On Edexcel IGCSE Language A, paper 1

I never predict exams. Ever. It’s pointless and distracting for students who need to accept the need to prepare the whole syllabus.

I do have ideas and I share them, sometimes here and sometimes on Twitter where @edexcelT link  is my attempt to offer thoughts on the whole anthology in a bite-size format.

So, rather than predicting here is my breakdown of the top tips for each passage in the non fiction setting. Before reading, I would urge any readers to get a subscription to the Edusites English resources which are so useful…

Single Story:

Genre: Speech, more specifically a TED talk and thus both serious in content and slightly informal in tone, though never losing the marks of an academic register. We wish to listen to Adichie.

Voice: 1st person and highly subjective, yet not didactic. There is humour here and a self deprecating humour which can see the weakness in herself as much as in others. The story is told clearly, yet at times the force of the single sentence carries weight – ‘she assumed that I did not know how to use a stove’ – the raised eyebrows are there for all to read.

Purpose: to educate and to raise awareness of stereotyping in all societies. We are persuaded by the eloquence of the narrative rather than by overt ‘persuasive techniques’.


1: the background in Colonial Africa, the family.

2: The first single stories – what books might contain and Fide

3: USA (further reading, her novel Americanah) and single stories against her. Mixture of humour, self-awareness and ignorance

4: Her own single story of Mexico.

5: Summing up of the message.


Passage to Africa

Genre: Autobiography. This allows reflection rather than straightforward narrative and suggests a readership interested in Alagiah’s feelings about his work.

Voice: 1st person narrative. Not afraid to use emotive figurative language to heighten the emotional impact of his writing.

Purpose: to present the dilemma of a journalist with clarity and power: the ‘active’ reporter and the ‘passive’ subject.  Alagiah considers his role in the famine as reporter, not aid worker. His writing moves from the narrative of the dreadful sights in Gufgaduud to the consideration of the ‘ghoulish’ behaviour of journalists in such an environment (see also War Photographer in Anthology Part C).


Taken from a longer book we get

1: Time and place presented with clarity,. The hook (one I will never forget) is presented in the opening paragraph and will return throughout until being explained after line 55.

2: Examples 1 and 2 of horror and hardships: Aminah and the Old Woman

3: the hook

4: Personal reflection on the sights seen.

5: the hook

6: the old man’s tale and the smile. He was embarrassed to be seen in this way. Thus the reporter becomes not a witness-bearer, but an intruder.

7: A discussion about the role of a journalist. Alagiah is not kind to his profession and concludes by stressing his own indebtedness to this nameless victim.

Explorer’s Daughter

Genre: Autobiography. Again this means reflection and consideration of a position rather than straight reporting of what is seen. Her dilemma is the argument for and against hunting – the need to protect the environment against the need to survive in that harsh ands unforgiving environment. The final sentence – short and coming after much consideration suggests an acceptance of the need to hunt.

Voice: Though a personal response, much is told in an objective 3rd person in this passage. This helps to create distance between Herbert and her subject. It also helps to assimilate the information text elements about the narwhal into the broader text. The description is rich in figurative detail suggesting a genuine love and wonder for the land she describes.

Purpose: A reflection on a moral question which is at the centre of her life. We may not agree, but we appreciate her honesty and understand her better.


1: Description of setting and place. Rich in visual imagery suggesting beauty and tranquility.

2: Information about the Narwhal is detailed and precise. Technical lexis gives authority.

3; Description of the hunt is split between the onlookers ‘clustered’ and anxious and then the single hunter – emphasising his vulnerability in his ‘flimsy kayak’. His opponents almost human in aspect – ‘talk[ing]’ under the water and immense in size. His courage is emphasised.

4: Her summary of the dilemma.


Explorers or boys… taxpayer gets rescue bill

Genre: Newspaper reportage as suggested by an emotive headline and the short paragraphs. The headline asks a question but does more – the readers are taxpayers and no one wants to pay more tax…  Also important to notice that the Guardian is a left-leaning paper which will rarely portray the self-indulgent games of the rich property developer protagonists in a positive light.

Voice: 3rd Person reporting with occasional direct speech used to belittle the protagonists. Strong in this area is the voice of Ms Vestey who is quoted at the end to place the pair into the realm of naughty little boys. Other direct speech is given to an expert witness, again questioning the wisdom of the pair.

