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Why Study English at A Level?

By Laura, published on 27/07/2017 Blog > Academia > School English > A Guide to A Level English Courses

You may be asking yourself why English as a subject is so important; what more can you possibly learn about the UK’s primary language after speaking it fluently as a result of growing up in Britain or by learning it at school for all of those years? More importantly, why choose it as one of your A Level choices when there is a diverse range of subjects on offer?

Learning English: A Core Skill For Business

English is a core subject up to GCSE level in the United Kingdom, and with good reason. The majority of employers in the UK will require candidates to display at least a pass in English and Mathematics as an indication of their overall academic competency, with their English result being a good indicator of their ability to communicate well.

A proficient English speaker will open themselves up to far more opportunities for work abroad, since the language is widely spoken across the globe and is particularly important in business.

Find a GCSE English tutor on Superprof.

A good knowledge of English is key for international communications. English: An important language in business. Photo via VisualHunt.com

Not only is a good acquisition of English vital in the international workplace, other countries in Europe and beyond see the English language as an authoritative language, which makes a solid grasp of the rules of English all the more powerful.

By obtaining a better understanding of its make up – including spelling, punctuation, grammar and sentence construction – you may also find it easier to learn foreign languages by applying the same rules.

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What Skills Can You Expect To Develop By Studying English?

So, why focus your efforts on English Literature? Studying literary texts helps you to sharpen your observatory and analytical skills. Being able to identify themes and connect them with historical events and cultural influences opens your mind up to complex ideas and theories.

Moreover, English Literature can be like five lessons in one, teaching you about History, Culture and Philosophy, whilst highlighting behavioural changes in humans from one century to another.

A Level English Language, whether being taught at college or as a distance-learning course, ultimately helps to develop a student’s ability to understand, speak and write in English for a variety of purposes. Literature-based courses additionally encourage students to engage with a range of texts whilst analysing complex varieties in language across the times.

A Level English Literature

An Introduction To A Level English Literature

English Literature at A Level involves an in-depth, critical and contextual study of literary works, including plays, novels and poems.

If you have been in education in the UK, you should already have been introduced to the skill of interpreting texts as part of your GCSE syllabus. However, the A Level course will require a more advanced response, asking you to formulate your own opinions and interpretation and then be able to communicate these effectively.

Typical Workload For English Literature A Level

A Level English Literature students can expect a reasonable workload, although reading lists can be accessed before starting the course.

It is advisable to get ahead and begin to familiarise yourself with the texts, characters and authors early on.

You will also be expected to further your studies in your spare time, by researching relevant content and reading secondary material to help expand your knowledge.

A Level English Literature Average Course Length

Traditionally, the complete A Level course consists of two years of study; during the first academic year you will work towards your AS Level, followed by your A Level qualification. However, co-teaching is also a possibility, whereby both the AS and A Level components are taught alongside one another.

Coursework and exam grades from your first year of study may not count towards your final result, however they will still be determining factors in your predicted grades.

Exam Boards Assessing English Literature

The principal exam boards that assess English Literature at A Level are AQA, Edexcel and OCR, meanwhile Eduqas and WJEC are also popular choices in some schools and colleges across the country.

Each board has a slightly different approach to assessment yet they share a common purpose – to encourage wide reading and to develop the student’s love of English Literature.

Career Opportunities For English Literature Graduates

Studying English can open up a range of professional opportunities. Become a writer or blogger. Photo via VisualHunt.com

Though many believe that studying English Literature only lends itself to a teaching profession, the subject does in fact open up a vast range of career opportunities.

Aside from the obvious links to professions in teaching and writing, English graduates can apply the skills they have acquired to any position that requires analytical thinking, strong communication or imagination and creativity.

English Language A Level

An Introduction to A Level English Language

Studying towards an A Level in English Language enables you to get a better grasp of what is known as the number one business language. The course will help you to convey your thoughts and opinions concisely and allow you to distinguish subtleties in speech and writing.

Being a native or fluent English speaker does not make you an expert in the language; throughout your course you will identify the ways in which language changes according to audience, context and the user’s intent.

In addition, you will learn about the development of the English language over time, different dialects, how children learn to speak English and, finally, you will develop your own writing skills.

English Language A Level Course Content

Though courses vary from one exam board to another, the core topics and themes will have similarities no matter which you are enrolled on. These may include the study of Spoken English, Identity, Language and Gender, Early Child Acquisition, Language and Diversity, Reading and Writing, and many more.

You will ultimately discover language during the course, including the ways in which it can be used plus different methods of interaction, not forgetting the investigation of linguistic variations and historical changes.

