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In this section

Candidate H

The candidate was awarded 15 marks for this broadly discursive piece of writing.

Summary

In this broadly discursive piece, the candidate discusses the impact that the internet has had on our personal health. In particular, the essay explores our tendency to suffer from a form of hypochondria exacerbated by the availability of online medical information. The candidate concludes that we should use online medical sites in a more informed way.

Content

This piece demonstrates strong attention to purpose and a sustained line of thought. The candidate covers a range of important issues: the dangers of mistaken personal diagnosis; the value of reputable sites; our tendency to medicalise everyday feelings; how the internet leads to the most extreme conclusions; the importance of consulting medical professionals. Each of these sections is covered in a detailed and insightful way.

The essay’s opening skilfully engages the reader by listing symptoms which introduce the topic neatly: ‘Bit of a sore head: probably migraine, cluster headache, brain tumour, CJD…’ Direct address to the reader is used confidently throughout, for example in the climactic end of the opening paragraph: ‘confront the real diagnosis – you are a cyberchondriac.’

There is strong understanding and engagement with the topic throughout and the candidate’s detailed research is skilfully integrated into the piece. Examples in the early stages of the essay include the references to rare diseases and research from Imperial College, London regarding numbers of appointments prompted by internet-led fears.

Having outlined the nature and extent of the problem, the candidate acknowledges the value of online diagnostic tools, such as those available via the NHS, especially in the climate of financial restrictions. The strong line of thought continues as the candidate urges caution when using online diagnosis: a series of lists reinforce the argument that our problems should not necessarily be medicalised. For example, we don’t need ‘to put a name to our ache, pain or lethargy’; we could ‘get more sleep, eat healthier, get fitter’; our ‘complex’ lives mean ‘we get anxious, we get sad, we get frustrated, we get overwhelmed’.

Towards the end of the essay, the candidate considers potential problems of online diagnosis: the likelihood of users misdiagnosing their common conditions as something rare and deadly – and, more dangerously, failing to seek medical help from an actual professional for an unknown serious condition. The candidate urges the reader to value ‘something it is unlikely that the internet will ever have: instinct’. This argument is characteristic of the piece in that it conveys the depth and complexity of the candidate’s line of thought.

The essay concludes by accepting that, in the field of medical diagnosis, as in other areas of society, ‘the replacement of the humble human with a highly technological machine is on the rise’. The candidate reasons that a compromise offers the best way forward, ‘to guide people to the best, most trustworthy sites.’

Style

The essay demonstrates skilful use of linguistic features to develop and discuss the topic. The candidate’s use of complex vocabulary is evident throughout, for example ‘irrational fears fuelled by researching the internet’ and ‘as much as we may mock those whose reliance on cyberbetic diagnosis…’ Expression is confident and varied, for example the use of lists, questions and repetition, which effectively add emphasis, as in ‘Surely it is better to be well-informed than rely on rumour, heresy and old wives’ tales?’ and ‘It is way more likely…It is far more probable…’

Skilful engagement of the reader is maintained throughout. Having captured the reader’s attention in the opening section, the tone of the piece continues to punctuate moments of humour in a serious treatment of the topic, culminating in a strong conclusion in which the writer’s control of language is used to powerful effect: ‘We need to master the use of the internet in healthcare rather than become enslaved by it.’ The structure skilfully enhances the meaning, moving fluently through the stages of the candidate’s sophisticated line of thought. The linking is smooth, with wry touches such as quoting ‘Hypochondria is the only illness I don’t have’ and ‘However, before this becomes another Luddite condemnation of the internet…’

Overall

This piece was placed in the 15-13 mark range. It is a strongly-argued, wellinformed and confident piece of writing. Throughout, the candidate demonstrates stylish and imaginative control of language. It was placed at the top of the 15-13 range and awarded 15 marks