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How to Pass English Literature GCSE: Revision Tips

How to Pass English Literature GCSE: Revision Tips

Passing your English Literature exam – and getting the highest grade possible – can open up doors in your future studies and career. But what should revision for your English Literature GCSE look like?

Here, we’ll share our top revision tips and show you how to pass your English Literature GCSE.

English Literature GCSE revision tips

Practice makes perfect. But how do you revise for the English Literature GCSE?

Here are our favourite hacks.

1. Know what to expect in your English Literature GCSE

First things first, it’s important to know exactly what you can expect in the exam.

This way, you can make sure to cover every element in your revision. Plus, you can lower your exam stress knowing that there won’t be any unexpected surprises on the day.

You’ll sit two papers – each will be closed book, which means you can’t bring any reading materials in with you. Instead, any reading materials you need will be given to you in the exam.

Paper 1

Paper 1 is worth 40% of your English Literature GCSE grade. 

The exam will last for 1 hour and 45 minutes and is made up of two sections.

Section A is Shakespeare. Here, you’ll answer one question on the play you’ve studied at school, writing in detail about an extract from it and then the play as a whole.

Section B is the 19th Century novel. Again, you’ll answer one question on the novel you’ve studied at school, writing in detail about an extract and then the novel as a whole.

Paper 2

Paper 2 is worth 60% of your English Literature GCSE grade.

The exam will last for 2 hours and 15 minutes and is split into three sections.

Section A is on modern texts – you’ll be able to choose from two essay questions, but will only need to answer one. You’ll write about the modern prose or drama text you’ve studied at school.

Section B is about poetry. You’ll answer a comparative question on one named poem printed on your paper and one other poem from your chosen anthology cluster.

Finally, section C is on unseen poetry – in other words, poems printed on your exam paper that you won’t have seen before. You’ll answer one question on one unseen poem, and then a second question comparing it with a second unseen poem.

2. Start revision for your English Literature GCSE early

Now that you know what to expect, you can start revising!

The key is to start early and to revise consistently throughout the year.

It’s never too soon to start revision for your English Literature GCSE, but we would recommend starting at the beginning of year 11 at the latest.

After all, there’s a lot to learn. And this way, you can spread out your learning across the year instead of panicking a few weeks before your exam.

For instance, you could start with just an hour a week and then increase it nearer to your exam date. 

This will give you time to remember everything you’ve learned at school, to consolidate your knowledge and to put it into practice. The chances are you’ll see a steady yet significant improvement in your results.

“I would say don’t cram. Take 20-minute study sessions then take a break."

- Katherine R, GCSE English tutor

3. Get the help of a tutor

Although your school will prepare you for the English Literature GCSE exam, nothing beats one-to-one attention.

An English GCSE tutor is an experienced professional who’ll know how to help you fulfil your potential. In fact, many are trained teachers and examiners too!

Your tutor will create tailored lesson plans that take into account your strengths, weaknesses and learning style. In this way, they’ll help to prepare you fully for the exam and will be able to guide you to the best marks possible.

In fact, 90% of Tutorful students improve by at least one grade!

“I supported a cohort of learners with their English literature and English language GCSE examinations.

“My students were a group of mixed ability with different long-term goals.

“Some were grappling with learning difficulties such as dyslexia and were just looking for a pass grade.

"All of my students received the grades they needed for their next steps.”

- Anna W, GCSE English tutor

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4. Know the texts back to front

A large part of both papers will be answering questions on the texts you’ve studied at school.

But at school, you probably only read these texts once (perhaps not even all the way through).

Now, you’ll need to spend time getting super familiar with them.

That means reading them through several times and making sure you’re 100% confident with the plot and structure.

Most GCSE English Literature exam questions will focus on a character or a theme. So, be sure to learn all the details – from each character’s traits to how they’re important to the plot and how the themes are presented.

You’ll also need to memorise a few quotations for each character and theme, so that you can back up the points you make.

Revision for English Literature GCSE

5. Practise analysing unseen poetry

Alongside the texts you know will come up, you’ll also need to write about unseen poems – meaning poems you’ve never seen before the exam.

We know what you’re thinking: how am I meant to revise for something I can’t see?

Well, the key is to develop the skills you’ll need and to practise. This means ensuring you’re confident writing about a poem’s:

  • Context

  • Meaning

  • Form

  • Structure

  • Language

  • Imagery

  • Themes

  • Rhyme and rhythm

You should also be familiar with different poetry methods and language techniques. 

For instance, are you able to identify enjambement (when a sentence runs into the next line or stanza), alliteration (where words begin with the same letter), onomatopoeia (where words sound like the noise they describe) and personification (giving ideas or objects human qualities)?

Reading as much poetry from different poets as possible will help you get used to understanding and analysing unseen poems, which will stand you in good stead for Paper 2.

6. Use GCSE English Literature revision guides and resources

There are tons of GCSE English Literature revision guides and resources available to help you pass the exam.

And we don’t just mean your exam board’s revision guide.

Rather, you’ll find useful resources everywhere – from YouTube videos to podcasts and dedicated websites like Teachit.

A GCSE English tutor will be able to point you towards the best resources to help you while you’re not being tutored too.

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7. Regularly attempt English Literature GCSE past papers

English Literature GCSE past papers and practice questions are a must when it comes to preparing for your exam.

Not only will they give you a good idea of the types of questions you’re likely to come across in the real thing. But when you come to mark your answers, you’ll also get a clear idea of where you need to improve.

As your English Literature GCSE exam gets closer, be sure to regularly answer past papers under exam conditions.

This way, you’ll be able to develop invaluable exam techniques such as time management and dealing with pressure – giving you the best chance of feeling confident when the big day rolls around.

