Doing Delta Module One? Some Exam Tips - Part Four

In this part of our series on the Cambridge English Delta Module One exam, we look at the requirements of Task Five on Paper One of the written exam. See the Cambridge website to download the Handbook for Tutors and Candidates which provides a sample question and analyses of weak and strong answers for this task and all the others.

Task Five of Paper One  tests your awareness of the language systems - discourse, grammar, lexis and phonology.  It carries fifty marks - so it's a major component of the paper and worth spending time on. If you follow the principle of aiming for a mark a minute, you could dedicate between 40 and fifty minutes to this question. 

Don't waste time trying to form your answer into complete sentences or connected paragraphs. Bullet points and semi note form are all that's required. There's a mark for each valid point you make - so use the time to put down as much information as possible about each feature of the language you analyse. 

The first part of the task asks you to look at the text as representative of a particular genre, and identify features which are specific to that genre - usually five, but as always, read the rubric carefully in case there are changes. So first of all, what do we mean by genre?

Imagine you were walking down the road and suddenly a sheet of paper blows towards you and wraps itself around your legs. If you pick it up, even a very cursory glance will tell you if it's an extract from a novel, a newspaper sports report, a poem, a legal contract, a recipe, a shopping list, a charity appeal - or whatever. Even without reading it, you'll recognise the genre from the visual impact. How is laid out on the page - does it use connected paragraphs, numbered paragraphs, bullet points, or what? Are photos are included or not? Are there larger font headlines or is bold or italic print used? And so on. Start to read it and immediately you'll notice differences in the language - shopping lists will consist of  a sequence of noun phrases, recipes will contain imperative verbs, poems will use devices such as rhyme, assonance and alliteration. It's this sort of feature that you are asked to identify, giving an example from the text of each.

What type of genre might be included? The list is endless, but some that have come up in the past include advertisements, home pages from websites, information leaflets, articles from the popular scientific press, and human interest articles from newspapers.  However, if your exam preparation has included analysis of a wide range of genres, you'll start to see that certain features are shared by various different genres because they all use a specific text type or have a similar purpose. For example,  biographies, novels and news articles will all involve narrative, and therefore past verbs will be predominant;  advertisements, hotel and restaurant websites, and websites inviting membership  all have a promotional purpose and may well use personal pronouns repeatedly to try and make the reader feel personally involved. Once you've looked at various genres therefore, and have seen how they fall into categories related to text type and purpose, you should know what type of feature to look for even if the exam includes a genre which you haven't specifically considered in the past.

This part of the task carries only five marks, so don't sweat over it excessively. If you've found four features but the fifth doesn't immediately occur to you, leave a bit of white space and move on. You'll probably pick up more marks by spending the time on the rest of the paper - and if you do have time left over, you can always go back look at it again later. Remeber though, that you must both describe the feature - eg Use of second person pronouns and possessives to directly address the read and give an example from the text - eg ... you want the best for your dog, so..  No example means that no mark will be given even if the point is correct.

The rest of the paper asks you to analyse specific words or phrases, as they are used in the text. There will be three sections, each focusing on a different language item or area, and you will be asked to analyse them from the point of view of any of the following : form, meaning, use, pronunciation and problems they may cause for learners. Be careful, the rubric of each section will tell you which of these categories you should focus on. Be sure to analyse the items in terms of the category or categories specified and nothing else - other points you make won't get any marks and will just waste time.

So what do we mean by form, meaning, use, pronunciation and problems for students? What points should you include under each? Let's take the following sentence :  I don't think I've ever seen David take anything seriously - and as usual, when we arrived, he was horsing around. How would you analyse the words was horsing around in terms of each of the four categories? You might like to try it before you read on.  You'll find my analysis later.

Let's look first of all at form. Here you need to analyse the grammatical form of the items. Here's usually a lot to say and you shouldn't  be afraid to state the obvious. If you're analysing eg the word pencils, tell the examiners that you know it's a plural countable common noun; if the item is  writes that it's a third person singular present simple lexical verb. Any piece of information left out, however obvious it may seem, could lose you a mark. You might also deal with any spelling changes caused by affixes - eg in prettier the "y" of pretty changes to "i" before the comparative suffix -er because it is preceded by a consonant.

Meaning is the lexical meaning of the word - a synonym or the definition that you might find in a dictionary. So eg if you were analysing the expression put up with, the meaning would be tolerate (something), accept (it) even though it bothers or irritates you. Cambridge have not asked about meaning for the past few years - only form and use. However, I've not been able to find anything that says they have definitively excluded it from the exam. So if you're asked for meaning, look for a synonym.

There are various ways you can deal with use :

1. Syntactic use : how is the word or phrase used in the sentence? If it's a noun, is it the subject in the clause? Or the object? If it's an adjective does it premodify a noun or is it the complement of a verb? And so on.

2. Semantic Use : For example, does the word have a specific connotation which indicates the writer's attitude. For example, in the sentence She had lost a lot of weight and was starting to look really..., the attitude changes completely if the next word chosen is scrawny or slim. The person's weight and appearance might be the same, but scrawny indicates a negative attitude while slim is positive. As another example, a synonym of a word might be chosen to avoid repeating the original word. Repetition might make the text sound stilted or boring. Compare eg : There are several examples listed. For example, he talks about... and  There are several examples listed. For instance, he talks about...

3. Stylistic use : Does the choice of the word or phrase add to the formality or informality of the text? Does it create humour? Is it typical of journalistic style, academic style etc etc. 