Typical Workload For English Language A Level

Unlike A Level English Literature, English Language students are not required to carry out extensive reading, but they are expected to get to grips with some advanced linguistic terminology in order to achieve the higher grades.

Secondary reading is always recommended to help you expand your vocabulary of terminology and also to put you in a better position to participate in analytical discussions and debates, whether assessed or not.

Exam Boards Assessing English Language

Edexcel, OCR and WJEC are once again the predominant exam boards chosen by mainstream schools and colleges in the UK. Despite the syllabi all showing similarities in content, students may notice disparities when it comes to assessment, as all three adopt differing exam and coursework marking schemes. What you can be sure of is that all exams will incorporate the knowledge you have accumulated during the course of your AS year, as well as your more recent A Level modules.

Career Opportunities For English Language Graduates

An A Level in English Language is a great asset to any individual looking to study English at university and/or hoping to pursue a career which involves verbal or written communication.

The qualification is key to many professions, including Journalist, Writer, Blogger, Editor, Translator, Teacher, Linguist and Publisher.

On the other hand, the skills acquired will also benefit a range of jobs in other industries, since language and communication skills are essential to many roles. Far from limiting your choices in the future, English Language offers you many options.

A Level English Past Papers

Why Use Past Papers?

Using past papers as part of your revision process is a great way to prepare for exams. By consulting past papers, you will be familiarising yourself with the types of questions you will be asked when it is time to sit your real exams. Therefore, practising planning essay responses in similar conditions (be sure to set yourself a time limit to force you to manage your time effectively) is invaluable experience.

Not only will the study of past papers help you to prepare for assessment in regards to interpreting questions and planning responses, it will also aid in complementing what you write. Past papers provide an opportunity for you to examine what types of answers gain the top marks. Knowing where to focus your revision will ultimately save you time and give you more confidence in your ability to write a top response.

How To Revise Using Past Papers

It is pointless looking at past paper questions without attempting to answer them yourself.

Formulating responses allows you to fine tune your exam technique and can go a long way in helping you to reach a higher final grade. Whether you are given past papers by your tutor or not, don’t shy away from looking at past papers in your spare time and carrying out your very own mock exams.

An English tutor can help you do past papers.

Use different revision methods and techniques to prepare for exams. Use past papers to better your grade. Photo credit: juliejordanscott via Visualhunt.com

Past papers are useful for the duration of your course, so start using them early on to practise exam skills. The more papers you do, the better your technique will be, but you can also answer the same question multiple times to see how you are improving over time.

If you find that your result is not what you had hoped, don’t despair. Use this as an opportunity to learn your weaknesses and aim to improve on these areas before the exam period arrives.

Where To Find Past Papers For Your Exam Board

If you are at school or college, your teacher or tutor may have a selection of relevant past papers to give you. The benefit of doing past papers in a classroom setting is that you will be more focused on the task at hand, plus your teacher can use their familiarity with the marking scheme to give you constructive feedback. Your educational establishment’s website or intranet pages may also have past exam papers listed for reference.

Alternatively, exam boards tend to upload past papers from a range of subjects. If you know which exam board is assessing your work, go to the relevant pages on their website for past papers and additional exam revision.

You may be able to find past papers on non-official websites, however these should only be used as secondary resources as their integrity cannot be guaranteed.

Revision Tips For A Level English Students

Revising for your English Literature or Language exam should be about more than just re-reading classroom notes and texts covered on the syllabus. You must know your assessment objectives in advance, which means studying the particular information required to gain marks in the exam.

Understanding the bigger picture, like how much a certain question is worth in the grand scheme of things, will dictate what you should be spending more time on revising and practising.

Though it might seem obvious, knowing your texts is absolutely vital for exam revision. Be sure to look at minor characters as well as protagonists so that you can build more original responses to questions than your peers.

If your exam is a closed-book one, it might be useful to compile a list of significant quotes and think ahead about possible arguments to adopt in support of these. If you are taking an open-book assessment, familiarise yourself with where distinctive quotes can be found to avoid wasting precious time during the exam.

It is one thing knowing your texts and terminology, but expressing them concisely is quite another. You should rehearse constructing responses to clearly convey your point and improve the way that you link facts and meaning in your essays.

Contrary to what many English students think, listing literary or linguistic jargon does not get you marks; you must display your understanding of the terms in context.

Revision Guides For Different Exam Boards

Revision guides, along with past papers, can be found on most exam board websites. Be sure to consult your own exam board though, as the marking scheme will differ from one board to the next meaning that revision tips may diverge.

The AQA website, as an example, has a dedicated online resource centre, however official revision guides published in conjunction with the exam board can be bought from shops like Amazon.

