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Why Learn English Literature at A Level?

From Laura, published on 27/07/2017 Blog > Academia > School English > A Guide to A Level English Literature

If you are considering studying towards an English Literature A Level, you will no doubt be interested in the knowledge and skills that you will acquire along the way. You may also be wondering how long the course runs for, how much work is involved, and where the subject can lead you in terms of further education and career prospects.

We will attempt to answer all of your queries below and reaffirm the many positives that you can take away from an English Literature qualification.

The study of English Literature at A Level helps you to develop a number of subject-specific as well as transferable skills by encouraging in-depth, critical and contextual thinking in response to a range of literary works.

Learn English at A-level A level English Literature courses can develop all sorts of skills. (Photo via Visual hunt)

Students will be required to familiarise themselves with subject knowledge from plays, novels and poems emerging from distinct genres and spanning across many centuries. With this comprehensive exploration of characters and themes will come the awareness of how traditions and culture have shaped literature over the years.

Read this quick introduction to A Level English Literature!

Is English Literature For Me?

If you are a keen reader and show an enthusiasm for a variety of texts from different eras, then English Literature is a great choice for you. Equally, if you enjoy analysing texts in detail and debating your views then you could be well-suited to a course like this, during which you will be required to think critically and express your opinions eloquently.

Aside from reading, English Literature also promotes authorship so keen writers would do well studying the subject to learn more about literary styles, the use of narration and voices in writing as well as the general make-up and development of the English language throughout history.

That just goes to show that it’s never too late to learn about literature as an adult!

What Skills Can I Gain From Studying A Level English Literature?

If you have recently completed a GCSE English course, you will already have begun developing your analytical and interpretation skills. However, the A Level English Literature course will require you to take this level of skill and comprehension one step further.

Examiners and English tutors will be looking for far more intellectual arguments and responses to the texts on the syllabus and will expect you to articulate these opinions maturely, both verbally and in writing.

As well as complementing your analytical skills, your sensitivity to language, your comprehension of literary terminology and your awareness of social and cultural contexts, the course will help you to build up some key generic skills that you can apply to your work and studies beyond the A Level course. These include improved oral and written skills, more advanced research and planning techniques, the capacity for independent thought and more resourceful IT skills.

Being able to understand the nuances of words in the English Language can also go a long way in making you a better communicator and listener, which are seen by employers as very valuable personal attributes.

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Typical Workload For English Literature A Level

The amount of reading will no doubt increase as you move into this next phase of education, however you should find it easier and easier to absorb relevant information with each module completed.

You can start by reading these tips for A Level English literature!

Reading lists can be accessed prior to starting the course so be sure to spend your summer trying to get ahead, especially if you are a particularly slow reader or don’t work well under pressure. Even if you only read a synopsis of each text in advance, this will help you to familiarise yourself with themes, characters, context and the authors’ writing styles before you come across these in class.

As with most A Level courses, you will be expected to further your studies in your spare time, by reading secondary material to help expand your knowledge.

It is important to understand that a good knowledge of the texts alone is not enough to reach a high grade in English Literature.

The most successful candidates will be those who have read widely, spent additional time researching relevant content and learnt complex terminology to add to their repertoire.

Which Texts Will I Study On An A Level English Course?

The AS and A Level syllabi will normally cover a minimum of three genres: Drama, Poetry and Prose. Naturally, this will include at least one of William Shakespeare’s plays, perhaps coupled with novels and poems that are linked by theme or context. You will certainly be able to identify patterns across the syllabi and make relevant connections.

Plays by Shakespeare are very important in English Literature. See performances of Shakespeare’s iconic plays. Photo credit: D-Stanley via VisualHunt.com

For example, as part of the prose section, your course might require you to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein alongside Kazuo Ishiguros’ Never Let Me Go, both of which explore the fascinating relationship between society and science.

Some of the modules that you might encounter on your A Level English course include Gothic Literature, Women in Literature, American Literature and Dystopian Literature.

As well as the texts set by the syllabus, you will have the opportunity to read around the subjects and look at literary criticism from a range of sources to expand your knowledge and understanding of the fields.

You could take a look at past A Level papers to get a better idea of what to expect on exam day! 

A Level English Literature Average Course Length

A typical A Level course will run for two academic years, the first of which is known as the AS Level. An AS can be a standalone qualification, which is why many students take on four subjects in their introductory year and then ‘drop’ one for the final year, allowing them to focus their attention and efforts on three primary subjects.

Before the A Level reform, both years counted towards a student’s final grade but assessment is now the preferred method of testing for examination boards.

Although your AS Level might seem like just a practice run, you should know that it is upon this grade that your English tutor or teacher will base your predicted A Level grade (however other factors may be taken into consideration). Therefore, the amount of work you put into your first year will be reflected in your all-important grade predictions.

In addition, those students applying to university will need to submit their AS Level grade in order for the selected course leaders to consider their suitability for the degree and subject matter. University offers can be unconditional or conditional, the latter meaning that you must meet certain grade requirements in order to be accepted on the course.

Find a private English tutor on Superprof.

Exam Boards Assessing English Literature

English Literature courses are offered by a range of exam boards, including AQA, OCR, Edexcel, Eduqas and WJEC. The course you enrol on will be dependent on your school or college, however teachers and English tutor London or elsewhere, will be fully trained and equipped to teach you the content relevant to your syllabus.

Though each board has slightly different assessment methods, all of the syllabi will as standard include influential texts and share many similarities. The main thing that they have in common is their desire to develop the student’s understanding and love of English Literature.

Some of the key differences between principle exam boards, AQA and OCR, can be found in table format on OCR’s website. The dedicated section sets out in detail where the content covered by the syllabus plus the assessment methods used differ from those adopted by AQA.

Therefore, if you have your heart set on writing about a particular piece of prose or a certain poem, be sure to consult this table to see if you are likely to be able to incorporate this into any of your AS or A Level exam responses.

You should also plan your schedule around English A level exam timetables!

Career Opportunities For English Literature Graduates

A degree course in English Literature is a common follow-on from the A Level qualification, but this is not your only option as an English Literature student. The subject can lead students on to a variety of degree-level subjects such as Journalism, Publishing, Editing, Teaching, not to mention opening up doors for those seeking a career in alternative, but connected, industries such as Media, Illustration and Politics.

Learn English to start a great career Learning English can open up many doors. (Photo via Visual Hunt)

In fact, any profession that requires analytical thinking, strong verbal and written communication, imagination or creativity can make use of the key skills acquired whilst studying towards an English Literature A Level.

Academic website Prospects.ac.uk confirms that you should not restrict further education or job applications to those directly linked to your highest qualification. Most employers will be happy to consider you regardless of your specialist field, however if you are able to show strengths in a certain subject then this could significantly increase your chances of being offered the position.

The informative site also states that 1 in 5 students who study English at degree level go on to further study, with a quarter of these choosing to continue down the same subject path. This evidence shows that English is a subject that you are unlikely to get bored of, and is clearly highly rewarding.

Finally, it is worth noting that 60.5% of English graduates are in employment (according to Prospects’ findings) which is yet another strong indicator that the subject is a contributing factor in one’s employability.

Having taken these facts on board, we hope that you are feeling confident in your decision to study towards an A Level in English Literature and that you can take a more positive approach to your studies.

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