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George Alagiah has clearly been struck in a powerful way by what he encountered in Somalia. He wants to make his readers see what terrible conditions existed there and how fortunate we are to live in such a different world. He also shows that journalists often just start out by looking for the best stories they can find. But in this case, the stories really got to him on a deeply emotional level.
The most powerful effect of Alagiah’s writing is the way he focuses on particular individuals and their tragedies. He describes the death of the ten year-old Habiba in a graphic way: ‘No rage, no whimpering, just a passing away’. He is also skilled at creating not only images of the terrible sights he saw but also uses the other senses to convey the horror, as when he writes: ‘the smell of decaying flesh’.
One of the striking ways he presents his experiences is by drawing attention to a particular moment or sight. He does this especially when writing about the smile of the unknown man. His translator’s explanation that he was ‘embarrassed to be found in this condition’ disturbed him and he could not get it out of his mind. He also realises that he never even found the man’s name, and feels guilty about that, too. He almost seems ashamed of his life as a journalist and the way in which he was normally able to report on such events in a detached way.
Overall, then, Alagiah brings across to the reader the way in which people in that situation lack basic necessities and human respect. However, he also reflects on how he felt to be witnessing and reporting on these events.
This is a well-focused response which makes very thoughtful points about the writer’s views and experiences. There are excellent examples focusing on the detail of Alagiah’s language. The writing is accurate, with only a few minor errors.
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Section B (Writing question)
This question, which assesses AO3 Writing, is based on a topic related to the specified passage from the anthology which has been used for the Section B Reading question. Although it is connected to the previous question in subject-matter, it will be assessed for Writing only. Because of the diversity of the material in the anthology, and the variety of ways in which it could provide stimuli for writing, none of the writing triplets is specified for this question. Any one of them could be targeted, but the aim will be to choose a topic that will relate to all students, and the form and audience required will be similar to those in other writing questions. Forms might include diary entries, letters (formal and informal), feature articles for magazines and so on. A variety of audience is also possible, ranging from the general (‘Give your views on a controversial subject relating to the passage.’) to the specific (‘Write an article for a school magazine on ...’). The readership could also be defined by the given context (‘Write a review of a film, or book or television programme, suitable for posting on a website, which dealt with a similar theme to that of the passage.’) Note that the purpose and the audience will define the style; if the student is asked to write a letter to a head teacher then the choice of ‘street language’ and other slang would clearly be very inappropriate. Similarly, a letter to a friend would not be convincing if it did not include some conversational phrasing.
See the sample assessment materials for an example.
Section C (Writing question)
This question, which assesses AO3 Writing, is a ‘freestanding’ question, relating to inform, explain and describe, such as:
Your best friend has just received some very bad news and their reaction was, ‘There’s no point fighting it. Just give up.’
Write a letter to your friend explaining why they should adopt a positive approach to the news. Some example questions, with student responses and examiners’ comments are shown below.
Example question 1
Your school is to have a new building and your head teacher has decided it would be a good idea to bury a time capsule in the foundations, containing information about the school which future generations might find interesting. Write a lively account of your school in the form of a letter to pupils of the future, to be placed in the capsule. You should include information about the curriculum, sports and school rules.
Dear student of the future,
If you are reading this, you have obviously been digging up a school from the past, and have come across our message. I am sure things have changed a great deal from our time in the early twenty-first century. Who knows, perhaps you do not even go to school (some hopes!). You will undoubtedly use technological aids far more sophisticated than anything known to us. I can hardly begin to imagine just how much things will have changed. Anyway, just in case they have altered beyond all recognition, here is a snapshot of our school life.
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First, the curriculum. Basically, the curriculum is a collection of subjects of all kinds. We have a thing called the National Curriculum, so people all over England (do you still have England, I wonder, or are you part of some great new European state?) all take the same subjects. It starts with English and mathematics and science, which everybody has to take right through to the age of 16. Lucky us – I love English, and mathematics is not too bad, but I could do with some rather more exciting science. Somehow we hardly ever seem to get to do real experiments.
We also do history, geography, religious studies and languages, as well as technology, art and music. There is really quite a lot to take in, I suppose, and we still have some old-fashioned things called examinations to see how much we have learnt. I hope for your sakes that these are now obsolete.
