Boost your marks by understanding how to write the perfect PEA (POINT, EVIDENCE, ANALYSIS) – a vital strategy for answering GCSE English Language reading questions and GCSE English Literature essay questions. Follow the checklist and useful pointers below to help improve your exam answers.

(This is the concise version of this article. A more complete version is available with fully worked examples and extensive explanation.)

1. The Perfect PEA checklist

Perfect PEA Preparation:

  1. Start by finding the best Evidence. Aim for short quotations – around 3 to 5 words.
  2. Identify relevant Subject Terminology.

Perfect PEA Writing:

  1. Write your POINT: the statement that, in a moment, you will prove with evidence.
  2. Write the EVIDENCE, embedded in quotation marks, as short as possible. Write any relevant Subject Terminology as well.
  3. ANALYSE using verbs such as “suggests,” “shows,” “portrays,” “implies,” “highlights,” “emphasises”, identifying effect on reader/audience.

2. Bad PEA procedure

Here is a summary of remarks from a recent examiners’ report about bad PEA procedure.

  • Unwise selection of evidence.
  • Incorrect naming of language features.
  • Feature spotting.
  • Generic analysis (analysis that could be written about almost any piece of language).
  • Quotations too long.
  • Paraphrasing (summarising) rather than PEA style analysis.
  • Incorrect interpretations of words, especially words used in a slightly creative way that means they are being used slightly differently from their everyday usage (“fever”). The context of the word (i.e. how it connects with other words and meanings in the extract) should show you how this word is being used at this particular point in the extract.

From the AQA Report on the Examination GCSE English Language Paper 1 June 2018 (p4).

3. Note on Subject Terminology

  • Subject terminology is important but needs to be correct and relevant and, most importantly, should be only part of the process you are performing (and not the main aspect of the process).
  • This means that simply writing “this is an adverb/metaphor/simile” is not going to get any marks. This is known as ‘feature spotting’ by examiners and teachers and is generally derided and scorned behind the closed doors of the English department office. Don’t attract the scorn of your examiner! The examiners do no want to see “over-reliance on complex subject terminology, which [leads] to decontextualised feature spotting at best.” (AQA Report on the Examination Paper 1 June 2018 p3). “It is what the student does with the subject terminology that is credited, rather than the mention of an obscure term that the student does not understand and does nothing with.” (AQA Report on the Examination Paper 1 June 2017 p4)
  • Instead, writing “this powerful adverb/metaphor/simile suggests that…” (and completing the PEA) will get marks as this shows a “more concentrated focus on detailed explanations as to why the writer may have chosen to employ a particular language feature…Students [will] be rewarded for the quality of their analysis, not the number of features they [can] identify.” (AQA Report on the Examination Paper 1 June 2018 p4)
  • This means if you’re having a bad day on the day of the exam, it is better to leave out subject terminology rather than to use incorrect/irrelevant subject terminology → ideally of course, you correctly name the subject terminology and use it in a meaningful PEA.
  • Students often hear the messages above and think it means no Subject Terminology. No. It means no incorrect/irrelevant Subject Terminology. Part of the challenge of GCSE English Language is to learn how to identify Subject Terminology correctly and use it in relevant ways.

4. Examples of full PEAs

Here are some good examples of PEAs that follow the above checklist. For more information about how these PEAs were written, read the complete version of this article which includes fully worked examples and extensive explanation.

  • In this extract, Macbeth’s violence is presented as worthy of celebration. The Captain hails “brave Macbeth” saying that “well he deserves that name.” This suggests that, for the Captain, the brutal and gruesome killing of rebel soldiers is an act of valour, not of shame and the Captain seems almost breathless in his praise and admiration of Macbeth.
  • The Captain’s speech presents Macbeth’s violence as bloody and gruesome. He describes Macbeth’s sword “which smoked with bloody execution.” The metaphor here transforms liquid blood into fire and smoke, presenting the battlefield as a fiery hellscape, enabling the audience to picture vividly the gory scene that they did not witness and perhaps foreshadowing the “hell-hound” Macbeth’s later descent into a hell of his own making.
  • Elsewhere in the play, Shakespeare presents Macbeth becoming increasingly violent, even to his close friends and allies. Macduff, on learning that his family has been slaughtered cries out: “all my pretty chickens and their dam?” These playful diminutives, perhaps the loving family names the Macduffs used to refer to each other, present Lady Macduff as a mother hen and the children as defenceless chicks, emphasising the brutal violence of Macbeth’s decision to have them killed. Moreover, the reference to Macduff’s children, one of whom appeared on stage in an earlier scene creates a jarring juxtaposition between the loving, nurturing Macduff family and the sterile, childless marriage of the Macbeths, showing how far Macbeth has failed as a monarch, unable to nurture a family, let alone a nation, turning instead to violence and child murder.
  • Later in the play, Shakespeare presents Macbeth’s violence as the cause of his downfall. As the rebel army closes in, he becomes introspective and declares that he has “supp’d full with horrors.” The metaphor suggests that Macbeth has feasted on violence and another forkful of horror signifies nothing to him now. He proves this moments later as, on hearing a shriek from the dying Lady Macbeth, his response is to ruminate nihilistically on the pointlessness of life rather than mourn his wife. We are shocked by Macbeth’s cold heartlessness; it is clear to the audience that Macbeth’s violence has stripped him of his humanity.

Best of luck in your exams!