AQA English Language AQA English Language Paper 2 Section A KS4

On Paper 2 Section A



You can find my post about Paper 1 Section A here.

Back in December I attended AQA’s Effective Exam Preparation course for the new English Language GCSE. It was a really informative day and has been instrumental in helping me to design how we prepare our year 10 students for their English Language exam this Summer (I will blog at some point about why we’re entering year 10s for English Language a year early). This is a post to share what I learnt and approaches to answering Paper 2 Section A which you may want to use in your own classroom.

Paper Specific Booklets and Metacognition

One of the best takeaways from the course was the idea to create booklets using SAMS4. Every student in year 10 now has a Paper 1 and Paper 2 Booklet that includes SAMS4 source material and questions along with exemplar essays and mark schemes. We then use metacognition lessons to: model exam strategy; model how to write answers; unpick the AOS and the mark scheme; mark exemplar answers and to make note of important reminders e.g. to read ALL of the information available to them on the question paper. Students have responded really well to this approach.

Question 1

We want ALL of our students to get 100% in this question – a message which we have repeated throughout the year. This question, testing AO1, is placed first to ease students into the paper and is, on the face of it, pretty straightforward. However, if we don’t teach this question well, it is very easy for students to make silly mistakes and lose marks. It is important that we consider how a student might make this question difficult for themselves and prevent these pitfalls.

What we’re telling our students:

  • On the source, put a highlighted box around the lines you are being asked to answer about (this may seem silly but we want to do what we can to ensure students don’t answer about the wrong bit of the text – it also highlights pretty quickly students who struggle with ‘getting’ what the numbers down the side of the text are).
  • Highlight ‘shade the circle in the boxes’. I suspect this answer could be marked by a computer and I don’t want students to miss out on marks because they’ve made the silly mistake of ticking a box or put a cross in it.
  • When you read through the statements the first time, put a little dot next to the letter of the statements which you think are true.
  • Read the statements really carefully and cross reference with the text – sometimes it will be a small detail that can mean the difference between getting a mark or not.
  • When you’re happy you’ve selected the right four, shade the circles in the boxes.
  • Spend no more than 5 minutes answering this question and then move on.
  • If it helps, put the time you need to move on by.


Question 3

You may have noticed that I’ve skipped from 1 to 3 (if you didn’t, maybe it’s time for half term…). That’s because we’re advising students to answer Question 1 and then Question 3 before going back to Question 2. This may seem odd but Question 3 is about a single text whereas Question 2 and Question 4 are about both sources. It seems to make the paper a bit more manageable for students to do the two questions about one source first (though Question 3 may not be about the same source as Question 1).

As with Question 2 on Paper 1, we’re probably a bit more comfortable with this question than some of the others and it’s worth utilising our comfortability, and students’ natural inclination to make inference, to build students’ confidence that they’ve got this – they’ve been doing this sort of thing for years!

The AQA course leader made the point that this question is about making intelligent comments NOT identifying fancy techniques. Students can get top marks by exploring a word in depth – let’s not fall into the trap of over-complicating things.

What we’re telling our students:

  • This question is pretty much the same as Question 2 from Paper 1 – the same skills are being tested so if you can crack it in one paper you can do it in the other.
  • Put a highlighted box around the lines you are being asked to answer about.
  • This question doesn’t have any bullet points. It might be worth putting them in to remind you of the things the examiner is expecting you to write about: words and phrases; language features and techniques; sentence forms.
  • To write APES STOMP next to the bullet about ‘language features and techniques’ to remind yourself of SOME of the techniques that writers use (this is not an exhaustive list but a useful tool for lots of students and an acronym devised by Mrs KT @books4kooks).
  • Highlight the focus of the question e.g. to describe the storm.
  • Even though this is worth more marks than Paper 1 Question 2, 3 is still the magic number! Find three words or phrases that most grab your attention in relation to the question. What effects do these words/phrases have? Can you identify any techniques the writer has used in your selections?
  • The following are BANNED (they are vaque and could be made about ANY text):
    1. Makes the reader want to read on
    2. Puts an image in the reader’s mind (OF WHAT!?!?!?)
    3. Makes it interesting/engaging
    4. Makes it flow
  • Say a lot about a little. Don’t select things you don’t think you can explore – that’s the danger of feature spotting rather than picking things that grab your attention.
  • Fully explore the effect of the language used by the writer – what does it make the reader think, feel or imagine?
  • Spend no more than 10 minutes answering this question and then move on.
  • If it helps, put the time you need to move on by.


Question 2

I have already shared a post that includes some useful advice from Jo Heathcote for answering this question and question 4 which I picked up at the English PiXL conference at the end of January. You can find the post here.

This is not a comparison question – it is an AO1 task and is a test of basic comprehension. We need to avoid our students over-complicating this question.

