If you are studying towards an English A Level qualification then knowing the kinds of questions you will be asked, and how best to answer them, at the assessment stage is perhaps the best form of revision you can do.
By consulting past papers, you will be familiarising yourself with the structure of questions that you will soon be faced with and which sections of the exam could gain you the most points. It will also help to clarify the variety of options you will be faced with on the day, and therefore the scope of work you will be required to know and cover.
Find A level and GCSE english past exam papers online. (Photo credit: David Feltkamp via VisualHunt
You may not realise in advance that you must write about not only one, but two texts to display your understanding of a given module or theme. Having taken this on board, you might approach your revision differently and analyse texts in pairs, coming up with relevant links and arguments, rather than independently.
Other sections might conversely limit your response to focusing on a particular genre that you are not as comfortable with as others. Getting to know what students like yourself have been asked to write about in the last couple of years is a huge eye opener and will help you to build your confidence in interpreting those scary exam questions.
Not only will the study of past papers help you to prepare for assessment in regards to interpreting questions and planning responses, it will also aid in complementing what and how you write.
Past papers and, even better, sample responses, provide an opportunity for you to examine what types of responses gain the top marks. Use this as an indicator of where your strengths and weaknesses lie, so that you can be more aware of areas in which you need to put in the extra effort and those which you do not. Knowing where to focus your revision will ultimately save you time and give you more confidence in your ability to write a top response.
Finally, when looking at past papers, you might come across some daunting documents. Do not worry! If mark schemes and examiners’ reports sound a bit unnerving, we will put your mind at rest by helping to break these down and making sure that you know how to use these to your advantage during your revision.
Using past papers as part of your revision process is a great way to prepare for exams, but you must be aware of how to use them properly. It is no good picking and choosing the questions you like the look of, nor is it a good idea to set yourself the task of answering questions if you aren’t putting yourself under the same types of conditions as you would be in an exam.
If you want to get the most out of a past paper, set aside a few hours when you know that you won’t be disturbed. If you are at home, ensure that any family members know not to interrupt you. If you are at school, ask one of your English tutors if there might be a classroom free at a time when you have a string of free periods in which you can can revise and practice.
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Be sure to set yourself a time limit, and only have with you what you would be allowed in an exam hall (a pencil, a couple of pens, a highlighter and your texts – though ONLY if doing an open book assessment).
Be sure to set yourself a time limit when using past papers for exam practice. Photo via Visualhunt.com
Spend the first 5-10 minutes calmly reading the questions through and working out how to divide your time across the sections (exam questions should make it clear how long you are recommended to spend on each section by stating how much each question or set of questions is worth towards your total score).
Many students make the mistake of answering more questions than they need to in exams, which eats away at their time. Remember to read the instructions carefully and take note of if it states to answer one question ‘AND’ / ‘OR’ another. The major benefit of using this exam-style practise effectively is that you will learn how to manage your time when under pressure.
Furthermore, it is pointless looking at dozens of past paper questions but not attempting to answer them yourself. Although you might think it is useful to see sample questions, actually formulating responses allows you to fine tune your exam technique. This, and the confidence you will build, will go a long way in helping you to reach a higher final grade.
Take a moment to study this guide to A Level English Language!
Whether you are given past papers by your English tutor or not, it is up to you to be proactive and to source as many revision tools as you can. Ask your teacher if they can offer you any past papers to use or if they can point you in the right direction for getting hold of such resources. If they can’t help for any reason, ask another member of staff within the department who may have more knowledge on the subject.
Past papers are useful for the duration of your course, so start using them early on to practise exam skills. The more papers you do, the better your technique will be, but you can also answer the same question multiple times to check up on your progress.
If you find that your result is not what you had hoped, don’t despair. Use this as an opportunity to learn your weaknesses and set out a revision schedule which focuses on these areas.
Incorporate these steps to effective A Level English study into your revisions!
Mark schemes are useful in showing you where you gained marks and, more importantly, where you lost them.
By consulting the mark scheme, you can identify the questions which you answered particularly well.
The document will also set out the key terms that you should aim to target in your response, so are particularly helpful in assuring you get the tactics right and maximise your scores in the places where you are already doing well, as well as those weaker areas.
Examiners’ reports additionally point out common mistakes that tripped students up in the particular set of exams. This makes areas of collective difficulty more transparent and provides a good lesson in what not to do yourself. The most valuable thing to take away is what the examiners are looking for, and what it is that does not impress them.
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If you are at school or college, your teacher or English tutor London may have a selection of relevant past papers to give you. If you are in a position whereby you can do a practice exam paper during class, for instance if you have a double lesson, then you could find that the outcome is very rewarding.
The benefit of doing past papers in a classroom setting is that you will be more focused on the task at hand. Having your tutor supervise will also ensure that you don’t deviate from any of the strict rules that you put upon yourself.
If you are a more mature learner, you might need a different guide to mastering A Levels English!
Find a quiet spot to practice with past papers undisturbed. Photo via Visual hunt
In addition, when it comes to having your paper marked professionally, your teacher can offer you constructive feedback relating to your planning and responses. From the tiniest pieces of advice, like bringing an extra pen with you (if you happened to be unlucky enough to run out of ink during your mock exam!) to some highly influential suggestions, like how best to structure your essay plans, the process can highlight some key things that will make you think twice in the actual exam.
Your educational establishment’s website or intranet pages may also have past exam papers listed for reference. Many schools offering A Levels keep records of past exams which can be accessed online by past, current or even keen prospective pupils. You may also come across some previous assessment questions on a range of websites or forums, but don’t rely too heavily on sources that are not deemed official.
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Alternatively, exam boards tend to upload past papers from a range of subjects. It is of course recommended to look at the most recent of exam papers to get an idea of what the current expectations are in terms of assessment, yet viewing a string of papers from the past few years can be useful too to see the most common types of questions that occur.
If you consult AQA’s website, you will notice that they not only offer question papers from previous years broken down into units (dating back six years), but they also showcase the mark schemes linked to those questions along with examiners’ reports for each.
As previously stated, examiners’ reports are useful because they comment on the general ability of English students as a whole during that specific academic year, and pinpoint where particular questions caused confusion or difficulties.
OCR has a very similar set up on its website, with examiners’ reports equally readily available. The only difference is that the most recent papers are limited to schools and must be downloaded by signing into Interchange. The remaining texts are available in .pdf format directly from the website.
Meanwhile, WJEC provides a list of past papers to download, which are classed separately from the mark schemes found before them. Scroll down to access past English papers from 2012 onwards.
If you require Braille versions, or have any past paper queries for that matter, you can easily contact the exam board of your choice to request this information. As well as providing email addresses, the boards are each active on social media so you can reach out to them with ease using your preferred method of contact.