Where To Find Online Revision Help For English A Level

As an English pupil, you may be accustomed to reading books as part of your revision. However, some of the best revision help for English exams can be found online.

Student discussion boards are a great way to discover fresh ideas and opinions concerning your chosen texts, and it may additionally help for AS students to get advice from peers working towards their final A Level exams.

As well as online forums, English students can find helpful revision tips across a range of educational sites. These websites are often set up by or created in conjunction with teaching professionals with experience of the latest syllabi.

Exam Timetables/Grading for English A Level

Find A Level English Exam Timetables

Provisional timetables, including those for English Language and Literature, will be given to your teacher or tutor in advance, along with any other important dates. Final exam timetables will later be confirmed, highlighting any major amendments.

Students may also consult the exam board for assessment-related queries, including exam duration and regulations for candidates. OCR, for instance, lists all of its exams and the dates on which they will be carried out in .pdf format via its website.

It is imperative that you know exactly where you need to be, on what date and at what time when taking exams.

If you are late for your A Level exam for any reason, you risk being forbidden to take part in the assessment. This could well affect your final grade. If you intend to travel to your exam centre by car or public transport, ensure that you leave in plenty of time to reduce the risk of being caught up in traffic.

Equally, if you plan to walk, practise your route the day before so that you are confident in how long your journey takes. The worry of arriving late is the last thing you need on the day of your exam!

What Do English A Level Grades Mean?

A Level results are awarded differently to GCSEs. At this higher level, anything above an ‘E’ grade is classed as a pass, with the newly introduced ‘A*’ being the highest achievement. Each grade is subsequently equivalent to a certain number of points, which is relevant to those considering a university degree.

To find out the minimum grade you need for your desired course and how many UCAS points you require, you can consult the body’s website which offers more information for prospective students.

At one time, your AS Level year counted towards your final grade, which seems a good idea since there are less distractions and fewer reasons to feel stressed. Now, however, exams are the preferred method of assessment for A Levels.

On the other hand, students should bear in mind that universities will still see their AS grades, and those results will have been used by tutors to predict their final grade (which, as you know, is what universities base their offers on).

How Is English A Level Marked?

As we now know, to pass your A Level you will need to achieve a grade in the region of ‘A*’ – ‘E’ (an ‘Unclassified’ or ‘U’ grade unfortunately means that you have failed the course). But how are these grades worked out to reveal your final qualification in the subject? Do certain modules count for more than others? These are questions that you should be asking your teacher or tutor. In the unlikely event that they cannot help with your queries, you should consult your exam board to find out about their assessment methods.

The majority of exams follow a Uniform Mark Scale (UMS), which defines grade boundaries for A Level subjects. An average UMS mark of 90% across all A2 modules results in an ‘A*’. Meanwhile, 80%+ is an ‘A’, 70-79% is a ’B’, 60-69% is a ‘C’, 50-59% awards a ‘D’ grade and, finally, 40-49% is the equivalent of an ‘E’. Anything below 40% is deemed off the pass scale and will result in course failure.

As you can see, it is vital that you achieve good grades in all modules to keep your average score up. Those who excel in certain areas but struggle in others might find that their weaknesses bring their overall grade down. The importance of knowing your mark scheme can therefore not be reiterated enough.

A Level English Courses For Adults

Studying English at A Level is no different for older students; they too are encouraged to read widely and develop a love for English Language and Literature. Colleges across the UK offer opportunities for enrolment, but if it is a distance course you require then your best bet is to research and consult an Open Study establishment of your choice.

A Level success can help you to progress your career. English A Level courses for adults. Photo via VisualHunt

Courses vary in price however most course leaders are up front about the financial requirements of enrolment. You may be required to submit your existing qualifications, to check that you qualify for the course.

How To Independently Enrol On English A Level Courses

Mature students are able to enrol on English A Level Courses by funding an online course or by paying for tuition at an independent college.

If you are completing a distance-learning course, you will more than likely be required to arrange and pay for your examinations at an approved centre, a list of which is normally provided by your personal tutor. It is possible to take the A Level exam without receiving mentoring yet this is discouraged as tutors are trained to guide you through the course and help you to work towards your desired grade.

The Benefits of An English A Level For Adults

A good English A Level result is essential for those looking to further their studies in the subject, for instance if enrolling on a degree course linked to English. However, an A Level can also be a very valuable qualification if you are looking to progress in your current employment or retrain for a new career path.

Furthermore, many adults choose to re-sit their secondary education exams for their own personal achievement or gratitude. Regardless of your reasons, an English course is guaranteed to make you think and feel things in different ways than before.

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