If you are currently wondering about past papers and how they can benefit you, the chances are that you are coming into your final year of the GCSE course and are subsequently in need of some tips for the exam. If, however, you are only just embarking on the GCSE journey, then well done for starting to think seriously about your course and revision for exams already.
As an English student, you will be used to analytical reading and the idea of understanding what a text’s meaning is. How about if we told you that taking this and applying it to the exam mark scheme, which is readily available to all students enrolled on the course, is the recipe for success? Yes, really! The information you need to ace the exam is all there, it is what you do with it that will determine the final outcome.
So many pupils enter the exam hall with a huge sense of apprehension, but this is so easily avoidable. Exam boards provide you with information about the way in which papers are graded, what skills must be displayed to reach particular grades and they even provide examples of tests taken in previous years.
What could give you a better understanding of what your exam paper might look like than seeing an actual past paper on the desk in front of you?
There really is no need to feel nervous going in to an exam if you have done the necessary preparations. Photo credit: Maxwell GS via VisualHunt
Although it cannot be said that the board is giving you the answers, which in any case is impossible due to the subject being completely subjective, you can take away the tips, instructions and documents mentioned in this post and use them to help you to excel in this subject, particularly when it comes to achieving a good exam performance.
Doing past papers is perhaps the best form of revision there is for English, and offers many benefits for pupils of all levels. As previously mentioned, there is no explicitly right or wrong answer with English, as the subject is designed to invoke personal feelings and individual opinions (especially when it comes to English Literature).
This is why looking at past papers and, more importantly, reading specimen answers helps you to realise what your own exam might be like and how you will be expected to perform on the day. It will allow you to judge how long you might need to spend on certain sections in order to write a response of a similar calibre, and the volume of terminology required in your answer.
Do you know where to find the best online resources to revise for English GCSE? Find out here!
Your school may organise a mock exam for you, which is a great trial of your performance under pressure. Even before going in to a mock exam environment though, it is a good idea to have practiced answering past papers either at home or in class.
Your teacher may set a classroom task which simulates an exam, making you write responses to questions under timed conditions and with limited resources. If you feel you need or want some extra exam experience though, you can attempt some past papers at home as well.
Either way, the key is to stay focused and to take away the maximum from this very valuable experience. If you do plan to work from home, be sure to get yourself ready before the timer starts (i.e. getting a glass of water, going to the toilet, etc…) and ask your family members not to disturb you.
In the exam hall, there is strictly no talking, passing notes or any other form of communication allowed so remember to switch your mobile phone off too so that you are not tempted to pause and chat with friends. The idea of past papers is that they are to be used in an environment that recreates the exam setting.
If you are completing past papers at home, do not allow yourself to get distracted. Photo credit: DAEllis via Visualhunt.com
As you may or may not know, English exams are often described as closed book assessments which means that texts (even those studied as part of a module) are not allowed to be consulted at any time during the exam. Invigilators will ensure that you only have on your person what is allowed, to be sure that it is a fair test for all students taking the course.
Once you have completed your past paper, whether at home or in the classroom, ask your teacher to mark it for you to give you a better understanding of how you are performing or improving at different stages of the course. They will then be able to offer you constructive feedback and indicate the areas that you need to go and study harder for.
Although past papers are most commonly looked at in the months leading up to the exam period, remember that they are a useful tool throughout your course so start doing them as early as possible to avoid feeling immensely under pressure in your final year.
Knowing this essential information is also vital to GCSE English Language success!
Exam-taking is not all about what you know and how well you cope under pressure, it is also about your ability to respond to questions with well-constructed answers and if you successfully display an understanding of key terminology and context. If you familiarise yourself with the types of questions that are commonly asked, you can then work out what exactly it is the examiners are trying to get out of you and keep this in mind while you revise.
If you are relatively new to essay-writing or formulating exam-style responses, then completing past papers is great practice as it will help you to learn about techniques specific to English exams.
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Technique does not come naturally, even to the most talented students, so it is a skill in itself to master ahead of the exam. You may be an excellent writer and full of great ideas, but it might be that your inability to show the examiner what he or she needs to award you the top grades is missing. You can bet that many of the world’s top-selling authors would have had to craft their skill in order to reach the top, and you are no different!
In addition, responding to questions under timed conditions will teach you to plan and manage your time effectively. Until now, you have probably not experienced strict exam conditions and had to stop writing when your time is up.
Have you had an introduction to English and Literature for GCSE?
Practice your time management skills so that you are not disappointed after your exam.
It can be so upsetting when you run out of time and feel you had so much more to say, so practicing your time management skills can be invaluable in making sure you write down all of your key points. Even if you do not ultimately reach the highest grade, at least you will be satisfied that you could not have done more on the day.
The best place to start when looking for past papers is by asking your teacher for some resources. In addition to the ones they set as tasks in the classroom, they may also be able to offer you some alternative papers to try at home. The great thing about going to your teacher is that they will know the level at which you are working and will be able to guide you to a better grade by giving you tips tailored to you as an individual.
For instance, they may show you some sample responses which resulted in two or more grades. They might use these to explain to you where you are at now but where you could be with a little extra help and revision. Seeing the difference between an ‘A’ grade and a ‘B’ grade in black and white is perhaps the best possible way to understand what sets an ‘A’ apart from a lower grade.
As well as asking your private English tutor, you may be able to source some past papers from your school library, either in paper form or via an electronic catalogue. Past papers for particular exam boards are additionally posted on the individual boards’ websites (including AQA, OCR, WJEC and more), so if you are going to search for past papers yourself then be prepared by knowing which specification you are enrolled on.
Don’t forget about checking marking schemes!
Finally, if you have exhausted all avenues, you might look to the Internet to provide you with some additional revision resources, like past papers. Even though answering any relevant questions is better than not doing any preparatory work, you should be cautious of any documents found on unofficial websites as you cannot guarantee these are genuine copies of past exam papers.
So as not to be led astray, your best bet is to stick to documents found on government-led or educational websites during your quest to revise for the English exam.
If you have any concerns about your performance prior to the exam, then you may wish to speak to your teacher about the possibility of finding someone to offer you private English tuition.