How to pass your English Literature GCSE: exam tips

Now you know how to revise for your English Literature GCSE.

But to stand the best possible chance of passing  – and acing! – your exam, you’ll need to work on your exam technique too. Here are our top exam tips.

Plan your time

There’s a lot to get through in the English Literature GCSE exam.

The last thing you want is to run out of time halfway through. So, be sure to plan your time carefully before you start answering the questions.

As a rough guide, the less marks a question is worth, the less time you should spend on it. And vice versa.

Remember to build in time to check your answers too, and keep an eye on the clock so you know when it’s time to move onto the next question.

Annotate the extracts

In both papers, you’ll be given extracts and poems to answer questions on.

Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to read them through.

It’s a good idea to give each extract or poem a first read to get an overall understanding of it. Then, go through it in more detail and annotate it with the focus of the question in mind.

Wondering if you can write on the extracts?

You absolutely can! Don’t be afraid to scribble, draw and write all over them – whatever helps.

It can also be a good idea to highlight or underline key words in the question. This can help you to stay focused and ensure your answer is relevant.

Which brings us onto…

Read each question twice

There’s nothing worse than misreading a question in your exam.

That’s why we always recommend reading each question twice, to be absolutely certain you’ve understood it properly.

Remember, you can highlight and underline key words in the question to stay focused – like character names or themes.

And keep referring back to the question while you’re writing your answer. This will help to make sure you’re answering it fully.

Every year, pupils lose lots of marks because they accidentally try to answer questions on texts they haven’t studied. 

You might be in a rush to start writing. But it’s worth taking a bit more time to read the questions before you start so you’re not making any silly mistakes when you answer them.

Sitting English Literature GCSE

Have a go at every question

If you’re stuck on a question, you might be tempted to leave it blank.

But if you do that, you’re guaranteeing zero marks for that question. Meanwhile, if you attempt to answer it, there’s a chance you’ll be rewarded for what you write.

The worst that can happen is that you don’t get any marks for it – which is no worse than if you’d left it blank.

With that in mind, be sure to complete both papers, answering all the questions on your chosen texts. This will maximise your chance of accessing all the marks available.

Plan out essay questions

When it comes to the longer essay questions, it’s important to plan out your answers before you start writing.

After all, you’ll spend over half an hour answering some of the questions.

So, you’ll need to structure your answer and plan your approach.

This doesn’t have to take long – you can simply spend a couple of minutes gathering your thoughts and deciding what you want to say. 

Use your answer booklet to write a short plan. This can be whatever works best for you – whether that’s a bullet point list, a mind map or a flow chart. 

This way, you can avoid repeating yourself and ensure you’ve covered everything you wanted to in a clear and coherent way.

Don’t panic!

Last but not least, don’t panic. 

The examiners aren’t trying to catch you out. Rather, the papers are designed to allow you to show what you can do.

Work through the questions calmly and methodically, leave time to go back and check your answers, and try some of our techniques for overcoming exam fear.

Remember, the most important thing is to try your best. As long as you put the work in, you can be proud of yourself – whatever the outcome.

Find a tutor to help you pass the English Literature GCSE

Worried about passing your English Literature GCSE – or getting the grade you’ve got your heart set on?

You don’t have to worry alone.

Rather, a GCSE English tutor will have the tools, knowledge and experience needed to help you ace your English Literature GCSE revision – and get the grade you deserve.

From tailored lesson plans to practice exams, they’ll give you the one-to-one attention and dedicated time you need to ensure you’re fully prepared and able to reach your full potential.

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Is GCSE English Literature hard?

GCSE English Literature can be challenging. But it’s designed so that pupils with the right knowledge and skills can pass it.

A GCSE English tutor will be able to assess your skills to see how close you are to being able to pass. They’ll also help you to identify your weaker areas and tailor lesson plans to guide you to better grades.

How to prepare for GCSE English Literature?

The key to preparing for GCSE English Literature is to start revising early, and to revise consistently throughout the year.

Be sure to:

  • Know what to expect

  • Know the texts back to front

  • Practise analysing unseen poetry 

  • Make use of revision guides and resources

  • Regularly attempt past papers

A GCSE English tutor will also be able to help you prepare for your GCSE English Literature exam with tailored lesson plans designed to help you reach your full potential.

How can I get full marks in English Literature GCSE?

To unlock the very top grades in the English Literature GCSE, you’ll need to go above and beyond. That means knowing your texts inside out and understanding the mark scheme so you can give the examiners what they want.

In particular, developing nuances in your essays can help you to stand out. There’s never just one answer in English Literature. So, being able to present multiple perspectives will give your answer credibility.

What topics should I revise for GCSE English?

For the GCSE English Literature exam, you’ll need to revise:

  • The Shakespeare play you’ve studied at school

  • The 19th Century novel you’ve studied at school

  • The modern prose or drama text you’ve studied at school

  • Your chosen poetry anthology cluster

  • Analysing unseen poetry

Meanwhile, for your English Language GCSE exam, you’ll need to focus less on memorising content and more on developing skills such as writing skills, the ability to analyse different texts and your spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Head over to our article on how to pass your English Language GCSE to learn more.

How to revise for GCSE English literature?

When you revise for GCSE English Literature, it’s important to make sure that you cover every aspect of the exam.

That means making sure you know your chosen texts back to front. 

But it also means developing your skills when it comes to analysing unseen poetry – for instance, increasing your confidence in identifying and writing about context, form and structure, language, imagery and themes.

A GCSE English tutor will be able to take your GCSE English Literature revision to the next level. They’ll help you to understand which areas you need to work on further and give you access to resources you can use between sessions.

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Imogen Beech

Imogen Beech

3rd Jul 2024