One of the best things about school is sport, though. We now have a fantastic range of possibilities on offer. In our parents’ days, all they did was rugby and cricket, but we have a really good range of team and individual sports, and our school has a great sports hall and large playing fields. You may have seen these when you came to dig up the school. They placed the capsule right underneath the sports hall, which is where we play badminton and tennis and do gymnastics, weight-training and climbing. Sport is the best part of the week. My favourite is golf, since I think I am more of an individualist than team player, and rugby has a habit of giving you nasty injuries, whereas the chance of being struck on the head by a golf ball is quite remote. Do you know about golf? If not, the idea of whacking a small white ball all over the countryside and trying to get it into a tiny hole may seem slightly bizarre. But I love it. It’s great being out in the open. Come to think of it, we even have electronic games where you can play golf without ever having to leave the house. But what’s the point of that? Sport should be a real challenge, not a virtual waste of time.
Now for the very difficult subject of school rules. Of course, everyone likes to hate rules, and to protest that they are just a violation of our freedom. But I am rather old-fashioned about this, and reckon that if everyone thinks they can do whatever they like, in the end nobody can do what they want. The worst rules are about what we wear. For some weird reason, it has been decided that everyone has to look like everyone else – like ‘clones’. We have only just started cloning animals. Who knows, by your time you may all be clones of some idealized brainy and super-fit person. I do hope not, because, like I said, I am a bit of an individualist. I don’t see why anybody should make me wear a bright green blazer and a horrible stripy tie, so that I can look like everyone else in my class. Uniform, I hate it.
There are some sensible rules though, and the best one is that the most important thing is respect and tolerance, and treating everyone else like we would wish to be treated. I can’t see how anyone can object to these rules, and I hope that your society still believes in them
So that’s just a little glimpse into our school life. You probably wonder what I think about school. We have a saying that ‘school days are the happiest days of your life’. Of course, I can’t really comment on that, since school days are all I can remember! But I guess on balance it is not so bad, and no two days are exactly the same.
I hope that this has made you think about what life at school was like for the students of my generation and that my letter has reached out to you across the years.
Your friend from the past, Joe
This is a lively and interesting letter, written in an appropriate style. The suggestions in the question have been have been included and the answer is sustained and well structured. The writing is accurate and the sentence structure varied.
This is a low grade C essay. It is lively and personal, has a clear register and tone and has an appropriate structure for a letter to a friend. The writing informs, explains and describes details of the room in an appropriate way. To achieve a higher mark, the student should aim for more ambitious and expressive vocabulary, with greater variety in sentence structure. The colloquialism is not inappropriate in terms of register, but the writing comes across as rather lacking in ambition.
Example question 3
‘Entertaining relatives: heaven or hell?’ Write a magazine article, drawing on your own or your friends’ experiences, explaining how to make things go as well as possible and pointing out what should be avoided.
We can all sympathise when it comes to entertaining the family. And just this once, it would be so good to ensure the whole event runs successfully and smoothly, whether you’re entertaining four or forty. First of all, a truly happy family is a well-fed family; keep them quiet for as long as possible by cooking and presenting an enormous and magnificent meal and insisting no-one leaves the table until every last tasty dish of food is gone. This may also provide an excellent chance to catch up with those whom we don’t get to see so often (out of choice or chance). Conversely, it’s best not to end up sitting next to the aged relative who will bore the life out of you by droning on about the weather or an excellent shot they made in golf that morning. It may be wise to have some sort of elaborate seating plan; that way, any potential arguments between certain relatives who nearly came to blows at the last family gathering can be avoided for as long as possible.
Secondly, ensure some form of entertainment is provided. Bored relatives are even less fun than unfed relatives, and again, all dull conversations can be kept to a minimum. Board games work fine, but any team games are fantastic at bringing the different age groups of the family together. Warning: some relatives (Uncle George) may get over-competitive; avoid this by making regular offenders the judge or host of the game.
And finally, always make sure your relatives know when to call it a day – it is possible to have too much of a good thing! Subtle hinting on your part may be necessary, my personal favourites including, ‘Gosh, isn’t it getting late?’, accompanied by looking at your watch every five minutes. Be warned. This does only work at night – I would suggest the former at two-thirty in the afternoon.
But I reckon the main thing to remember, however your day pans out, is that you should just make the most of your family’s company – blood is thicker than water, so make the most of your relatives while you can – and perhaps keep Auntie Dorothy away from the wine. Again.
This is a good grade A* essay because it is a lively, well-expressed and amusing article. It has confident and effective stylistic flourishes, and the reader is engaged and entertained with witty information and anecdotes. The register and vocabulary are fit for purpose and the writing is technically assured, making its points concisely and effectively.
Question 1 (Reading)
This question, which assesses AO2 Reading, is based on students’ reading of the selected poems from the anthology. Students must answer ONE question on the poem which is specified. Below is an example of a question with a student answer and examiner comment.
Look again at the poem ‘Electricity Comes to Cocoa Bottom’ and show how the poet presents the relationship between the physical environment and the events and feelings portrayed.
