Here’s a descriptive writing example answer that I completed in timed conditions for AQA English Language Paper 1, Question 5. This question is worth HALF of your marks for the entire paper, so getting it right is crucial to receiving a high grade overall for your English GCSE. Underneath the answer, I’ll provide some feedback and analysis on why this piece would receive a top mark grade (around 38–40/40).
“There’s an old house at the bottom of our road, so overgrown by giant twisted willow trees that you’d almost not realise it’s there if you passed. A grand old house, it must have once been owned by rich aristocrats; if you stare at it long enough you can just about imagine how they would have been a hundred years ago — swanning around in floaty silk dresses and smart wool suits, lounging on the swing in the veranda, sipping champagne and listening to jazz music well into the small hours of the morning.
But now, that swing is a rotten, splintered board barely held by frayed old ropes; it squeaks loudly as it sways in the breeze. The surrounding yard is replete with piles of rotten leaves and tall wisps of uncut grass. The whole house is crooked. It looks as if it’s sinking. The roof sags and dips inwards, like it can’t cope with life anymore and it just wants to crumble back into dust. On the exterior, the paint has almost all flaked off, giving a pixelated effect to the house: a glitch in a video game, it doesn’t belong in this world. The windows are opalescent from dust, and occasionally a pallid glow emanates from one of the larger windows on the bottom floor, followed by the hunched, aged silhouette of a man: Mr Grimshaw.
Mr Grimshaw’s the reason we go there, really. I don’t know what it is exactly, but he’s just fascinating to watch.
We don’t even know if Grimshaw’s his real name; that’s just what everyone around here calls him. A few of us dare each other to climb over the iron gates and sneak about the yard, getting as close to the house as we can without being seen. It’s a kind of ‘Grandpa’s footsteps’, I suppose. The furthest any of us ever make it is climbing up into the curled branches of the willows, which stop about halfway into the yard from the fence.
We sneak up into the willows and watch Mr Grimshaw most weekends (there’s not much else to do in our town). It’s like a doll’s house, but a living, breathing one. And much creepier, too, especially because half of the windows are a blur. You can just about make out the old furniture and faded decor in the rooms, once meticulously decorated yet now fallen into disrepair. He’s always moving between them, like a theatre set — he shuffles about in a frayed paisley smoking jacket — which I’m sure he must have stolen from one of the ornate armoires in the upstairs bedrooms.
Mostly, to amuse ourselves we usually compete by making derogatory comments and sly, ironic witticisms on Grimshaw’s every hunched and creaky shuffle: “What a WEIRDO!”, “Oh he’s back in the attic again, fourth time today” “Doesn’t he ever sleep? He’s the undead, I swear!”, that sort of thing. We often make up stories about him: he’s an old wizard, muttering spells and curses under his breath at anyone who dares cross into his territory. He’s a ghost doomed to wander the ramshackle halls of his former estate for eternity, and only those pure of heart can see or speak to him. He’s a hobo who got lucky and, finding the place abandoned, set up a little nest for himself there.
But today feels different, somehow. Today, we’re silent. The willows rustle; we listen. With a slow creak that’s straight out of a horror film, the gnarled front door swings open, and we get a close up of Mr Grimshaw for the very first time. He looks taller now, less crippled yet still leaning slightly onto his black walking stick, his gnarled and veiny hand resting on its ivory carved top. His eyes are bright blue and shimmering, like a glacier, and they’re open very wide, so that you can see the whites of his eyeballs. Hobbling in a firm, resolute manner, he starts off down the steps of the veranda, roughly following the worn, leaf littered path up to his letter box. By the time he gets there’s he’s panting heavily, we can hear him rasping even over the whispering trees.
He opens the box with a key and it springs apart with a neat ‘click’. There’s nothing inside. He’s still for a moment, then he collapses to the ground, wheezing and coughing. We watch him scrunch his face into an even wrinklier ball than usual, and with a grunt try to push himself up on his stick. Defeated, he falls back to the floor with a slump.
We’re speechless. In all our hours of watching Mr Grimshaw, we’ve never seen him like this. I’m not sure who makes the first move, but soon we’re all sliding down the tree trunk and rushing over to help him. Between the three of us, we manage to lift him up and get him on his feet. His arms seem so frail, and he’s as light as the breeze itself.
“Thank you for your assistance, kind gentlemen”, he says, still panting slightly. “Would you care to pop in for a spot of tea? It’s been so long since I’ve had any company.”
Silently, we nod and the four of us walk into his house together.”
ANALYSIS OF EXAM ANSWER
There are a few reasons why this piece would receive a high grade, I’ll give you a breakdown of the main techniques that were used below:
- 5 types of imagery — visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile
- A range of poetic devices — simile, metaphor, repetition, alliteration, symbolism, motif, specific and unusual vocabulary choices, extended descriptions and more
- A control over structural devices — range of punctuation, mixture of prose and dialogue, clear pacing (short and long sentences), range of paragraph lengths, capitalised words
- Developed control over tone (a shift in tone as the piece develops), style, setting and characterisation
- A clear shape to the description, including shifts of focus, without the piece feeling like a full story or narrative
- A sense of deeper themes and ideas, as well as a clear thematic statement — don’t judge others or mock them if you don’t know them well, they may need your help instead
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