4. Use in the discourse : For example, in the following example ...
The Taj Mahal is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. It was built in 1632 by the Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan...
The use of the passive verb was built allows the discourse to follow the "given-new" order of information which is typical of English (The Taj Mahal is "given" in that it has been mentioned in the previous sentence; the date and constructor are "new" pieces of information. Choosing an active verb would mean ordering the sentence with new information placed first.)

When dealing with pronunciation, remember that you must use phonemic script to illustrate the points you make. No phonemic script means no mark - even if your description is valid. You will need to consider the citation form of the word/phrase and any potential changes that may occur in connected speech, with specific accents etc. So if you were transcribing the phrase new age you might write something like :
Citation form : new - /nju:/ (Br.Eng) /nu:/ (Am. Eng); age - /eɪʤ/
Connected speech : probable use of "intrusive consonant /w/ to link the two vowel sounds  - /nju: w eɪʤ/
When considering pronunciation, you'll need to consider such features as elision and gemination, epenthesis, assimilation, catenation and liaison, and yod coalescence. (For an explanation of some of these terms, see here.)

And finally, problems for learners. These could fall into any of the categories above. For example - if you were analysing the noun a series, learners might have problems with the form : as the word ends in -ies they might assume it is plural. Learners of specific L1 groups may have problems pronouncing individual sounds in the words - Japanese learners, for example, would have problems with the /r/ sound here. Other words might create problems with meaning, eg because they are false cognates - for instance, an Italian learner hearing the word college might assume it meant boarding school (It. collegio = boarding school). Use might also be problematic - as an example, if the word that you were analysing was derived from Latin and being used in a formal context, consider whether learners from Romance L1s might overuse it because it was similar to a word in their own language and therefore more memorable than eg the phrasal verb that might be more naturally used in an neutral/informal style.

Those then are the four categories you will have to analyse. So how would you deal with the phrase was horsing around? Here's my analysis :

Form : 
3rd person singular, past continuous (Be past tense + Ving) form of phrasal verb (verb + adverb) horse around
Spelling : mute "e" dropped before addition of -ing suffix.

a) Past continuous form : describes a temporary on-going event occurring at a reference point in the past (here, the moment of arrival) 
b) phrasal verb :  to act in a non-serious way; fool about. Informal style. Semi-synonymous with, and forms a cohesive tie with, "not take anything seriously".

Pronunciation : 
Citation form - /wɒz hɔ:sɪŋ əraʊnd/. In connected speech :
a) almost certain use of weak form of "was" /wəz/ 
b) possible elision of /h/ (eg London accent) and consequent catenation between syllable final /z/ and syllable intial /ɔ:/ 
c) Rhotic accents (eg Somerset, most American) : pronunciation of post vocalic /r/: /hɔ:rsɪŋ/
d) Potential consonant lenition /ŋ/ to /n/ (eg London accent)
e) CV catenation between final consonant of "horsing" and initial vowel of "around"

Problems for learners :
a) Pronunciation of /h/ for eg Italian speakers, who would tend to omit it.
b) Pronunciation of /w/ for German speakers, who might replace it with /v/
c) Listening comprehension : Problems bottom-up decoding the phrase because of the features of connected speech mentioned
d) Understanding meaning  due to the "non-transparent" quality of the phrasal verb.

Would you have time to write that much about every item specified? Of course not. Don't even try, or you'll be spending the whole 90 minutes on that question alone. Notice too that I've given four problems for learners here (you may have thought of others too), while it's usually specified that you should identify three - again, read the rubric carefully so that you don't waste time writing down extra points that will gain you no marks. Obviously, on the spur of the moment you won't think of half the things that might come to mind if you were doing it other than in exam conditions.  But it shows you that there is far more that you could say than it is actually necessary to say, so leaving out a few things is not the end of the world.  However, if you have a check list in mind of the things you might say (eg the different categories I've mentioned under Use), points will come to mind more easily. You get one mark for every point you make, and you're aiming for fifty. Five go on the genre analysis section, leaving 45 here to gain on analysing  (usually) about 9-12 items. This means that if you make  3-4 points about every item, you'll get full marks, while 2 points per item, added to full marks in the genre analysis section, would still guarantee a pass average. And bear in mind that if you look at one of the sections and can't answer it at all, you can still pick up the marks by saying more about the items in another section.

So how can you prepare yourself for this task?

1. By reading books on language and discourse, particularly those which provide tasks for you to work through. You'll find some recommended below.

2. Follow and participate in internet forums which discuss language. I use the one on eslhq, but there are many. Read the questions that are there and see if the answers agree with the explanation in the grammar you are using - you should be using one intended for teachers of English/students of linguistics, not for learners. And if you're still puzzled leave your own question and see if you get a credible answer.

3. Spend ten minutes a day focusing on language analysis. Pull a book off your bookshelf at random. Open it at page 52. Find the tenth complete sentence on the page and choose the third word in the sentence. Analyse it in the ways you might have to in the exam, then check your answer with a good dictionary (for meaning, form, pronunciation) and  your grammar.

Some Recommended Reading...

Lewis, M. The English Verb 
Thornbury, S. About Language
Carter, R. and McCarthy, M Cambridge Grammar of English 

To see the other articles in this series...

Missed some of the other articles in this series? You'll find links to all of them here - just scroll down the page. But if you're preparing for the Delta Module One, don't forget that you'll find a lot more information about all the tasks in the exam, with sample questions and answers, plus advice for tackling the questions in the Handbook for Tutors and Candidates and the annual exam reports published by Cambridge English. Click on the link to download them.

And don't forget either that extracts from our Module One course are posted every Tuesday on our companion blog The Delta Course. Check it out weekly. You'll find input and activities to help you with all the activities in the exam.