In your answer you should make close reference to the language of the poem.
The poem ‘Electricity Comes to Cocoa Bottom’ has very strong links to nature and the physical surroundings of the setting are all interlinked to the main series of events. This is a way of seeking to place more importance on the occurrences in the poem. It gives a sense of nature being replaced by human creations and of expectation.
‘Electricity Comes to Cocoa Bottom’ uses a lot of natural imagery to describe the small village of Cocoa Bottom. It also uses the reactions of the people in the village to enhance the importance of the occurrences.
All the children and Grannie Patterson had gone to see Mr Samuel’s lights. This gives examples of the oldest and youngest of the populus, thus suggesting that people young and old went to witness the glorious event. There is a sense of dramatic irony in the way the children ‘waited’ for sunset so they could see the lights while, in the meantime, they used oil lamps to light the dark around them.
A significant image is ‘The cable was drawn like a pencil line across the sun. This shows two things. Firstly it symbolises how the arrival of electricity is crossing out the old natural light as if it had become obsolete. But it also shows that the sun is low in the sky now as if the sun is preparing for this event.
Animal imagery is introduced through the fireflies and ‘kling-klings’ (birds). The way that the fireflies ‘waited in the shadows/Their lanterns off shows that they were respecting and anticipating the arrival of electrical light. The birds also seem to be creeping in to view the event.
The breeze and bamboo seem to stop their swaying in anticipation of the event and the stanza finishes with the words ‘Closing, Closing’ which builds anticipation.
‘Light!’ begins the next stanza of ‘Electricity comes to Cocoa Bottom. This short, monosyllabic word grabs the attention. Assured technical knowledge is shown here. Mr Samuel is then deified through the description that follows. The silhouette that is Mr Samuel, the gasps and ‘fluttering of wings’ all seem to show the power that Mr Samuel now has over the environment.
‘Such a swaying, swaying’ and ‘tweet-a-whit’ shows how, now this has happened, the bamboo and birds resume their natural exploits. The wind blows the grass, bending it into a bow as if nature is bowing to the one in control of the light.
The final stanza creates a cyclical structure with the lighting of the oil lamps and suggests that although this momentous occasion has taken place, not everything has changed.
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The poem therefore relies heavily on the surroundings to increase the importance of the events occurring. Nature holds its breath to the new era of man-made light and then continues its workings afterwards.
This is a grade A essay because it presents a strongly reasoned argument in a clear structure and contains a variety of perceptive points on language. It also uses a wide range of examples.
Question 2 (Writing)
This question, which assesses AO3 Writing, is a freestanding question, relating to one or other of the triplets: explore, imagine and entertain; and argue, persuade and advise.
Question — Advise
You have been asked to give a talk to students who are new to your school or college, giving advice on how to approach study and lessons, and on the school rules.
Write the script for the talk that you intend to give.
Question — Argue
Write an article for a magazine arguing for more expenditure of money on educational resources for your school.
Computers are essential. Editor, I agree and communicate my wishes and support for a campaign. We should not be reduced to scrounging for money off parents and pupils. Today, I ask you to rise up and incite your interest in information and communication technology.
It is the narrowminded and negative bureaucrats that dictate the measly money given to schools and colleges for technology. I believe, and I am certain, that nobody could deny this as a falsehood, that children have the right to an excellent education and it is time that our expectations of our Government is matched by spending on technology.
In my own school, we are reduced to the level of a ‘Third-World’ education. In many a case, I am forced to share a single computer with a collection of classmates. We are forbidden to print in colour and the size of our text is the smallest imaginable; the school simply cannot afford the ink or paper to allow us the ability to express ourselves creatively and explore our imaginations.
Meanwhile, in the private sector, pupils perfect their coursework with professional documents. Learning is interactive, it is a joy to teach and a pleasure to gain knowledge. How can even the brightest of state school pupils hope to compete? This is an issue that cannot be ignored as places at university become harder and harder to earn. It is those that are successfully stimulated that can expect to win.
There has also been a scandalous rife in spending for physical education. This is senseless, from a Government that alledges its support for education and improvement. Whilst money is whittled away on footballs and hockey boots, we as a country are allowing the minds of the next generation to deteriorate. This waste of funding prevents the academics of the future from development of their learning. Computers are a gateway to a world of information and opinion.
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The student can be introduced to an involving array of data, images and graphics that show life and intellect as entertaining and enjoyable.
Henceforth, every man, woman and child must confront this scandal. Technology is our only hope, and so I place my hope in you, the public. We must not allow this neglect to continue, it is only through unity that we can overthrow the tyranical principles of the Government that prevents teachers and pupils from the right to learn.