Purpose: More than a report, this is a highly subjective piece of reporting in which there is a clear editorial angle being pursued. We are meant to recognise the pair as ‘boys messing about’ and there is little here to suggest an objective reporting of a daring flight and equally remarkable rescue; that it is a ‘miracle’ is not a positive, given the degree with which we have been turned against the pair early in the writing.


1: The introduction focuses on past negatives and sets the tone for the article.

2: The news story is clearly laid out for the reader, along with unattributed ‘resentment’ being noted.

3: Detailed narrative of the rescue begins – the time, the calls home in distress (*it is normal for such a journey to be monitored from home in this way, but the writing presents the call home in the same way as a small boy calling his mother for help).

4: Some biographical detail about the pair – both highly experienced travellers, but the negatives are highlighted here.

5: Detail on the ill-fated Russian expedition. Was the visa issue their fault? The paper does not say. Given the fickleness of the Russian federation in this area, it may well have had nothing to do with their competence, or lack thereof.

6: The aftermath – costs and recrimination. Note, there are around 30 million UK taxpayers. The cost of the rescue will not have been cheap, but divided between that many, it will have been negligible.

It is an interesting exercise to rewrite this passage as a report praising the bravery and spirit of the pair…


Between a rock….

Genre: Autobiography and also filmed. Many students are familiar with the film. There is a mixture of detailed description of the event and less controlled emotional response. It all becomes more subjective once the accident has happened.

Voice: 1st person authoritative narrative, at first objective – calm and technical – and becoming more objective as the events take place, introduced by the brilliant metaphor  ‘time dilates’ allowing for detailed responses to each step of the accident. Present tense narrative.

Purpose: To accurately present the facts of an accident and also the emotions being felt as the accident took place. There is no sense of reflection about whether the accident was avoidable or whether one should be treating the wilderness in this manner.


1: Introduces the setting clearly, using homely figurative language to ensure the readers can relate to the landscape.

2: Technical explanation of the locale and the difficulties being faced.

3: Action is introduced ‘stemming across…’ and the events begin to unfold. As the accident occurs, the verbs grow in power and violence. a long sentence introduces all the many events which can be seen clearly as ‘time dilates’. Asyndetic listing adds to the continuity of the action.

4: The aftermath and the awakening of ‘anxiety’. Much use of figurative language to convey the sense of pain and shock.  Final sentence ‘Nothing’ conveys the hopelessness of his situation.


Young and Dyslexic…

Genre: Informative writing and not a plain autobiography. Zephaniah writes of his early years with great honesty. His writing contains reflection and much-needed information for and about dyslexics.

Voice: 1st person. The writing is often conversational and reads like a speech. Zephaniah is able to relax the formality of such writing without compromising his authority as a narrator. Direct speech is used to convey his comments in class and  the insults of a teacher from 40 years previously. It certainly creates a vividness, but is it an accurate rendering of the conversations? He will use both 2nd person and 1st plural to great effect to link the reader ot his position.

Purpose: The title of the anthology in which this is published is important here. Zephaniah is writing with a clear purpose – to educate non-dyslexics and to empower dyslexics to believe in themselves.  In this he challenges the single story of ‘dyslexic stupidity’.


1: Childhood suffering and the finding of a positive in every negative situation. He explains that he bears teachers no malice and uses the introduction to present a clear picture of school in the 1960s.

2: Examples through his youth of the issues and benefits of dyslexia, leading eventually to his expulsion from school. He does not dwell on the specific details though does tell the story of his ‘revenge’ car theft. There are no details – this is not an autobiography.

3: Coping with Dyslexia in Borstal and the nature of the prison community.

4: Redemption via a girlfriend and an adult education class.

5: The message: Dyslexia is only an issue for the observer; it is a potential benefit for the dyslexic who is more creative and more imaginative as a result of the ‘condition’. He ends by throwing out a challenge to the non-dyslexics and the boot is on the other foot for once.

A great passage!


A Game of Polo

Genre: Travelogue, a form a travel writing which gives information on the countries visited and offers personal thoughts upon the experience.

Voice: 1st person narrative in the form of a long anecdote. The young drivers provide variety in their reported speech. Humour is sought throughout the narrative. Good use of irony in the final reveal.

Purpose: To present the unusual to the reader in an informative and entertaining manner  – note the use of sound imagery and visual imagery from strip cartoons, suggested by the liking of the race with the ‘Wacky Races’ of 1970s TV.


