As a student in Year 10 or 4th Form, taking exams is probably quite a new challenge to you, not to mention daunting. Knowing that you are going to have to complete a set of tests across a dozen subjects is a scary prospect.
The good news is that you can, if you haven’t discovered already, choose some of the subjects that you will study during the course of the GCSE programme. This freedom to select subjects which you prefer or are better at should make you feel slightly more at ease as you enter this mysterious phase of your education.
One of the downsides of being a GCSE student is the unknown : never having experienced exam conditions, not knowing what kind of grades you will be awarded at the end of the two years, no clue which college you will go to or where your friends will end up… this is quite a lot to worry about for someone who has probably been at the same school and with the same classmates for the last few years.
From the offset, your GCSE course will take you out of your comfort zone and introduce you to new ways of learning, a new attitude and a better outlook on life beyond the four walls of your form room.
We are here to reassure you that change is okay, and being a bit scared is too! Even if you do not know where you will be or what you will be doing a few years from now, completing this course will open your eyes to a vast range of possibilities. With any lucky, it will help to make you look to the future with anticipation and excitement.
Naturally, for some people, academia does not come easily. This compulsory course will help these individuals to work out where their strengths lie and give them a set of useful skills which they too can apply to life beyond education, no matter what industry they pursue.
For those among you who do not already know, GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education. Traditionally taken by students aged around sixteen years-old, these qualifications are a compulsory form of assessment taken at the end of a two-year study programme. However, it is not uncommon for adult students to return to school to re-sit their GCSE exams (for some older generations, the equivalent exams were called O Levels). In Scotland, they are known as Standard Grade.
GCSEs are a compulsory study programme for students in the UK. Photo credit: Gareth1953 All Right Now via VisualHunt.com
GCSEs are an important first step towards further study or getting a job, with many colleges and recruiters asking to see proof of GCSE passes before considering your application. Whilst you have to study a set of core subjects (namely English, Maths and Science), you are able to pick other study areas to suit your abilities.
Whether these are hands-on, practical subjects or academically-focused ones, your GCSEs will be your main tools for convincing establishments to take a chance on you for years to come.
Hopefully, you already love English. But if not, you may be wondering why you are being forced to study English Language and Literature. Although you will be used to learning about grammar and vocabulary as a result of your early education years, you should know that this GCSE course is much more advanced, therefore more interesting than ever before.
During the course, you will examine fiction and non-fiction texts, spoken language, you will also consider how you approach writing and, of course, there will be an element of spelling, punctuation and grammar to cover. By analysing and comparing texts, you will be able to improve on your ability to interpret the author’s messages and in turn improve your own communication skills.
The study of English enables you to develop some key transferable skills which will benefit you not only while you are at school, but also in the outside world. Better spoken and written skills will impact on your ability to get yourself noticed, and will provide a strong foundation to grow on as you enter your desired workplace.
Communication is key to any business, so having a great command of English is extremely sought after.
GCSE English is a specification offered by five or more exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, Eduqas, OCR, WJEC and other lesser known organisations, though the most common options in mainland England are AQA, Edexcel or OCR. Below is some information on where to find learning resources and revision materials for your selected specification, and some useful tips on using these to your advantage.
AQA is among the UK’s most popular choices for exam boards for English and has been for many years. Photo credit: julian- via VisualHunt.com
Their are lots of useful materials out there to help you prepare for GCSE English Language.
Helpful resources can be found on each of the exam boards’ websites. For example, AQA’s website has a page linking to teaching resources as well as documents for students to download. In addition, keen pupils might like to flick through the board’s catalogue of newsletters to read about hot topics in relation to English GCSE over recent months, as well as to find advice on how to tackle their coursework and assessments in a way that will impress the examiner. Although much of the information is geared towards teaching staff, you will find some materials designed for learners.
OCR, meanwhile, proposes high-quality resources which can be searched by qualification type and resource type, to help you find the right documents for you. If there is anything you cannot find, the board invites you to request or suggest a resource by contacting them. You can also download a skills guide from their site to match your personal skills to particular qualifications. This could be a worthwhile activity for those unsure where they are heading.
Do not miss the past papers either, which can be a great help for English when it comes to preparing for exams. You can read more on past papers in the dedicated section below.
