If you were due to sit your Highers or Advanced Highers this year, you can thank the pandemic for letting you off the hook.
If this is you, your thoughts on Higher English and every other class you need to guarantee university entry to the course of study you want may range from dismay to elation. You may even find comfort in the fact that your assessment and grades will result from classwork if you're a nervous test taker.
You may even get better grades than if you sat exams per usual.
Are you happy you won't need to report to a testing centre this summer? Or will you miss the rituals that signal the end of your secondary education? Do you feel cheated out of an academic experience you've been working towards your entire student life? Share your thoughts in the comments below, won't you?
The thing about temporary situations is that they don't last; sooner or later, things will go back to business as usual - or as close as possible to it.
So, for those students who've just started college - who will sit Higher English or Advanced Highers next year, bookmark this article because Superprof has some advice for you.
Know What You're Up Against
Are you rolling your eyes right now? Of course, you know what you're up against! You'll be tested and earn a grade for your knowledge of English - specifically, Scottish literature, poetry and other classic works. What more could you need to know?
The answer to that question in a nutshell: a lot.
You have to know what the Scottish Qualifications Authority has in store for you, how the exam modules are structured, how points are distributed across them and how to earn the highest-level grade you can.
It's nice to know that Higher English is set up a lot like National 5, especially its assessment structure. However, you shouldn't rest on the knowledge that, if National was a snap for you, Highers will be more of the same. Indeed, Higher exams are more demanding and more exacting than the National.
For instance, the level and quality of the texts you will read is more advanced and your responses are expected to be more detailed and heavier on analysis. Also, your work should be of a higher quality than what was acceptable at the lower level exams.
Did you know that, generally, students worry the most about the essay portion of their exam?
One of the most important parts of essay-writing is the introductory paragraph. You will lose points on your overall assessment if you forget to include the author and title of the work you're writing about and you'll lose even more if you fail to reference the task.
In short, you may know your material cold but if you don't know what examiners are looking for, your grade will suffer. With that in mind, you should probably find out how you can score the best grade for your writing...
Know Your Stuff
Once you know what will be expected of you, you should find ways to meet and exceed those expectations. The obvious way to do that is to know the texts that SQA has chosen for your exams inside and out. Whether poetry, prose or drama, you have to have more than a passing familiarity with the works in question.
How long has it been since you've read Lord of the Flies? How about Slab Boys or Men Should Weep? Are you a fan of poetry or do you only read it through gritted teeth?
As you've (hopefully) researched what's expected of you, you know that fully 30% of your grade comes from understanding and analysing selected texts. Therefore, re-reading them would be a good idea, even if you only read them a few months ago.
Only, this time, because you know you're looking for certain elements - themes, characterisations, setting and language, as you review those stories, take special care to search them out.
Of course, learning all that the SQA has listed as features of your exams does not guarantee you a good grade or university entry; you have to know how to apply that knowledge.
Cultivate Effective Study Skills
Let's say you're thirsty for a cuppa. You boil the water, select your teabag, put the milk or lemon (and maybe sugar) in the cup and, once the kettle signals, you pour it over the teabag and let it sit. After a few minutes, you pick up the cup for that first warm sip.
Did we miss anything?
Well, if you like your tea unstirred - sugar and milk unevenly distributed, we didn't miss a step but, for most, the critical part is the mixing of flavours that makes the tea so rich. The same is true for learning.
You cannot assume that simply reading a book will give you all of the knowledge you will need to pass exams. You have to cycle through the things you learn, view them from different angles and see them in different contexts. Let's look at that differently...
You're reading one of the literary works listed on your exam syllabus, using a highlighter to mark plot elements, instances of unique language usage and entire passages that reveal a theme. Are you using the same colour highlighter? If so, how will you distinguish which highlight indicates a theme and which mark language?
And, can you imagine having to flip through the book to find the reference you were looking for? That is why Superprof advocates using mind maps to organise all of the information you pick out of each work you study.
Another effective study habit of successful learners: developing and following a study schedule.
Testing centres are full of students who thought they had plenty of time to prepare for their Highers only to realise that their exams are right around the corner and they are nowhere near well-enough prepared. Don't be that learner!
At least six months out, decide what subjects you'll review on which nights, how long you will spend in review every evening and which day to take off - yes, taking a day off from studying is allowed, provided it's scheduled.
To keep things lively, you might review past papers on Monday, go over a poem on Tuesday, give yourself a night off on Wednesday, create a mind map on Thursday... you get the idea.
Of course, the most effective element of studying is having the most up-to-date resources, including question papers and marking information. Find out where all the best stuff is in our companion article...
End Notes: How to Pass Higher English
If it seems that there's a lot on your shoulders just now, you're not exactly wrong. You have tons of revision to do to earn your qualifications, without which your shot at university will be severely hampered. Your teacher may be too busy to help you and your class is moving along too fast for you to gain a true understanding of what's being discussed.
Online resources may not give you the support or access to review materials you need and you have neither time nor money to start taking courses outside of school.
Relax, take a deep breath and consider these points.
- Be honest with yourself: how much do you know about the analysis of written works and Higher marking schemes? What are you good at/bad at and need to focus on?
- You can and should ask your teachers for feedback to get a clearer picture.
- Teacher is there to help you: s/he may see you as just one of many college students but you still have a right to their knowledge and guidance. You (or the whole class) may have to ask for it more than once, though.
- Go beyond the teacher: you can ask your teacher if s/he has a peer tutoring programme in place and/or ask them to set up study groups. If s/he won't, you can establish one yourself.
- Prioritize the most difficult subjects: you may love reading prose and excel at character analysis while loathing poetry and Shakespeare. Focusing revision on what you find difficult will bring your skills level and results in those areas up to par with those of aspects you enjoy.
- Practice, practice and practice some more. Practise writing essays, practise teasing out themes and plot lines, practise with your course materials...
- They say that practice makes perfect but, for our purposes, practice gives access... to a brighter future that's full of opportunity!
- Remember why you're studying: not because SQA or the school demands that you earn qualifications but because you have goals you want to reach in life and education is the best way to reach them.
You may find your college courses boring and the learners in your English course annoying. You might not enjoy going over page after page of question papers and marking information. You might have no desire to develop study skills or create mind maps. That's okay; many students feel the same way.
However, if you adopt these ideas about your English Higher - knowing what you're up against, asking for help when you need it and learning how to develop effective revision techniques, you'll be so engaged in learning that you won't even think about how stressful these exams can be.
Isn't it great to have a complete guide to passing English Higher? I wish I had had one when I sat them...