Tips For Passing GCSE English Literature

Student getting help from tutor in library

Not only do we think its important to learn about the structure and content of your exam, but we also think it practical that you revise some top tips and soak up some of the best exam advice prior to commencing your revision.

Tip 1 – GCSE English Literature Content – Find out as much as you can!

Before your exam, you should find out as much information as you can about what you’ll face on the day.
Below are some of the most essential things that you SHOULD know before undergoing your revision:

  • The examination board;
  • The subject content;
  • The books to be focusing on;
  • Understanding how much each section is worth (in percentage).

Tip 2 – Create a timetable

It is important that every minute leading up to your exam should be spent wisely and effectively.
The best way to do this is to create a timetable for yourself and try to adhere to it as much as possible.
On the following page, we have created a sample timetable that you can fill out according to your GCSE English Literature exam. Be sure to factor in time for each section of the paper – Shakespeare, 19th-century prose, modern texts, and poetry.

Tip 3 – Practise grammar, punctuation and spelling

Sadly, revising for English can be a bit of a pain. Outside of practising your spelling, grammar and handwriting, the best way to get better at English essays is to write them. Preferably, you should try to write these under exam conditions, using the same timings as those in the real exam.

Tip 4 – Learn the material

The first step to success at English GCSE is to know what you’re talking about. Make sure you read the books, plays or poems that you need to answer questions on in the exam. If it helps, find film adaptations which are faithful to the original material – this can help you visualise the events of the novel or play more easily.
On top of this, there are plenty of websites and books which offer interpretations and critiques of the texts that you’re studying. You can use these as a guide to the text, or as arguments in your essays.
For plays and novels, you should try to remember the key events which take place, as well as the main characters and their personalities. Creating a small fact file with profiles for each character can be a fun way of summarising them and their role in the text. If it helps, you can even use descriptions of the characters’ looks to sketch them, giving you a broader picture of what they would be like.
For the story, try to reduce the book into the key events. Preferably, try to find the three key events of the text – the ones which define its three acts. Then, reduce these three chunks into three smaller events, meaning that you have nine events which drive the plot of the novel or play. You can then sort these events into a flowchart so that you can easily remember the order of events.

Tip 5 – Answer practice questions for your GCSE English Literature exam

Once you’re confident that you know all of the different characters, story events, and themes of your text, it’s time to get to work on practice questions. As usual, get hold of some past papers and answer all of the questions that are relevant to your course.
If you get tired of writing whole essays, then at least you can attempt writing essay plans for them. This will still test your knowledge and ability to structure an answer, even if it doesn’t completely match the experience of writing a full essay.
The most difficult part of using practice questions to revise for English is that you will need to find someone to read and mark your essay, so that you know where you’re doing well, and where you need to improve. Ask your teacher if it’s possible for them to take a look at your essays or essay plans, and they might be able to give you some pointers, giving you a rough idea of what to work on next.

Tip 6 – Read the mark scheme

Unlike the mark schemes for Maths and Science, which contain right or wrong answers, the marking criteria for English exams is a bit more abstract. In an English exam, you aren’t necessarily being marked on what your argument is, but rather how well you argue it, and how clear your message is. This is reflected in the mark scheme, where clarity in writing and how robust your argument is valued most. Take a look at the mark schemes for the exams that you’re sitting to see exactly what is being asked of you.

Tip 7 – Practise your handwriting

Handwriting is vital because the examiner needs to be able to read what you have written in order to mark it accurately. If the examiner can’t read your work, they won’t mark it. Therefore, you should spend some time practising handwriting if you think yours isn’t up to standard. You’ll probably be writing very quickly in the exam, which means that your handwriting will probably be less legible than usual. Doing practice essays is a good way to find ways of making your handwriting neater, especially if you do the mock exams under timed conditions. If it helps, cut out joined-up handwriting in favour of print handwriting, so that the examiner is more likely to be able to understand what words you’ve written.

Tip 8 – Always have a plan

When it comes to success at English GCSE, the most valuable thing is to plan your essay before you begin. Once you open your exam paper, you might find a question that’s perfect. You might be tempted to go head-first into your answer because you want to secure the marks, but it pays to exercise restraint and take the question more slowly. The length of the exam is designed to allow students to write a quick plan before starting each question, so you won’t be losing time to spend on your essay if you take a moment to write a plan. In fact, planning will make your time much more valuable, since you’ll have a good idea of what direction your answer is going in.
Planning your answer is beneficial for two reasons. Firstly, it’ll force you to look at the question more closely. This means that you’ll answer the actual question in the paper, rather than misinterpret it or create a question in your head that you would like to answer. Many students fail to answer the question directly, and planning will help you clarify what’s being asked of you in the exam.
A plan will also help you stick to the point of the essay. As you write an answer, you can slowly drift away from the main point and get side-tracked by minor details which aren’t entirely relevant to the question. Staying relevant is vital when doing your English exams. You don’t have enough time to talk about everything surrounding a book, play, poem or other topic, so you need to focus on exactly what the question is asking. When you write your plan, you can list details which are strictly relevant, and cut out anything you don’t need.

Tip 9 – Make a point, provide evidence, then explain it

This is one of the best ways to structure your answers in an English exam, or any other test which is essay-based, and requires you to form an argument. However, this method won’t work for the creative writing exercises.
Make your point – Here, you need to make a claim which relates to the question. For example, “One of the main themes in Romeo and Juliet is fate.”
Provide evidence – Depending on what exam you are sitting, the type of evidence you provide might change. For an English exam, you’re likely to take a quote from the text, for example, “A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.”
Explain it – Finally, you need to link your evidence to the point that you’ve made. In this case, you might say “the phrase ‘star-cross’d’ implies that Romeo and Juliet were destined to meet each other for a brief moment in time, only to be pulled away from each other in death.”
This method is excellent for structuring an argument, and can work throughout an essay. Remember to always link your argument to the question by saying something along the lines of “this relates to the question because…”. This shows the examiner that you understand how what you are writing relates to the overall topic. For extra marks, you can show how your points link to one another as well, showing that you have a more complete picture of what you are writing about.

Tip 10 – Learn the best revision techniques for you

There are three major ways that people revise and absorb information. These are:
Visual – This involves using visual aids such as note-taking and creative mapping of information, to commit things to memory.
Aural – The use of videos, music or other recordings to allow information to sink in.
Kinaesthetic – Using activities which involve interaction, to remember key details (such as flashcards and revision games).
Different paths will work better for different people, but also bear in mind that certain subjects will also suit these methods differently.

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