Is it possible that Scottish students who were scheduled to sit their Highers or Advanced Highers this year are relieved at not having to? If you were an optimist, you might say: "See? At least some good came out of this infernal pandemic!"

If you are such a student, you likely already know that your Higher grades will come from classroom assessment - how you performed in your college classes, even if they were mostly held online.

This break from the norm likely isn't permanent, though. Hopefully, we'll be done with the worst that COVID will throw at us and life will get back to normal sometime this year.

That means regular classes in an actual school building, with other learners instead of online. We may still have to stay further away from each other than we used to but... won't it be great to get back to school?

If this year marks the start of your college learning, you will sit Advanced Highers next year. If you're wrapping up your secondary education, you are likely looking for the college courses that will pave your way to university entry. That means you have a whole year to prepare for your Highers.

Superprof says there's no time like the present to prepare, even if your exams are more than a year away. In that spirit, we share with you the best tips, tricks and resources to ensure the best possible grades.

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How to Pass Higher English

"How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" "Practice, man, practice!"

This joke is rumoured to have its roots in the 1950s US beatnik culture. Presumably, some eager tourists in New York City saw a man carrying an instrument case and asked him where that famous concert hall was. Unaware that his answer would go down in history as one of the most renowned jokes about that city, he gave that reply.

It could just as well serve for your Highers:

"How do you pass Higher English?" "Practice, lad/lass, practice!"

There's more than a grain of truth to that adage but wouldn't it be fair to know what you have to practice?

You will do a lot of reading for your English Higher
Like it did for your National exam, your college English course assigns you a lot of reading to prepare you for your qualifications assessment. Credit: Visualhunt

Your teacher has probably already told you that a large part of your exam will consist of dissection and analysis of various works of literature: poetry, classic tales and those by Scottish writers. You probably already know the titles in question, having studied them in your English class.

Knowing what you'll be tested on is only half the battle. You also have to:

  • know what your exam entails - Higher-level exams are more intense and exacting than National exams
  • know what's expected of you: simply saying 'a passing grade' vastly oversimplifies the SQA criteria
  • find learning resources, study aids and other materials
  • build a study schedule and stick to it
  • keep your eye on the prize: the qualifications you need for the future you want

You should find novel ways of studying. Maybe your college has a peer-tutoring programme in place, or your English teacher has set up study groups? If not, you could arrange for one yourself.

Superprof tells you how to do all of that in a separate article.

Higher English Past Papers and Study Resources

As you are preparing for Highers, it's safe to assume that you've been a student for a while. Therefore, you likely know about study resources like Bitesize and The Student Room, a forum page you can turn to if you have a question about your English Higher (or any other school-related issue).

You probably also know about the Scottish Qualifications Authority website, where you can find four years worth of question papers and marking information. If you've already visited that page, you likely know that it too offers resources to help you study better.

Study groups help students get a better grip on their subject matter
Many learners report they gain a better understanding of their assessment and the literature they study when working in a group. Source: Visualhunt

Rather than rehash the help they deliver to your studies, Superprof presents two that you may not know of, the first being Quizlet.

Quizlet is an online study application that presents information in digestible bites, either in list form or as study cards - the digital version of flashcards you might make for yourself. Once you've learned the presented information, you may then play games or take a quiz. Your quiz grade will let you know how knowledgeable you are about that information set.

On the Quizlet Higher English page, you will find several modules addressing various aspects of the exam, such as vocabulary, reading for understanding and analysis and various works by assorted authors. There's even a study module on Higher poetry!

The only thing to watch for is that the information is up-to-date. As you probably know, the SQA regularly changes its analysis criteria so be sure the Quizlet modules you study with aren't too old to be relevant.

Mind mapping software is another handy revision resource. Simply put, a mind map gives form and structure to the information you have amassed in the course of your revision.

Mind maps have been around for centuries in some form or other but the concept wasn't mainstreamed until Tony Buzan, an English author and educational consultant, used them during a BBC broadcast in 1974. Still, only recently has the mapping idea taken hold in schools. Even now, students use highlighters, Post-It notes and other ways to mark relevant passages for future reference.

Some learners write copious notes, which they then highlight.

The only trouble with these methods is organisation. Think about it: if a student highlights everything s/he might need to refer back to later, and does so using the same colour each time, how will s/he know which highlight belongs to which aspect to reference in their analysis of one work or another - unless s/he read them all?

That would be a waste of time, especially as mind-mapping is quick, easy and shows every level and category of information you might need at a glance.

Let's say you will develop a map for each of the texts that are required reading. Our example will focus on Scottish literature.

On your map, allow space to list:

  • the themes addressed
  • the language used
  • the settings
  • how the literature is broken down - chapters, verses, acts and scenes; the structure of the texts
  • characters and characterisations
  • plotlines
  • narrative

Under each of these sub-headers, list the elements of the story or poem that belong there.

Some students enjoy creating mind maps on poster board; doing so allows them to be a bit more creative - and allows them to hang their maps on their wall so they can view them when they walk into their study area.

Other learners prefer using mapping software; if that is you, our companion article provides several sites where you can access and/or download free mapping templates.

Higher English Essay Writing Tips

How are your essay-writing skills?

Do you, like so many a student, fear the dreaded essay task, it's best you start now getting used to writing them. Granted, doing so won't necessarily make the assignment more pleasurable but, at least, you'll boost your skills and write at a higher level than if you didn't practise at all.

Lucky for you, come time for your qualifications ordeal, you will start with a prompt rather than a directive instructing you to write 800 words on this or that Scottish poem or book.

Before you practise writing essays, check out the SQA marking schemes to see what's expected
To start your revision process, you should access the SQA web page, where four years of past papers are available to download and study. Source: Visualhunt

That prompt - task, as it is usually called, tells you everything you need to write about. For instance, if your task states you should write about Carol Ann Duffy's poem War Photographer and asks you to identify and discuss the poem's themes and characterisation, your entry will cover those elements... and start with one crucial inclusion.

One of the most important mandates is to reference the task in your introduction paragraph. This reference should include the author's name and the work's title, and include the task's keywords: themes and characterisation.

How you structure your essay is another aspect to consider. Note that the task asks about themes before characterisation so, as you compose your essay, you should write about those in that order, even if it might be easier (and more logical) to discuss the characters' emotional state before talking about the themes, especially if those emotions create the theme.

Although there is no prescribed way to structure your essay, overall, learners prefer the PEER system, a simple yet elegant format that helps to keep their writing focused. As you might have guessed, PEER is an acronym. Each letter stands for one aspect of the writing process.

To learn more about PEER and essay-writing, please refer to our in-depth article.

The last part of the essay to consider is its conclusion. Here, you have a bit more latitude in choosing to list your contentions in the order they appear in your essay, in order of importance or in reverse order.

Throughout your English courses and revision, always keep in mind that Superprof is here to support you, whether you need tutoring in English - or maths, science or languages, or some guidance to start your revision schedule.

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Sophia

A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.