Revising GCSE English Literature: What Works?
“But how are you supposed to revise a subject like English literature?”
“How many quotes do you need to get full marks?”
“What do you mean when you say there are no ‘wrong answers’?
“What is historical context?”
“Why can’t we have the book in the exam?”
These are questions English teachers are familiar with at this time of year. As the final few weeks of intense GCSE preparation begin, it is time for those at the front of the class to slowly take a step back and- with support and guidance- hand over the revision reigns to their year 11s.
It is a daunting time, for students, as well as teachers and parents. Suddenly, after all that time in the classroom, young people are faced with the realisation that they have step into the exam hall and do it for themselves. For real.
Many students struggle to know where to start. Yes, they have read all their set texts. Twice. Yes they know the characters, and the plot, and have memorised the main themes of each chapter, But what now? What do you do with this information? How do I write an essay Sir? How do I start Miss?
In an essay based subject like English Literature, knowledge and recall are only the starting points from which students must structure and craft their own personal responses in long form answers with few signposts along the way.
Students may have engaged brilliantly with the poetry, prose and drama they have studied in class, but to succeed at GCSE they must be able to apply their understanding of texts in response to a single, often ambiguously phrased question such as: ‘How does [insert author here] present [insert character here]?’
In order to hit the top grades students need, from this limited starting point to be able to develop- in exam board speak- ‘conceptualised arguments’,‘perceptive interpretations’, backed with ‘precise and well-chosen references’.
They need to remember- although the question doesn’t actually mention it- that they need to refer to language choices, literary and dramatic methods and, of course ‘historical context’. Oh, and they need to tie this altogether in a coherent, six-point essay written in under an hour. It’s no wonder they get confused!
This is why, at this time of year, well-written exam-savvy, targeted study guides are a life-saver for students. The internet may be teeming with information, but it is often overwhelming for time-pressed young people who don’t know where to begin.
Research shows literature revision is most effective when it is targeted on asking students to apply what they already know. The Scholastic AQA English Study Guides have been written with this in mind. Each guide walks the student through a chronological revisiting of their text, before asking them to apply their understanding in a systematic range of challenging tasks, specifically aimed at developing skills for the AQA exam specification.
The guides offer detailed but concise stimuli for students to engage with. They are written in clear, engaging style by experienced classroom practitioners and are packed with sample questions, annotated student essays as well as AQA-focused exam tips including:
- Self-assessment quizzes (Review It!)
- Explanation of tricky subject terminology and assessment criteria (Define It!)
- Hints for fast, effective revision techniques to help memorise quotations, time-lines and characters (Snap It!)
- Thought-provoking interpretations and debates, aimed at challenging students aiming for the top grades (Stretch It!)
The guides also come with a free app which contains an exam calendar tailored to each individual and quick tests for revision on the go, providing students with a flexible approach to their study.
Targeting all grades from 1-9, the Scholastic study guides are sure to help build students’ confidence and GCSE-readiness, offering the signposts they need from the classroom to the exam hall.
Rob Pollard is an experienced Head of English at County Upper School in Bury St Edmunds.