How to revise GCSE English with 7 weeks to go
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GCSE English can be overwhelming. Between the Literature and Language courses and the varying skills and knowledge needed for each, there's a lot to master.
There’s not much time left until summer exams start, so now's the time to get everything clear in your head. Going forward, your revision should be strategic, make the most of the time that is left and set you up for your English exams in the most effective way possible.
In the lead up to our next masterclass, Create Your GCSE English Revision Plan With 6 Weeks to Go, I talked to Helen Chaplain to get her advice for GCSE English students at this stage in the academic year.
Helen is our head Academic Coach and has a background in studying and teaching English. She earned her degree in English Literature and Language at Oxford University and became an English teacher after 10 years as a lawyer. Since then, Helen has taught English at year 7 all the way up to year 13 and now helps English students across all exam boards as an English tutor.
To hear Helen’s advice, you can listen to our conversation using the podcast player above or read the summary below.
How do you revise for GCSE English?
A lot of students think that you can’t really revise for GCSE English exams. However, you absolutely can.
One of the most helpful things you can do is to get familiar with the layout of the paper and the skills that will be tested. That way, even if your exam is unseen, it will never be an entirely new experience. You’ll walk into the exam already knowing:
- Which skills the exam will test
- The format of the paper
- The marks available for each question
- What each question requires of you
In the masterclass, we’ll be looking at how you can really get on top of what each question requires so that your focus is properly targeted in the exam.
The Literature and Language exams each need a different approach
A lot of GCSE English is about learning skills rather than remembering content but literature and language do vary in this.
You might think that you don’t need to remember anything for the English language exam if your paper is unseen. However, there are certain things you can learn. This includes features of structure, features of language, perspectives, phrases and sentence starters.
Preparing for the literature exam is a bit different. Yes, you need to build your bank of skills, like analysis, evaluation and using context, but it’s also about having a detailed familiarity with the texts that you’ve been studying. If you haven't learned the plot or the story or a particular character, you'll hugely struggle to answer the questions in the exam.
How to use your specification and mark scheme in GCSE English
It can be more daunting to use your specification for subjects like English, where there isn’t a right and wrong answer.
However, when Helen has looked at the mark scheme with her previous English classes, she’s found that students are actually quite accurate in identifying where their answers fit in the mark scheme.
This is how Helen suggests using your specification and mark scheme for GCSE English:
- Start by checking what material your exam board has made available to you online.
- Pull out the key things that the examiner is looking for in the specification.
- Use the mark scheme to mark your own work and decide which grade you think your work would achieve.
- Identify what you’d need to do to get your work to the next grade up using the mark scheme.
If you struggle to understand what the mark scheme is really asking for and what each grade looks like in reality, Helen will be showing you how to translate the mark scheme out of ‘teacher speak’ and decode it in the masterclass.
How to make the best use of your time in GCSE English exams
Keeping an eye on your timings is especially important in GCSE English exams.
Once you understand what to expect in each exam and how much time you have for the whole paper, allot yourself a set amount of time to actively read through the whole paper and a set amount of time to answer each question.
It's easier to get marks writing the start of a question than it is to try and squeeze the last two or three marks out of the end of a question. However, students tend to get carried away with the question they’re answering and steal an extra few minutes so they can finish their answer. A few minutes per question really adds up and students often don’t leave themselves enough time to answer the last question to the best of their abilities. This can really harm their chances of getting the grade they want as the last question is often worth the most marks.
This is why it’s so important to be disciplined when it comes to timing.
Make a note down the side of your exam paper with how much time you’ve budgeted for each question. You can refer to it throughout your exam to keep yourself on track.
How should you revise for GCSE English with only a month and a half to go?
Remember that, unless you’re only doing one of them, English Language and English Literature are two GCSEs. You need to give them the time it takes to revise two GCSEs, rather than treating it as one course.
Almost every GCSE student studies English, so there’s a lot of revision material out there. This can be a good thing but it can also be a bad thing. You could spend an infinite amount of time clicking through YouTube video after YouTube video about a certain topic. There are so many great revision resources out there for GCSE English that you can’t possibly use them all. Instead, you need to have the confidence to know when you’ve got the level of detail you need and then move on.
And, because your whole year group will likely be doing the same course, you need to keep your focus on how you’re preparing for the exam, rather than comparing yourself to others. Many students panic when friends ask whether they’ve revised certain topics or memorised certain quotes. You need to be confident enough in your approach to revision to think ‘No, I haven’t memorised that, but I don’t need to because I know that I can write about this or that instead’.
What are the common pitfalls GCSE English students fall into and how can you avoid them?
Using their time wrong in the exam
We talked about this earlier. Get clear on your timings and be disciplined in sticking to them – even if an answer is unfinished.
Writing the narrative
Students sometimes slip into the mode of explaining the plot of Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet or A Christmas Carol, etc. But, if you’re telling a story, you’re not getting the marks. Make sure you’re talking about the story rather than telling the story.
Not knowing what’s enough and what’s too much
It’s not always about the length of your answer. Some students have done really well with a short answer that’s highly crafted. Some students have done very poorly having written a really long answer. It’s what’s in your answer that counts. You need to have the confidence to know what the question is asking, deliver it, then stop and move on.
Not appreciating the focus of the question
You can write an amazing, skilled answer but if it doesn’t demonstrate the skill that question is looking for, you won’t get the marks. Remember what each question actually requires of you and then make sure your answer delivers that in the exam.
Don’t leave it until the last minute to learn the quotations
I have an older blog post on this site about how to memorise quotes for an English exam. Every year, I see a massive spike in web traffic to this page on the day before the GCSE English literature exam. Memorising quotes is something you should be doing throughout the year, not just the night before the exam.
In the masterclass, Helen will also show you how to make the quotations work hard for you so that you only need a small number of them.
How can parents help teens to revise for GCSE English?
GCSE English exams include questions about current affairs or topics that teenagers are expected to have a view on without having studied them. They might talk about role models, charity or the environment, for example.
This is where parents can help teens prepare by encouraging them to engage with and actively discuss current affairs.
You could discuss questions like:
- Should we all be made to give more to charity?
- How can we tackle a litter problem?
- Are the role models that we've got in the media worthwhile or are they a bad influence?
Ask them why they believe their argument, what the evidence is for what they’re stating and what the implications are on other aspects of life, like money, health and the environment.
This style of thinking will help them tackle the questions that look at current affairs in the exam.
Would you like more help revising for GCSE English?
If so, we have a special masterclass in The Extraordinaries Club called Create Your GCSE English Revision Plan With 6 Weeks to Go. It's available for you to watch on demand, at any time. It covers ALL exam boards.
In addition to this Masterclass aimed at the last few weeks of revision, we have two GCSE English masterclasses for the AQA board (which 80% of students follow):
- How to revise GCSE English Literature
- How to revise GCSE English Language
The Create Your GCSE English Revision Plan With 6 Weeks to Go masterclass will show you how to structure your last 6 weeks of English revision in the most effective way possible.
You’ll walk away from the masterclass knowing:
- How to revise GCSE English Literature and Language
- How to understand your exam specification and how to use it for your revision
- How to understand the mark scheme and use it to move up the grade boundaries
- How to improve your timing in the exam so you can answer all the questions
- What to practice, how and why
- How to create your GCSE English revision plan
- How to avoid the common pitfalls that GCSE English students fall into
- What parents can do to help
Click here to sign up for The Extraordinaries Club to access these English Masterclasses. We also have a masterclass on How to Revise A-Level English Literature.