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Help for English Literature GCSE: Essential Information for Students

From Laura, published on 18/08/2017 Blog > Academia > School English > English Literature GCSE Guide for Students

It is difficult to know at the age of fourteen when you start the GCSE course which subjects you like and which you do not. It is equally hard to distinguish what you are good at from what you find a challenge.

If you already enjoy reading books then the English Literature course will really help to develop this love for literature – you will be an avid reader for life! However, if you find it a struggle to read books or to interpret them analytically, this course will help you to improve on your ability to do so. Who knows, it could make a bookworm out of you yet!

Being a passionate reader is not the only thing that will help you to succeed on this course though. If you like to express your views or if you have a creative imagination, then studying English Literature can really enhance these skills.

So whether you have been used to reading one book a year or one hundred, you can still get a lot from this course.

Strong candidates in English Literature are typically good at noticing small details in writing and at constructing powerful responses to questions concerning their studied texts. However, any student, regardless of their level, can push their grade up a boundary or two by getting to know the assessment mark schemes and perfecting their exam technique.

You should learn all you can about the marking scheme prior to sitting the exam!   


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GCSE English Typical Workload

As you would expect, there is a fair bit of reading involved in English Literature at GCSE level. However, unlike A Level or degree level courses, you will neither be expected to read entire texts on your own, nor all at once. You may be assigned a few chapters to read at home, so that you can be prepared to answer questions about them and participate in discussions during lessons, but you will also be given time in class to do some quiet reading.

Classroom activities will be designed to help you to understand the context of the texts you are studying, as well as highlighting key themes for criticism. Regardless of when and where you complete your reading, you must make sure that you maintain focus.

Reading a chapter synopsis may give you an understanding of what has happened in a particular section of a book, but you will miss out on the finer details and will subsequently not be able to build up your own personal interpretation of the storyline. By applying analytical skills upon the first reading of a text, you will already be one step closer to being able to write a good answer in the exam.

You should consider the GCSE course an introduction to further education, as you will be beginning to learn in ways that your peers on more advanced courses are. For instance, the encouraged act of being proactive and reading texts in your own time is great preparation for further education as it will teach you to manage your time effectively and to be able to study independently.

In addition, the ways in which you start to analyse texts at GCSE level will lead you onto the more complicated evaluations that you will learn to apply further down the line.

GCSE English Literature Course Content

Naturally, you will study one or more of William Shakespeare’s plays during your course, often teamed up with a selection of poetry. You will also cover various prose texts from the nineteenth century, with the Eduqas syllabus asking pupils to read key texts by Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, T S Eliot and Charles Dickens.

You will get to know Austen's world-famous novels. Stories by Jane Austen are often on the English Literature GCSE course. Photo credit: jlodder via VisualHunt.com / CC BY

Although some modern texts may be covered by the course to provide more opportunities for comparison, there is no getting away from studying these world-famous authors and their texts because of the importance they had on a particular literary movement or because of how they display momentous historical developments.

Why not review past papers to get an idea of expected style and content for the exam?

During your course, you will have the chance to work on your writing skills too. Although most of your writing will be in essay-style, there will be opportunities to produce some creative pieces as well. The more practice you get, the better your writing style will be and the more confident you will feel in your written skills.

Then, as you begin to grow as a writer, you will be able incorporate more complex vocabulary and terminology which will, in turn, gain you even higher marks.

Examination Boards Assessing English Literature

English Literature is a course offered by a range of exam boards at GCSE level. These include AQA, OCR, Edexcel, WJEC and Eduqas. The course you end up enrolled on will be down to the school or college that you are attending, but you can rest assured that your teachers will know the syllabus they are teaching and will be in a strong position to help you to achieve the best possible grade.

As you would expect, there are differences between the various exam boards, namely in the way they assess your English Literature course. However, due to the content being made up of authors pivotal to literary movements, many of the texts are likely to be similar, if not the same.

For example, one board’s syllabus might include Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ while another might require its students to study ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by the same author. The main thing that the exam boards have in common with one another is their desire to develop the student’s understanding and love of English Literature.

Transferring from one specification to another is a possibility during the two-year study programme, but should be avoided if at all possible because of the way in which the courses diverge.

Some of the key differences between principle exam boards, AQA and OCR, can be found in table format on OCR’s website. This informative table sets out in detail where the content and assessment methods of the OCR course differ from those adopted by AQA.

For more key information, please refer to this page. 

Revision Materials For GCSE English Literature

The Importance Of Revision Materials For English Courses

Revising for an English Literature GCSE is different for every pupil – unlike subjects like Mathematics or Science, there are no distinct theories or methods to learn by heart, nor is there a right or wrong answer in the exam. That is unfortunately why so many Literature students become lenient when it comes to revision and then wonder why they found it so hard to come up with responses during the exam.

Although you may have read your set texts, the words written within those pages do not hold the key to reaching that A* grade. You need to back up your primary reading with the study of secondary resources and by displaying an original viewpoint.

The idea is to acknowledge the key themes and criticism surrounding the texts and then to show the examiner that you have interpreted what the author is trying to convey in your own way.

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 an average score.

Spending time reading around the subject will help to improve your responses in the exam. Use your revision time to brush up on the context surrounding your set texts. Photo via VisualHunt

Being confident is key, but pupils must also be realistic. The only way that you are really going to understand the full picture of what is expected of you during your assessments is to consult the mark scheme, which effectively tells you what to learn before and what to do in the exam.

In addition, reading examiners’ reports can make it clear what you should not do. Now you know why your teacher keeps on talking about exam technique!

Where To Find Revision Materials For English Courses

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. If you are unsure where to access revision materials for your course, you can either ask your course leader or visit your exam board’s website.

You can find the best online resources for GCSE review compiled here! 

Further Education And Career Prospects

Although English Literature is not for everyone, any student who develops a basic grasp of analysing texts and even just widens their horizons a little by reading more books will reap the rewards.

Learn how studying English and Literature can help adults! 

Reading and writing are very important skills to have in any line of business and can be applied to many other subjects when it comes to education. Meanwhile, being able to analyse and interpret English is also a great way to improve your confidence when it comes to communication or research that you may need to apply in future.

Similarly, English Literature can improve your employability as attaining a high grade proves to employers that you are able to positively apply yourself to a subject and commit to completing a course. To them, this means that they can bargain on you understanding your workload and being willing to put in lots of effort to get your job done.

Even if you ultimately decide to enter the building trade, for example, communication is still undisputably vital as it promotes professionalism and the ability to understand others’ needs or wants.


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