This is a very effective answer, with good use of rhetoric, vocabulary and sentence structure. There is a strong sense of the student’s beliefs on the subject, and the writing uses ambitious phrases, mostly successfully.
Question — Explore
In a magazine article, explore what you see as the most important challenges facing teenagers in today’s world and how they try to deal with them.
On considering this question I begin to feel my own emotions take over; no longer am I calm, reserved and un-biased but my true opinionated self has burst out of its shell. There are so many challenges to teenagers in today’s world that it is virtually impossible to decide at which point to start; in my honest opinion the greatest and most important challenges of today come in avoiding several things. Fashion, drugs and falseness.
To start with the former. I do not mind admitting it but I am what many magazine columnists or clothes analysts call a ‘fashion victim’, not, I hope, because I look bad in what I war, but because I care far too much about it. In this sense I have failed miserably in the challenge to avoid fashion awareness. Walking down the street in any town or city teenagers are rife, the several different ‘latest styles’ are flaunted endlessly on body-beautiful superstar look-alikes. Anyone wearing last months fashion is ensured a wide berth when making her way down the road; the slogan ‘life is a catwalk’ flashing up tirelessly on bilboards boring into the minds of the teenagers. You may well ask ‘what is wrong with this? People grow out of it.’ This may well be true, but the competition between rival teenagers is a horrible thing. I do not know whether you have visited a girls school recently, but I have. Let me tell you it is not pleasant. Rival gangs patrol the corridors, each with their own trade mark fashion statement, such as pink socks or hair tie. The ‘sad’, ‘uncool’ group is instantly recognisable, their trademark is having no ‘fashion sense’ whatsoever. No one speaks to them or even acknowledges their presence.
A perhaps more serious issue is drugs: I say perhaps because in my experience it is much easier to avoid taking drugs than nearly everything else. However I gather that, in this case, I am an exception; for the entirety of my school life I have been warned of ‘peer pressure’ and how ‘not to give in’. Again, I have no recollection of having to make an effort to avoid taking drugs, but on every street corner it is plain that it is occuring all the time. It is incredible how many groups of six to seven teenagers sit around smoking or taking drugs, in full daylight, despite being underage. It is, I’m sure you’ll agree, very sad to see, as you know that in taking drugs they are effectively ruining their lives, their job prospects and their quality of life in the future. In this case I do not believe that the challenge is so hard to take on, but it is the recognition of the challenge which poses the primary problem.
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In answer to this there are not a huge number of solutions, perhaps the main one is to get the school around the country to provide more talks on the harmfulness of drug-taking. Certainly the many lectures I’ve attended on this subject, have been amusing but not very persuasive. The use of shocking statistics or pictures could help the dilemma.
I move on to my final point: to be yourself. There is nothing worse, I believe, than really liking someone and then finding out they were just pretending to like you. Alternatively it is awful when you become amiable with someone, but they think you are someone whom you are not. I believe that it is better to be yourself and to show your own feelings towards a person or something rather than keep up a pretentious attitude in front of them
A music teacher invites you to sing in a school concert, needless to say you don’t want to, but instead of voicing your inner feelings you lie and inform him you have an extra English lesson. To cut a long story short a very embarrassing conversation ensues, before which the teacher has already worked out the original motive behind the falsity.
I have just failed the challenge, I have succumbed to lying and producing a false excuse. As I have just proved there is absolutely no point at all in lying, other than to preserve the feelings of the person in question, who ultimately is going to end up more offended than he previously would have been. Therefore I would argue that maintaining and telling the truth is a crucial part to the life of a teenager in today’s world, and a huge challenge to keep up.
Without doubt there are more harmful things which a teenager must avoid, and more positive things he or she must do, such as concentrate on schoolwork and not be distracted by items such as television. A teenager, I believe, should also maintain a healthy lifestyle. However the three challenges I wrote on, I believe provide a balanced and more economical view on life. Rather than spend money on fashion items or take drugs or lie there are many more important things to spend your life doing.
This is a very thoughtful and maturely written approach to the subject. The examples are appropriately chosen, and the argument is constructed to make clear and effective points. Writing has a good command of vocabulary, despite the occasional slip in
spelling and punctuation.
spelling and punctuation.
The author, Melanie Kendry, is an Oxford graduate, outstanding-rated English Language and Literature teacher and of ages 10-18 in the British education system. In 2012, she was nominated for Pearson's Teaching Awards. As a private tutor, she raises grades often from C to A. Her writing is also featured in The Huffington Post. She offers private tuition in the Haywards Heath area, West Sussex.