Some Notes on Question 3 | GCSE English Language, Paper 1


Question three of the first GCSE English Language paper requires students to write about the structure of the literary source they’re provided with:



Although this task seems fairly straight-forward – how has the writer structured the text? – I’ve always found the concept of structure hard to teach because I’ve never been entirely clear on what counts as a structural feature and what doesn’t.  The upshot of this is that I think I’ve tended to over complicate things.  I’ve never really felt that I’ve taught structure well.  Anyway, enough preamble…  Recently, I went to examiner training provided by AQA and I took some of the notes on question three.  Here they are…  There’s nothing surprising or transformative,  but hope they’re useful.


What is structure?

  • ‘Shifts, movements and progressions through the text.’

What are some common structural features?

  • Zooming in from something big to something much smaller (or vice versa).
  • Shifting between different times or places.
  • A sudden or gradual introduction of new characters or significant points.
  • Moving from the inside to the wider outside world (or vice versa).
  • Combining external actions with internal thoughts.
  • Switching between different points of view.
  • Developing and reiterating: focusing on a point of view by expanding and repeating it.
  • Circular structure – returning at the end to what happened at the beginning.
  • Positioning of key sentences and their impact on the whole.

A few bits on marking:

  • To achieve a level two mark, students need to be able to recognise structural shifts and then say something relevant about their significance.
  • To move further up the mark scheme, students should explore the source as a whole – not just isolated extracts.
  • When marking responses, column one of the mark scheme should always be the starting point – make a broad judgement on a level before deciding upon a specific mark.
  • Students do not have to fulfil all descriptors in a level before they can progress – meaning that students can enter the mark scheme at, say, level three.

A few bits on teaching:

  • ‘At this point’ is useful starter phrase that should help lower-ability students write about narrative progression.
  • At a very basic level, students should be able to make a distinction between the beginning, middle and end of the source.
  • Overview sentences can help to signal a broad understanding of the source as a whole e.g. ‘This helps to create a sense of foreboding.’ However, having used them, it’s important that students then go into more depth.
  • Concise responses will be rewarded. Students should avoid over complicating their answers (the key word for level three is ‘clear’).
  • Literary terminology should enhance written responses. Students should avoid feature-spotting.


Thanks for reading –


2 thoughts on “Some Notes on Question 3 | GCSE English Language, Paper 1

  • 19th February 2017 at 10:52 am

    Useful document thanks. It is one of those areas that can be hard to grasp – for teachers as well as students! This gives clarity.

    • 19th February 2017 at 10:58 am

      Cheers, Gareth. Definitely hard to grasp! To be honest, it’s only now that I think I’ve actually got my head around it.


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