Friday, May 19, 2023

Connections between texts on Paper 1: dealing with AO4

Question 3 on Paper 1 has often been a bit of a low-scorer for students and you can maybe see why. It comes an hour in to the exam, and you’ve still got all your knowledge about child language to unleash, so perhaps you treat this one as a bit of a stopgap question. On top of that, you’ve already rinsed Text A in Question 1 and Text B in Question 2 for all the inspiration you could find and now you’ve got to go back and compare them. Why not just do that in the first place? Well, that’s a good question but have a look at Question 3 on Paper 2 and you can see that’s actually quite a tough thing to do. What you’re doing here is a slightly more staged process of exploring the two texts and actually a bit more straightforward. 

So, what can you talk about in Question 3? The question is marked using AO4 which is the connections AO (you’ll see it in Question 3 on Paper 2 and in the NEA commentary too) so it’s important to think about the kinds of connections you can make between the two texts and how you can do that. 

If Questions 1 and 2 are largely about avoiding too much unnecessary contextualising and cutting to the chase to analyse what the texts are about and what they are saying (and I think that’s the usual message about them), then Question 3 is a chance to talk more about some of those other contextual things. In other words, if the topic is broadly similar (and both texts are always on the same theme) then how and why do the two texts handle that theme in similar and different ways? What is it about the types of texts they are, the modes they are in, the purposes and audiences that they have, the time that they were produced in, that makes them do that differently. And how does their use of language show that? 

While there’s bound to be some discussion of context in your answers to Questions 1 and 2 (because the AO3 requires you to talk about meanings in context), there’s more chance to develop that focus here. And as long as you use specific features of language to do that, you should be able to hit Level 3 or above. 

A quick look at the mark scheme should reveal that Levels 1 and 2 are largely about spotting and identifying quite implicit and basic (Level 1) or quite literal (Level 2) connections without focusing on the language itself. This will probably be quite descriptive, so perhaps saying that a text is written and formal without identifying an example of this, or noting that the texts have different audiences but not illustrating how you can tell or how the address to those audiences is different in the language choices being made. 

Levels 3 and above require you to discuss language, “compare use of xxx” being the key descriptor here, where the xxx will be the specific language features that you think are relevant. And here it’s about linking these to a specific aspect of context such as how an adjective helps describe flat-sharing/the rules of boxing/goths/how a runner missed her lane, or how a sentence function is used to engage or address the audiences. Comparison is important too because that’s what AO4 is all about, so make sure your language points are ones that can be used to discuss similarities and differences across the two texts. 

For example, if you think pronouns are being used in a way that strikes you as interesting – lots of direct address in one text but often quite impersonal address in the other – that’s a good AO4 point to base a paragraph around. Equally, there’s this semantic field used in one text and that one used in the other – to describe the same topic – so that could be another good comparison. This text has been scripted to be spoken so there are frequent discourse markers to structure it, while that one has been laid out as a webpage so the structuring comes from its subheadings as part of its graphology. 

At Levels 4 and 5 you’re taking this further. Level 4’s buzzword is connect and Level 5’s is evaluate so you’re engaging much more here with the ways that language is linked to mode, genre, purposes and audiences, and the historical and social contexts to each text. I’ve often reminded my students that it’s not just the older text that has historical context; the contemporary one does too and that’s also worth focusing on, even if that history feels very ‘now’. This doesn’t mean just offloading a lot of historical knowledge or trying to summarise all the social movements of the last 100 years, but instead it means discussing ways in which the texts themselves have been produced and consumed within a historical and social context and how that might have affected or even shaped them. 

What is there in the text about student flat shares that makes you realise that going to university has only become an opportunity for a large minority in the last 30-40 years? What tells you that while vegetarianism has been around for well over a hundred years, it’s still treated as something of a food fad? What tells you that in 1743, boxing was relatively new to the public and therefore had to have its rules explained? These things could all be relevant to the contexts of the texts and to the language used within them and what that language is used to do. 

But the other thing to notice is that as you work your way to the top of the mark scheme you’re expected to think less literally and more holistically. What’s the significance of these connections that you’re starting to see? Why are these texts treating the same material in different ways? By the time you hit Level 5 you should be evaluating all of that and also placing these texts within their wider discourse, taking the AO4 beyond just the connections between the texts themselves and into the texts’ connections to the wider world.  

If you’re looking for a few ways to do this as practice for Paper 1, then this post from 2021 should offer you a few ways in.  

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