1: Setting. establishes characters and the idea of the 3 races – donkeys, crowd and the narrator’s race to be at the front.

2: Humour – the ‘wobbly bicycle’ bathos

3: Visual imagery as the race arrives. Strong metaphors and emotive language create a sense of danger and anarchy.

4: The race itself

5: The aftermath: the arguments about a winner and the eventual reveal that Yaqoob is too young to drive.


Beyond Sky and Earth:

Genre: Travelogue, as above. Also a memoir, thus suggesting a more reflective tone to the writing than in Polo/goat. Zeppa visits a remote country and tries to giver some perspective to her travels.

Voice: Objective 1st person. Able to communicate a sense of awe and an eye for detail, however small (biscuits). Mixes information with description of the travels.

Purpose: To present a narrative of the travels of the journalist and also to share her impressions of the countries she visits.


1: Awe inspiring description of the mountains to set the scene, before each subsequent description moves into closer focus.

2: The capital

3: Breakfast and the people on the trip. We learn that Zeppa is not an experienced traveller

4: Street life, with humour in the description of the policemen and a surprise in the degree of westernisation evident

5: The parliament and the people, used to explore the peace-loving nature of the Butanese – ‘dignity, unselfconsciousness…’

6: The history of the country in which it is clearly portrayed as different to other countries later absorbed into empire. Place-names and the gentle humiliation of an envoy from London help to establish a sense of ‘otherness’.

7: Reflection: She is impressed by what she sees – ‘full of admiration’.


H is for Hawk

Genre: Extract from a novel/autobiography. The chapter ending is cut here, creating a cliff-hanger which is not in the original text at this point.

Voice: 1st person, subjective narrative focused on the birds and the narrator. Note that the bird-handler remains anonymous throughout. He is seen as competent in counterpoint to the awe-struck and utterly incompetent Macdonald.

Purpose: To explore the attraction of the terrifying and to move the narrative forward. MacDonald has ordered a falcon from Eastern Europe. When this section begins, the tension of the arrival of the bird is already high. This is the moment of truth.


1: Begins in medias res as the handler checks the crates. Information and emotion will therefore be revealed as we read.

2: Beginning to open box 1 and description of the first hawk. SHort sentences abound, with asyndetic listing to suggest the frequency and range of thoughts entering the narrator’s mind. Her emotions switch suddenly from horror to awe  or from revulsion to attraction. Metaphor is widely used to describe the beast.

3: Her emotion is contrasted with the calmness of ‘the man’ who is seen to care deeply for this bird. This produces an upsurge of emotion – ‘I loved this man, and deeply’ – which then reflects onto the specific hawk.

4: Sadness at realisation that this was the ‘wrong bird’: oh.

5: Bird 2, her bird. There is no awe or wonder here. All is horror. A neat pun on ‘madwoman in the attic’ says more about the narrator’s control of the narrative than about the bird.

6: Italics introduce her rising panic. Direct speech shows the fractured nature of her emotional response.

7: Description of herself in a state of wild frenzy. His decision is possibly implied, but we do not get to hear it.


Chinese Cinderella

Genre: Autobiography presenting reflection and information about her early life.

Voice: 1st person, reflective and emphasising her emotional response. Highly descriptive vocabulary choice helps to convey her sensations.

Purpose: To convey the entrapment of a female childhood in a patriarchal society such as Hong Kong in the 1950s.


1: Setting: school, claustrophobic with an impending typhoon suggesting trouble on the way. Yen Mah is an outsider, not interested in Monopoly and therefore, by extension with business.

2: The summons. She is ‘full of foreboding’ and does not recognise (know about?) the new family home – the chauffeur’s careless  disdain serves to emphasise her lowly position in this family. Father has remarried and she is regarded as surplus.

3: The home: no one but a servant to greet her, she approaches the ‘Holy of Holies’ suggesting father’s God-like status within the home.

4: The meeting. She is terrified and suspects father’s bonhomie as a ‘ruse’. There seems to be little trust here. He is thrilled since she has given him ‘face’ with C.Y. Tung. She is careful in the interview to remain modest and demure.

5; Father sees a chance to be rid of her and offers her to go to university in the UK. SHe opts for Literature, but he has other plans, based solely on her gender: ‘obstetrics’. She agrees and thus begins her escape. The patriarch has the final say. Perhaps the female writer has the last laugh?