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writing to describe - exam tips & questions

If you are writing for the exam, you will be writing under pressure. The secret is to make sure you focus on description rather than, say, storytelling. Imagine you are a camera looking down at the scene you are describing - take mental snapshots of what is important and home in on minute details that will help produce a feeling - an image - of the whole for your reader.

Try hard to write a piece that contains a good deal of vivid and effective imagery; this means using sensory description and a few - but well chosen and original - similes or metaphors.



Here are some past exam questions of the kind you would find in a GCSE English exam. You will usually be expected to write about two sides or 500 words. In the WJEC exam, however, you are expected to write far less for this question - just one side or 250 words (and to spend just 30 mins. on the question).

In the exam, the length of your answer will be indicated in the question, perhaps around 4-500 words is typical (two sides of A4); for coursework, check with your teacher but three sides of A4 (6-800 words) is normal.

1. Think of a place, either from your imagination, or which you know already. Describe this place at two different times. It might be somewhere you know or somewhere from your imagination.

2. Describe somewhere so that what you saw or felt at the time is communicated to your reader. You might choose one of the following:

  • a town at night
  • a bustling city centre
  • a busy or quiet beach scene

3. Focusing on the people, the atmosphere and your emotions, describe how you felt during a visit to one of the following:

  • a pop concert
  • a sport's match
  • the doctor's or dentist's
  • a school play

4. Thinking about a visit or place from your past that has a special place in your memory (or an imaginary place) describe the scene so clearly that your reader will feel as if he or she were there.