Monday, 24 May 2010

How to do an exam answer

With three weeks to go to the G325 exam, it's time to see how the material you have gathered might be used in answering the questions. First we will look at questions 1a and 1b, then at the questions on Media in the online age.

These were the questions in January, so obviously the June exam will not feature the same ones (!) but the general principles which I shall explain here will still apply.
The first steps for these two questions is to read the instructions! You also need to consider the number of marks available relative to the time for the exam as a whole. It's two hours long and worth 100 marks, so a 25 mark question should be completed in a quarter of that time (30 minutes). that's how long you should devote to each of these questions. If you prefer to do Section B (the 50 mark question) first, that's fine- you can answer questions in any order. Just make sure you do answer all three and you devote the right amount of time to each.

So in terms of instruction, the main things to note here are that for 1a you write about ALL of your work across the course (and you can write about anything else you might have made on other courses or in your spare time too!) and for 1b you just write about ONE of your productions. Try not to overlap too much, so that each answer is different.

1a is entirely concerned about skills development, but the area that comes up will be quite specific. So as you can see, in January, it was about development of skills in research and planning; the other areas which can come up are skills in:

digital technology use
use of real media conventions

It is possible that a question might refer to two of these categories, so be prepared to talk about any/all of them!

a few tips on what they mean:

digital technology refers to hardware, software and online technology, so the cameras, the computers, the packages you used and the programs online that you have worked with. It is worth considering how all this inter-links.

post-production would actually fall under digital technology as well, so if that comes up it would probably represent an expansion of points you'd make in one section of digital technology. It is really about everything you do after constructing the raw materials for your production; so once you have taken photos and written text, how do you manipulate it all in photoshop or desktop publishing for a print product or once you have shot your video, what do you do to it in editing.

research refers to looking at real media and audiences to inform your thinking about a media production and also how you record all that research; planning refers to all the creative and logistical thinking and all the organisation that goes on in putting the production together so that everything works and again gives you the chance to write about how you kept records of it.

Creativity is the hardest one in many ways because it involves thinking about what the creative process might mean. Wikipedia describes it as "a mental process involving the discovery of new ideas or concepts, or new associations of the existing ideas or concepts, fueled by the process of either conscious or unconscious insight." For your projects it might involve considering where ideas came from, how you worked collaboratively to share ideas, how you changed things or even how you used tools like the programs to achieve something imaginative.

Use of real media conventions involves consideration of other texts that you looked at and how skilfully you were able to weave their conventions into your work or ways in which you might have challenged them.

You will notice that most of the above were areas that you covered in the evaluation task at the end of each of your productions. This time, you are putting together ideas from evaluations and standing a bit further back to look across your production work and reflecting on how you developed across the course. You should feel free to acknowledge weaknesses and to reflect upon how you learned from them and how you overcame problems. It is not a place to be defensive about your work but to really reflect on it!

so how would you organise an answer?

paragraph 1 should be an introduction which explains which projects you did. It can be quite short.

paragraph 2 should pick up the skill area and perhaps suggest something about your starting point with it- what skills did you have already and how were these illustrated. use an example.

paragraph 3 should talk through your use of that skill in early projects and what you learned and developed through these. again there should be examples to support all that you say.

paragraph 4 should go on to demonstrate how the skill developed in later projects, again backed by examples, and reflecting back on how this represents moves forward for you from your early position.

paragraph 5 short conclusion

Remember it's only half an hour and you need to range across all your work!

Question 1b

I like to think of this question as being about moving a couple of steps away from your production work and imagining you are someone else looking at it for the first time. How would you analyse this music video, this magazine or whatever? Imagine you didn't make it but that it is a real media production.

Again the question will specify an area/concept for you to apply. The areas that could come up are:

Media Language

For each area there are theories or ideas which your teachers will have introduced you to which you need to know a bit about and then you have to apply those ideas to ONE of your productions and analyse it accordingly. Decide in advance which piece you will write about and make sure that whatever the concept, you can actually do it. Again, here is a bit of a breakdown of what the five concepts might involve.

Audience can refer to how media products target audiences, which audiences actually consume media products, but most interestingly how media audiences actually read or make sense of media products and what they might do with them. There is a lot of interesting material on all this and you should certainly be familiar with some of it.

Genre is all about the ways in which we categorise media texts. Whatever you have made will in some way relate to other examples of the same genre, whether it be in print, audio, video or online. Again a lot of different media critics have written their own 'take' on genre and this would be useful to apply to your work.

Narrative is about how stories are told. Applying different models of narrative structure to your work may reveal unconscious things that you did in the way you have constructed it. Again a familiarity with some of these models or theories will be helpful in the exam.

Media Language is probably the most open one if it comes up, because it allows you to talk about the other areas as well (genre, narrative, audience) as it is about the techniques and conventions of different forms of media (how shots are organised in film, how text is laid out on a page).

Finally, representation particularly focuses on the ways in which particular social groups are presented back to us by the media. So in your case how have you portrayed young people or females or males in your work? what messages are implied in what you have constructed and what would particular types of criticism (e.g. feminism) make of it?

so again, how do we write about this in half an hour?

para 1 Intro: which of your projects are you going to write about? briefly describe it

para 2: what are some of the key features of the concept you are being asked to apply? maybe outline some of the theories briefly

para 3; start to apply the concept, making close reference to your production

para 4: try to show ways in which ideas work in relation to your production and also ways in which those ideas might not apply/could be challenged

para 5; conclusion

So there's the first part of the exam! Next is part B- media in the online age!


  1. This was a fantastic help to A2 students frozen with rabbit-eyes in the spotlight of Tuesday's exam! I used it to revise the whole paper and how to approach the question for today's lesson as a quick creative flick from planned revision to what they needed. Thanks very much. Angela Leary Pendeford B&E College, Wolves

  2. this is sweet i have my exam tomorrow massive help felt a little hopeless before this thanks for taking the time.

  3. Many thanks, I have referenced this on my blog as it is a wonderful guide!

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  5. Thank you so much for all these posts, Pete. My media teacher constantly probes us to look at your work saying how helpful and beneficial it is, and across the past few days you've made the exam seem so much more clearer. Here's hoping that tomorrow the knowledge can be applied efficiently.