What we’re telling our students:

  • This question tests you AO1 synthesis skills. Synthesis means bringing different things together; it does NOT mean compare.
  • Some useful linking language when writing about differences: In contrast / Whereas / However / Whilst / On the other hand / More / Less
  • Highlight details. The examiner wants to see you using quotations from both sources. As a rough guide, aim to use 2-3 quotations from each text.
  • What does summary mean? Remember to keep things succinct. You do not need to analyse the language devices of the quotations you select but you will need to make inferences.
  • Spend a couple of minutes writing a mini-plan. For each source make brief notes about the effects of the weather (or whatever the focus of the question is).
  • Can you summarise the differences in a word or phrases e.g the effects of the weather are long term in Source A and temporary in Source B.
  • Strategy 1 for structuring your answer: Statement – Quotation – Inference – Link – Statement – Quotation – Inference
  • Inference vocabulary: This suggests… This Implies… This conveys…
  • Spend no more than 8 minutes answering this question and then move on.
  • If it helps, put the time you need to move on by.


Here’s one paragraph we wrote as a class and then picked apart.

We picked up Strategy 2 for structuring answers by looking at this full mark exemplar and picking it apart.



Strategy 2 for structuring an answer: Source A Statement – Quotation – Inference x 2/3 then Source B Statement – Quotation – Inference – Difference x 2/3

Question 4

Unlike Q2, this is a comparison question and is about the writer though not just about what the writer is doing but what they are thinking, feeling, imagining and experiencing. It’s about the methods they use to show those thoughts, feelings, imaginings and experiences.

Just because the question says ‘whole of the source’, the students should NOT feel they need to write about everything that is there – they need to be selective. Selection is the key to success in the time that students have to answer this question. Students should ask themselves: What is the writer’s intention in each text? What message is each writer trying to give me?

  • Highlight compare – what comparative conjunctions might we use in our response?
  • What are synonyms for perspective?
  • Highlight methods – what are we being expected to write about?
  • Highlight references – remember that the examiner is expecting you to support your points with quotations.
  • Find 2 to 3 quotations from each text that you think show the writers’ perspectives. Challenge: Do the perspectives change through the text?
  • Plan your response by noting down these quotations and analysing/exploring the techniques the writers have used to convey their perspectives.
  • Are there some obvious pairings of quotations between Source A and Source B? Each pair will make for a comparative paragraph in your response.



I hope that proves helpful to other English teachers trying to wrestle with Paper 2 Section A though I suspect lots of it is familiar. If you have any questions or comments I’d be happy to respond.

NB: We use the SAMS material to create the booklets which you can find on the e-AQA secure key materials section (Insert – Question 1 – Question 1 Mark Scheme – Question 2 – Question 2 Mark Scheme – Question 2 Exemplars and so on). You can, however, download the booklet cover for Paper 2 here.



  1. Hey, thanks for a great blog post; I’m definitely going to use these ideas.
    One thing I can’t get my head round is SAMS4 source material. What is it?


      1. Ah right! Thanks for that! I’m an NQT so I’m trying to get as much info on these exams as I can. I haven’t got an account on AQAs secure site so I’ll get my schools centre no. and get that sorted. Thanks again


      2. That would be great thanks! I’ll send you a message on twitter. My name is Camilla by the way.


  2. This has been really helpful – thanks. Although we had members of staff who went to the Pixl and AQA meetings, your notes have helped clarify what they fedback to us – and actually been more useful!


  3. Great support material for students – and teachers! Could you clarify APES STOMP for me, please? Bit lost on that! Thanks.


    1. No problem – not a common acronym for descriptive writing. I took it from Kate Mrs KT (@books4kooks). See below:


      Triplets of adjectives
      Pathetic Fallacy


  4. Hello, this is great, thank you! Please could I have a copy of your booklet sent to ?

    I just wanted to clarify your question 2 information. I’ve been reading various sources that suggest that you DO need to compare similarities/differences, whereas your information suggests you don’t need to compare. Surely the very nature of the question requires comparison?

    Thank you very much for some very useful tips! 🙂


    1. Also, I’ve just noticed the connectives used are for comparison, so students will naturally compare using them.


      1. Hi Emily – I will email you the booklet tomorrow.

        The advice in the blog post is direct from the AQA training. Q2 is essentially an AO1 task – summarise the differences. It does not ask for similarities but to give an overview of what is different in relation to the question. Of course you need comparative connectives for this but only ones for differences.

        I think people have been over complicating what can be a very easy question. Easily done!

        Pleased you found the post helpful.


  5. hi, i have found this article incredibly helpful and it has really helped me with the paper! I was given the exact same paper by my english teacher; i have completed it, however, i have no access to the mark scheme. is there any mark scheme you can send to me? if so, it would be much appreciated and incredibly useful, so that i can correct my mistakes for my exam tomorrow!! thnx so much x isabella


    1. Hi Dany. Happy to share the covers but the booklets are made using the SAMS material which is on the secured area of AQA and therefore I cannot distribute. You must have access to AQA?


    1. Hi – I can’t forward you the SAMS (as I explain in the post) and you can download the cover by clicking the link at the bottom of the post. Hope that helps.


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