Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dealing with AO2 on ENGA3

ENGA3 is assessed using three AOs - 1,2 & 3 - but AO2 is the chunkiest of these on this paper, accounting for 40 of the 90 marks available.

While you should still be using the close textual analysis skills you've been learning throughout the course (i.e. the linguistic labelling with clear examples for AO1 and the discussion of meanings, effects and representations created for AO3), it does mean that you need to think carefully about addressing the wider issues of change, variation and discourses that usually appear as part of the 2nd bullet point in each question.

What exactly is AO2, though? The AQA spec says "AO2: demonstrate critical understanding of a range of concepts and issues related to the construction and analysis of meanings in spoken and written language". I've generally taken the first part of this as the most important, namely the concepts and issues part.

In the top band for AO2, you can see what they're after each year from the non-italicised descriptors (i.e. the bits that remain the same each year, whatever the question set):

So, from the top 4 descriptors you can see that it's mostly about theories, research and ideas about language. It should also be clear from this that to hit the very top of the mark scheme, you need to do more than just regurgitate all the ideas you've learnt and revised.

To use a tortuous analogy from the world of rubbish, you need to do more than just wheel out your wheelie-bin of knowledge and dump it across the pavement for the examiner to sift through. You've got to be a bit more like the person who sifts through their recycling and splits it into various types - cardboard, paper, tin cans, bottles -  working out where things go before you put it all out for collection.

(Of course, this analogy breaks down the minute the council rubbish truck (aka the AQA examiner) comes along and just tips it all into one big pile before shipping it off to Albania to be dumped as landfill. But why let truth get in the way of a tedious attempt to make exam revision entertaining?)

So, evaluation of knowledge is critical:
  • weigh up ideas and look for competing explanations (e.g. reasons for people using non-standard English)
  • discuss contrasting models (Charles Hockett's bull's eye theory or Paul Postal's "non-functional stylistic change" versus Jean Aitchison's functional approach, as outlined in Chapter 8 of her Language Change: Progress or Decay*)
  • think about alternative explanations for the same linguistic features (Robin Lakoff argued that women use more tag questions because they're insecure; Janet Holmes found that women use more tags but only of a certain type, and that male tags tend to be the ones seeking reassurance)
  • be prepared to challenge ideas within the texts you are given in the exam (especially true in Section B where the texts are non-specialist and often caricature, or present simplistic versions of, linguistic arguments)
We'll come back to ENGA3 again before Monday's exam, but in the meantime it's probably a good idea to chase up a few references to various theories about language change (such as those described and evaluated in Aitchison's book) and variation.

*thanks to Sherif for raising the issue of AO2 evaluation and these ideas


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post it's very helpful. In terms of revision, I think students like myself are really let down by the fact past papers are unusable to some extent with the copyright laws. It's easy enough to learn the facts out of a book or in lessons etc but that crucial exam practice to actually write in a 'quirky' way is disrupted by the lack of resources, especially when considering the difficulty of an exam such as this.

Dan said...

I share your frustration. The problem is that AQA only gets permission from companies/newspapers for exam use and often it's not extended to anything perceived as commercial use. I've done teacher support sessions where nearly all of the question texts have had a blank and it just seems so pointless!

Teachers normally keep hard or scanned copies of the papers from the exam, so it's worth asking. Obviously too late now though...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply. Yes, I did ask for the resources and received everything they had which only covered some years, not all the papers, which I thought was bad.

I have managed to do the best I can, but I'm still incredibly worried about this exam, not because I don't know enough, I've been through almost every A2 book and still I look at texts and find it difficult to structure an essay , analysing the two texts and covering lexis, semantics, grammar etc at the same time.

I can safely say that, despite doing A-level French (which is extremely hard) this is by far the hardest exam to do. There are so many theorists and so much content that everything becomes a bit diluted. I'd rather take parts of the content and look at them in more detail and be able to remember them. Sometimes, when I answer the questions I feel that it's a memory game. Is there any idea of what might come up tomorrow based on previous years? I've read some people feel that gender may come up, despite only being used once in a small exam, who knows? :)