you are trying to get the best grades.
Cover each bullet point evenly: The mark scheme is clear- an ‘even’ response will get you into the higher bands. On a simple level this means writing the same amount but it really means including several points, details and developments for each.
Include specific details from the text to exemplify your points: It’s pretty easy to state an idea for a bullet point, but the next part is to refer to a specific moment, fact, circumstance, event from the text. Don’t just say that the journey to Winter Wonderland was difficult, give a specific example of exactly when it was difficult. Again, it shows that you really understand the text. It is sometimes useful to start with the detail and build things around it. “When x happened, it was clear that…”
Develop your details: This is important because the best readers can make inferences and statements that build on what they know. You could do this in a very simple way with words like because/so/which/therefore or phrases like which told me/ this meant that/ it made me realise that etc. There are of course more sophisticated ways to do this which the best answers will have.
Change the order of things: The exam board mentioned in their report that the worst answers “tended to stick closely to the events and ideas in the passage, and to present them in the same order.” The best answers used the details from the passage, but made sophisticated decisions to structure the ideas in a new way. It is good to try and notice where the mood/tone changes in an extract, and reflect this in your own answer. Thinking a little about your structure will help the writing mark too.
Don’t forget the writing mark: Most marks are for reading, but there are 5 for writing. The exam board want to see interesting writing which matches purpose and is aimed at the right audience. Shape the source into whatever style they want. They also want the basics: correct spelling; correct punctuation; clear paragraphs. Add in some complex vocabulary and vary your sentence structure. CHECK YOU’RE YOUR WORK
Question 2 advice
Start each answer with an overview of the paragraph: This shows that you understand what the writer is doing and will help you later with ‘effect’. Avoid vague sentences like ‘It builds tension’; be specific and precise. Don’t just say what happens, try and capture the mood/tone and what the writer is trying to do.
Highlight everything that you could write about, then pick the best quotations: Highlighting all possibilities gives you options to choose from. Pick things that you could write lots about. This means words/phrases and especially images with clear meanings and connotations. Words with different connotations are great. Remember that this question asks you to show understanding of how language works.
Refer to language techniques: Showing a knowledge of language terminology is not essential, but referring to metaphors, similes, personification and other things e.g. adjectives or alliteration will show off what you know. Don’t go overboard with this though.
Explain the meaning of the quotation: Explaining the meaning shows that you know the different stages of creating effects. Effects start with an understanding of meaning. You can’t say the effect of the phrase ‘the weather gripped him’ without knowing what ‘gripped’ means. So, say ‘To grip something means to hold tightly, often against the will. This creates the impression that the weather…’
- If something is described as…then it…
- A…is often seen as…
Note that you should consider the meaning in context. Don’t just write the dictionary definition of something- make sure that it is relevant to the paragraph and the effects that you will go on to explore.
Then comment on the effect: Once you have been clear about the meaning of the word/ image you apply to the context. “The writer uses the simile ‘like a bull’ to describe the customer. Bulls are often portrayed as angry, violent creatures, which creates the impression that the customer is particularly angry and capable of violence. A bull is also a huge animal, and this image reinforces the idea that the customer was large and could overpower the shop assistant.”