Aside from the official exam boards’ websites, you may find some relevant information and tools in revision packs found in book stores. High street chain WH Smith, for instance, stocks a number of paperback guides adapted to different topics and techniques. Prices vary but generally books cost in the region of £5-£10.
Shops like WH Smith might also stock study guides produced by independent organisations specialising in educational books, like CGP for example. CGP offers a range of printed materials to be used for revision and practice. Go to the CGP website to find a ‘students’ area offering you all you will need.
Though it may seem like there is no point in revising for an English Language assessment, there are some steps you really must take before entering the examination hall. Yes, you may be faced with unseen texts in the exam paper, but this does not mean that there is nothing you can do to prepare.
Start off by reading revision guides (if you do not have any, your school library might be a good place to check) and any relevant notes taken in class. Re-analyse the linguistic aspects of the texts you covered on the syllabus to ensure you have investigated every possible meaning or message hidden in there. In addition, review various styles of texts not included on the course whenever possible to broaden your knowledge of alternative writing styles.
As well as being able to analyse and compare texts while structuring clear responses, the examiner will expect you to display strong creative writing skills. As such, you should practice telling (and writing) stories to get accustomed to the idea of transferring imaginative thoughts into words.
The more ideas for plots and characters you come up with, the better.
This is because, when it comes to the day of the assessment, you could potentially apply or at least adapt some of your already established ideas to the question(s) being asked in this section. When it comes to writing, the content is extremely important but do remember that you will fail to get your message across well if you do not brush up on your grammar, vocabulary and punctuation too.
It is a good idea to look into the best exam techniques for this English course. If you are serious about being a member of the A* club, then take a look at exam answers written by those high-achieving pupils. Take note of the way they construct responses and the level of knowledge they display in their answers. It is never a good idea to copy anyone’s ideas, so when it comes to creative writing, let yourself be inspired by their work rather than trying to replicate it.
Whether you see yourself being a top-scorer in English Language or not, answering past papers yourself is a great way to get ready for exams. Read more about where to find and how to use past papers below.
Much like with the English Language course, you might be wondering what you can gain from doing tonnes of revision for the literature assessment part. Firstly, the biggest mistake any English Literature student can make is to think that because they have the read the books on the syllabus in their entirety they will pass the exam with flying colours.
A great grasp of the texts you have studied will carry you through your exam, but unless this is backed up by expertly written responses utilising key terminology, a clear understanding of the text in its cultural and historical contexts and a great command of grammar and vocabulary, you are unlikely to be awarded more than just an average score.
Approaching the exam with some level of confidence is encouraged but pupils need to be realistic and educate themselves on the mark scheme. When you read the exam board’s notes, it will become evident that you need to know your texts inside-out and have read around the subject too.
You will also come to realise why your teacher or English tutors keep on placing such an emphasis on exam technique – writing good essay responses doesn’t come naturally to many so is a skill to be learnt in itself!
As with the English Language course, you can find a vast range of materials online or in stores to help you with exam practice. Edexcel allows you to purchase sample assessment materials via the Pearson Education website, meanwhile Eduqas has a digital booklet available offering specimen exam documents.
We will explain in more detail below how you can use these types of resources to better yourself in this subject, particularly when it comes to your exam style and technique.
A top tip for English Literature students is to read, read, and read some more. If you think you analysed a piece of writing to death, think again. There will always be a new take or an alternative spin on every aspect of each text.
This does not mean to say that you must go out of your way to find all of these differing views, but it should serve as a reminder to you to read a good amount of secondary materials and critical opinions to give you a solid level of knowledge surrounding the piece. The more you absorb, the stronger your arguments will be.
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Doing GCSE English past papers is probably the best form of revision you can do in the run up to your English GCSE exam, especially if you are new to essay-writing or formulating exam-style responses. By using past papers properly, you can work on improving your technique and growing in confidence. However, it is no good simply reading past paper questions or just jotting down answers haphazardly.
You must train yourself to cope with the pressure of exams so make sure that you put yourself under the same conditions as you would in a real exam. If you are not sure what to expect from an examination centre, ask your English tutor to provide you with some details.
Your English tutor London may organise a mock exam for you, or set a classroom task which simulates an exam. Either way, the key is to stay focused and to take away the maximum from this very valuable experience. Since you may not have sat in an exam hall before, you should know that there are many rules in place to ensure that every student has a fair assessment.
