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Welcome to the ultimate revision guide for the AQA GCSE English Language paper 1. In this guide we’ve collected all of the best advice from our experienced English tutors. We tell you what to expect from each question, how to get top marks and how to revise. We’ve also linked to some practice papers. Follow the advice in this guide and you will have everything you need to ace the exams. 

To begin with, let’s address and popular myth. We hear many students saying things like: “you don’t need to revise for English language because you’re given the extract on the day”; or even that “you can’t revise for English language”. Believe me – nothing could be further from the truth. You absolutely need to revise for GCSE English language and following a few simple steps can make all of the difference. Overall you need to: 

  1. understand what each of the papers will be like;
  2. know what the examiner wants from you on each question; and
  3. do lots of practice questions – marking your own work to improve further. 

Overview of the paper

Language paper 1 is all about exploring creative reading and writing. You’ll be looking at an example of a fiction text and doing some creative writing. You will need to answer five questions, separated into two sections. In section A you are asked four questions about a fiction extract from the 20th or 21st centuries. In section B you answer one question form a choice of two, where you demonstrate your own creative writing skills.  

You will have 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete the paper. There are 80 marks at stake, which contributes towards 50% of your GCSE English Language grade.

Revise AQA GCSE English Language Paper 1

AQA English Language Paper 1 Section A

Read the text carefully – spend 15 mins here

It’s really important to take some time at the beginning to carefully read the extract in full. You should:

  • spend 15 minutes reading the text in detail;
  • read it carefully, do not skim read the text; and
  • annotate the text to highlight any important parts.

Question 1 – list 4 things – spend 5 mins here

Question 1 should hopefully be quite straightforward for you. You will be asked to find four specific bits of information (such as a description of something) from a specific part of the text. It’s likely there will be more than four pieces of information available, so you’ll have plenty to choose from. You can either put your answers in your own words, or quote directly from the text.

The key things to remember are:

  • read the question carefully;
  • only refer to the specific section of the text in the question;
  • don’t spend too long on the question. Get your four points down, get the four marks in the bag and then move on.

Question 2 – language analysis – spend 10 mins here

Question 2 is worth 8 marks and is all about language analysis. There is quite a lot to do in a short space of time. You will be asked to analyse how the writer has used language to achieve something. Consider how the following things help to create the specific effect set out in the question:

  • any uses of interesting words and phrases;
  • language techniques; and
  • sentence forms

Make sure you use well selected quotations directly from the text and explain how these quotes show your points. Aim to make four clear points across two paragraphs. Each time, make your point, provide a good quotation and explain how the techniques or use of language creates the effect set out in the question. Ensure you only refer to language in your answer (you won’t get any marks for commenting on structure here). Use plenty of the technical vocabulary you have learnt at school.

Question 3 – structural analysis – spend 10 mins here

This is a tough one as students tend to spend more time at school looking at language features than structure. Again, there’s a lot to do in this question in a short space of time. You will be asked to identify and analyse how the writer uses structural features to achieve a specific effect. 

Your analysis of structure here should focus on shifts – or continuity – in focus across a whole text. Look, for example, at what the writer focuses on at the beginning, how that focus changes during the main body of the text and then how they end the piece. Look for shifts in focus, changes in perspective or elements of continuity. Use quotations directly from the text to demonstrate the structure point and then explain how the quote proves your point.

You need to identify the structural feature and analyse how it is effective. Again, look to make four clear points across two paragraphs. Make the point on structure, prove it with a quotation and then explain how your quote proves your point.

Do not analyse language in this question – you won’t get any marks for talking about language in question 3. 

Question 4 – evaluate texts critically – spend 20 mins here

This is the big one in section A – there are 20 marks available. Everything is in scope here. They expect you to analyse both language and structure. You need to evaluate how successfully language and structural points build a particular effect. 

You’ll be given a statement from a student about the extract and asked about the extent to which you agree with it. In your answer you need to evaluate how successful the writer has been in achieving the points raised in the question. This will include your own interpretation. 

The key points to remember are:

  • identify language and structural features;
  • use quotations from the text to demonstrate these features;
  • analyse how the quotation proves your point;
  • evaluate how successfully this achieves the effect from the question;
  • focus on the specifics of the question; and
  • provide your own clear opinion of how far you agree with the statement in the question. 

Top tip – remember to refer to the effects on the reader. What do they think about what they’re reading. Think about what your opinion is, explain it and back it up with evidence.  

AQA English Language GCSE Paper 1 Section B

Question 5 – creative writing task – spend 45 mins here

Question 5 is an extended creative writing task. There are a lot of marks available here, so you should spend around 45 minutes answering the question. You will get a choice of two questions – either writing a descriptive piece based on a picture, or writing part of a story on a given topic. 

There are 40 marks at stake. 24 marks are available for the content (so how effectively and imaginatively you write using a range of language and structural techniques). 16 marks are available for good old SPAG (spelling punctuation and grammar), so make sure you use a range of vocabulary and sentence structures with accurate spelling and punctuation.

Put simply you need to write a quality, engaging, imaginative piece of fiction. You could use an experience as inspiration, or completely make everything up. Make sure your writing is appropriate to the specific purpose and audience set out in the question. Make sure you really show the examiner what you can do. Use plenty of different language techniques and a variety of vocabulary and sentence forms.

Top tip – spend 5 minutes planning your answer. Write a simple bullet point list planning each of your paragraphs. Make a note of any interesting language technique ideas that spring to mind. This will really help make he most of your writing time. 

How to revise for your AQA GCSE English Language Paper 1 exam

Once you’ve read this revision guide you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the paper and what the examiner wants to see from you. Now you need to practice the skills we’ve discussed in this guide. The best way to do that is by doing as many past and specimen exam questions as possible. You can find all of the available past AQA exam papers here.

We also offer expert online tuition to provide personalised support with learning and revision. We’ll help you to achieve your full potential with your exams. Simply contact us and we’ll provide some free advice and set up a lesson with the perfect tutor for you.

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