How to revise for A Level English Literature: 5 Common Myths and Misconceptions

Are you confused about how to revise for A Level English Literature? After all, it's not like other subjects where you can memorise your knowledge and tick it off a list as you go.

I interviewed Helen Chaplain, an incredible English teacher and tutor with ten years experience, an Oxford English graduate and my lead academic coach to talk about 5 things that A Level English students commonly get wrong with their revision.

Listen to the interview using the podcast player above, or read this summary of our conversation.

Click here to subscribe to my podcast, The School Success Formula, and never miss an episode.

How to revise for A Level English Literature: 5 Common Myths and Misconceptions

Misconception #1: The more notes you make, the better

The nature of English is that it's a huge subject. This means, if you wanted to, you could research one text, let alone one genre or time period indefinitely.

The problem with endlessly researching your texts, making endless notes on them, is that when you come to revise your task is completely overwhelming.

Instead, you should be thinking about what you pathway through the material should be asking yourself:

  1. What do I need to know
  2. What am I enjoying finding out

And then deploying this material really effectively in your assessment or exam.

Misconception #2: You can get by on one or two pre-prepared essays

Some students believe they can prepare one or two essays and then twist that material to fit whatever question is asked in an exam.

This is a big mistake because you're incredibly unlikely to be able to pull off this approach.

Instead, you need a balance between knowing your text and genre, the kind of ideas the exam board is likely to ask you and you have a really strong foundation in the characters, themes and ideas that the texts are playing with but, at the same time, being able to think on your feet in an exam.

Examiners' reports have highlighted time and time again that reams of pre-prepared paragraphs are not the way to go, and that they're actually looking for students to be able to think flexibly in the exam, using what they know to think critically and analytically about their texts from different angles.

There's a way of being over-prepared in the wrong way, a way of being underprepared and a way of preparing so you can think flexibly when you're in the exam. Click to Tweet

Misconception #3: You can't revise for unseen

You absolutely can revise for unseen papers. In fact, there are all sorts of different strategies and tactics you need to be master of to approach an unseen text. This is because, although the text might be new to you, depending on your paper, the ideas won't be new to you.

For example, you might be asked to some close reading – what does this mean to your exam board?

It's really about developing the toolkit and a framework to approach these unseen questions.

Misconception #4: All English Literature A-Levels are the same

There is no such thing as ‘English Literature A-Level'. Instead, there are different exam boards which interpret the government's guidance of what should be in English Literature A-Level differently, and on top of that there are choices that your school makes about which texts to study and which order to do them in.

So, you might be comparing approaches to your English Literature A-Level revision with a friend in another school or college, but this might lead you in the wrong direction if they're doing a different specification and different texts.

Successful English Literature A-Level revision will make you familiar with the types of questions and the nuances of the mark scheme of the specification you're studying. This will enable you to get the marks that you're hoping for.

Misconception #5: Critics are always an advantage

Many students believe that using critical quotations and ideas is always an advantage. This is an easy belief to have because it's in many mark schemes and teachers talk about doing it too.

The trouble is, it's a real asset to your A-Level English Literature exam answers if you use critics well, but if it's done badly it detracts from your answer.

If you're going to use quotations and ideas from critics you need to know what kind of critical material you should be looking at and how you should use it to compliment your understanding and interpretation of the text. It's not a paint by numbers exercise of using four critical quotations and shoe-horning them into the text.

Bonus misconception: you can pass English Literature A-Level without reading the book

This is a load of nonsense. If you do one thing to prepare for your English Literature A-Level exam, read the book!

When do you need to learn how to revise for English Literature A-Level?

As early as possible in your A-Level journey. You need to know where you're going with your A-Level English Literature studies, in terms of how you approach them and what will make you successful, if you ultimately want to get a good grade at the end of your course. Knowing how to:

  • Approach your classwork
  • Write your essays on a weekly basis
  • How to make notes about things
  • What you choose to save, highlight or bookmark
  • Differentiating between what you find interesting in your further research and what's actually useful for your studies

enables you to be in an informed position which allows you to make your way through what can seem like a huge and over-facing amount of content in a calm and strategic way.

Did you find this helpful?

If so, you'll love the How to Revise English Literature A Level Masterclass inside The Extraordinaries Club. In the masterclass, Helen will be addressing all the five misconceptions we've discussed today as well as how to:

  • Unpick what your examiner wants and adapt your revision and essay writing approach to fit this
  • Utilise critical views effectively to reach the higher level marksUse resources efficiently to decrease the amount of time you spend revising and improve your marks
  • Plan answers under pressure
  • Prepare for papers which require a specific strategy

Click here to find out more about the How to Revise English Literature A Level Masterclass. You can also sign-up on that page.

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