This means that pupils must arrive on time, can only take a small number of items (including refreshments, stationery and, at times, books) into the hall with them and, most importantly, there is strictly no talking, passing notes or any other form of communication allowed.
Exam-taking is not all about what you know and how well you cope under pressure though. A very important aspect of being assessed is the way you write your responses. Consulting past papers can enhance your ability to respond well and gain extra marks by teaching you what it is the examiner is looking for.
Familiarise yourself with the types of questions that are commonly set and ask yourself what it is they are trying to get out of you. Furthermore, find out what can add or lose you points in the exam, as mastering this technique could be the difference in you getting one grade or another when the results are published.
If you have not yet come across it, be sure to visit BBC Bitesize for your learning needs throughout the course. This website, dedicated to UK students of all ages and taking a variety of exams, will help to break down the topics in an easy way and will additionally make learning that little bit more fun.
As well as BBC Bitesize, Revision World is a fantastic place for students to go during times of need. This easy to use website offers students study help, coursework assistance, essay writing tips, past papers and many more valuable resources to make revising easy and enjoyable.
Getting hold of revision materials online is brilliant as most resources are easily accessible at the click of a button, plus they are usually free. In addition to websites, students should consider visiting and even participating in educational forums to get them used to discussing topics and backing up their ideas with concrete evidence (if another member notices a flaw in your argument, they will pick at it until you can prove them wrong).
Lastly, you can also download a revision app to help you not only with exam preparation, but also to organise yourself in the run up to (and during) the busy and stressful exam period. Exam Pal promises to keep you on track thanks to data fed by the various exam boards. Meanwhile, Revision App, which was created by teachers, offers vast amounts of information designed to help you succeed in the exams.
If, right now, it is hard to imagine yourself taking exams then seeing the published timetable with your English course assessment dates on it could make things feel a whole lot more real! Timetables for compulsory exams like GCSEs are released up to two years in advance but are subject to amendments until the final timetables are confirmed, usually in the 12 months prior to the assessment period.
The GCSEs might be your first experience of an exam setting. Photo credit: ccarlstead via Visual Hunt
Depending on your GCSE options, you might notice a clash between two or more assessments. It is important that, in the event of an exam timetable clash, you contact your teacher who can rectify this with the exam board.
There is something satisfying about knowing what will be happening on a particular day several months into the future. Why not use this to your advantage by planning revision sessions to fit around your exam schedule, so that you can visualise how the weeks leading to the exam period will pan out. Be sure to plan and do everything you want to do before reaching the date of the exam.
For instance, if you want to visit a particular museum which focuses on life in the Victorian era ahead of writing about a literary piece set during this period, then make sure you do not waste any time and get this booked into your diary now. And, speaking of diaries, it is a good idea to highlight key dates in your diary, planner or on a calendar in your room to maintain your focus during those last weeks gearing up to exams.
As already mentioned, GCSEs are usually sat by teenagers in full-time education. However, many adults also take GCSE exams later in life for one reason or another. Perhaps they did not take the exams very seriously when they were younger and therefore did little revision, or maybe they are just not happy with the grade they achieved back then and think that they can improve on it now. In some cases, pupils go through traumatic times, whether family or health-related, which affect their attendance or their ability to focus on exams.
Yet, more often than not, re-sits occur because the professional needs a higher grade in order to be accepted for a further education course or job.
Having moved on from your teenage years, you will no doubt have had to fill in numerous application forms for one thing or another. As a child, you probably never considered how much your GCSE grades would count in the future, but the reality is that they crop up again and again on many official forms.
The reason that admissions offices and employers need to know about your GCSE passes or fails is that the results are a very important indicator of your basic capabilities in relation to core skills such as communication, numeracy and logical thinking. If you have an ‘E’ grade in one or more of these subjects, which as you may know is classed as a fail, the person assessing your suitability might be inclined to think that you are not a hard worker or perhaps that you lack in communication skills.
Many companies have a policy whereby employees must display a certain level of attainment to be considered for a role with them, usually demanding a pass grade (‘A’-‘C’) in English, Maths and Science.
As an adult learner, you can either return to a college to complete the course on a full or part-time basis, or alternatively you can opt to work from home and register at your nearest examination centre. A wide range of courses are available, in line with the current specifications, and might include private tuition for a fee.