Wednesday, March 02, 2011

ENGA3: some tips for success (part one)

Last year we posted some top tips for the ENGA3 exam to help you out with final revision work near exam time, so this year we're going to start a bit earlier and give you a chance to mull over approaches that might take a bit longer to develop. Of course, you'll get plenty of good advice from your own teachers and from the exam board and text book (especially if you're at SFX where your teachers were recently described by an Ofsted inspector as possessing "bare skillz... and that ain't even a lie").

Now the paper's been examined three times (January and June 2010 and January 2011) you can probably get a clearer picture of the types of question that might appear and the approaches that will help you do well on it.

The Principal Examiner for ENGA3 doesn't want you to "question spot" or try to second guess what's going to be on the paper, because:
a) if you get it wrong you'll come a cropper in the exam and have to answer a question on a topic you know nothing about  - like George Osborne taking an economics exam;
b) many of the topic areas actually overlap, so knowledge from (say) variation could also apply really well to change. It makes sense to know as much as you can about all the topics. And anyway, as the great philosopher Dappy from out of N-Dubz once said, "knowledge is power". He also said "In The Slum Put Ur Hands Up Brap", so I'm not sure we can entirely trust him.

The top tips from last year still hold true and you can find them here, but here are some extra ideas that should help you do well if you get on the case soon. There's quite a lot to say, so I'm going to drip feed it in different blog posts over the next few weeks. And remember, these are just my own take on the paper taken from teaching it and marking it, not any secret inside information. You can take them or leave them and I'm happy to argue the toss about any of these, refine them or add new ideas if you have any of your own.

Think about the mark weightings and prepare accordingly
On this paper the assessment objectives (AOs) are very important. They always are of course, but the balance of them in A2 is different from AS. On each question, the marks are allocated as follows:
  • AO1 10 marks: linguistic labelling and application of language frameworks (plus some consideration of your written accuracy - spelling, grammar and structure)
  • AO3 15 marks: engagement with meaning (what the texts are about and how they represent their subject matter); how contexts influence the texts (time, speaker identity, place, mode, genre); how writers and speakers address and engage their audiences (positioning, address, audience assumptions)
  • AO2 20 marks: understanding of language concepts (your knowledge of change & variation overviews, your understanding of case studies, research, examples, theories and debates)

AO2 is the big one here and you can improve your mark on AO2 if you bear a few things in mind:

  • Knowing lots of things is good, but use them to answer the question. Don't try to cram in everything you've read about Samuel Johnson, William Caxton and Robert Lowth. Synthesise the key patterns from the past and see how they relate to the texts you're presented with in the exam.
  • Explain any case studies and research that you refer to. It's not helpful to an examiner for you to refer to something by the researchers' names only and then not to explain what their research showed or how it might be relevant.
  • Be clear about wider debates about usage. Mugging up on Jean Aitchison's characterisation of prescriptive models is helpful, but look elsewhere too.
  • Make sure you are aware of how language changes spread and the patterns of change that can be observed. The section in the A2 textbook about the wave model, s-curve, substratum and random fluctuation theories is important here. Think too about having a look at this post about the "heartbeat" model of change.
  • Have clear examples to illustrate theories. Try to keep up to date with examples of (say) new words, semantic changes to existing words and different supra-regional varieties of English. Here's where your textbook is less use. Try to find examples from posts like this and this and sites like this.
  • For question 3 on Language Discourses, it's a really good idea to get some wider reading done well before the exam. This well help you out a great deal. Try Henry Hitchings' The Language Wars, Deborah Cameron's The Myth of Mars and Venus and David Crystal's The Fight For English if you want to read accessible and interesting books about big debates in English Language. Use Emagazine too to supplement your reading. There are some articles in last year's editions aimed specifically at the Language Discourses question on ENGA3.
In the next post on ENGA3 exam preparation, I'll try to have a look at AO3 and how to pick up marks by actually talking about what the texts are about and how ideas are represented.

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