GCSE English Language and English Literature Exams
A Modern Parents’ Survival Guide!
By Rachael (Ash Tutors ref: 181), Secondary School English Teacher
“Help!” I hear you cry, “Why is GCSE English so much different, harder, confusing, befuddling and downright mind-boggling compared to when I was at school?”
You want to help your child navigate their ever-looming exams, and you definitely want to help them manage their stress, but how? The good news is there are some very simple steps you can follow to help your teenager tackle time management, tantrums, tears and everything else that comes with sitting GCSE exams.
Trust me, this will make your life easier, and the celebrations can definitely begin come results day in the summer!
English Language and English Literature – Why two? What’s the difference?
In a nutshell, one (Language) focuses on the ‘mechanics’ of language, i.e. how a text is put together and why it may have been created in that way (usually to persuade a reader of a text to agree with the view in the text – this is a favourite often used by exam boards!)...
...whereas the other (Literature) focuses on the ‘fancy’ parts of language, i.e. what literary techniques a writer has used (sounds fancier than it is – basically it’s things like metaphors that are used to make the reader imagine something and get excited!) and why these techniques have been used.
Okay, it’s starting to make a little more sense – so what are these simple steps you enticed me with in the first place?
General (not just) English Exam Tips:
1. Encourage your teenager to maintain a positive attitude and cultivate a positive approach during their revision.
(By the way, in terms of starting revision, which, believe me as a secondary school teacher, I know, it’s never too early to start! Your bundle of hormones may be insisting they have started their revision already, but this may not be the case!)
2. Relax, (perhaps by sitting quietly or meditating, if that’s what floats their boats. Make sure you remind them that staring at a screen and liking all of Kylie Jenner’s pictures on Instagram is not actually relaxing.)
3. Eat well, (making sure it’s healthy too. Binging on chocolate for their tea might be their favourite thing to do, let’s face it, we all comfort eat, but all of that sugar can’t be doing us any good, and it’s definitely not proven to be brain food.)
4. Recognise achievement. (Reinforce the idea that it’s a really good thing to be pleased with the achievements they have already made, however big or small. For example, if they’ve managed to answer a practice question from a past paper really well, they should recognise that achievement.)
5. SLEEP! (We all know this is something teenagers should be good at, but usually aren’t! Make sure they’re getting a decent amount of sleep and are going to bed at hours that aren’t anti-social.)
6. Reward. (Encourage them to reward themselves with an occasional treat if they meet their revision goals. My mum used to give me something she liked to call ‘mad money’ on a Saturday afternoon, if I could prove to her I’d met the revision goals I’d set for myself.
The ‘mad money’ was never more than a fiver, but it really motivated me to get stuff done, then I could go into town and treat myself to a little something!)
(If your child is suffering more than 'usual' from stress relating to exams, here's a terrific resource that will definitely help:
7. Time away. (Planning is the key here – make sure they create a revision timetable and they plan in breaks and time away from the books.)
8. Keep fit. (This is a biggie – not just for teenagers! Encourage them to take exercise they enjoy – this exercise could just be a walk around the block as one of their planned ‘revision breaks’.
Remind them it will help them to clear their head, and focus better when they get back to the books.)
Read this case study about how a Year 9 girl achieved her target grades in her final Year 11 GCSE English exams after using one of our tutors.
Right, holistic hippy stuff over with, let’s get down to some English business!
The most common question I usually get asked at Year 11 parents’ evening is “What’s harder to pass? English Literature or English Language?”
The honest answer (I promise!) is neither!
Now, before you start flapping and going into a panic on behalf of your teenager, hold on for a second… If your teenager prepares for both exams, and manages their stress well, they will be absolutely fine on the big day.
No matter which exam board your teen is sitting for their upcoming GCSE English exams, there are very simple revision tasks you can help them with to make sure they succeed (and also win yourself extra brownie points for becoming an expert on one of their trickiest and most important subjects, practically overnight!)
English Literature (or ‘Lit’ as all the cool kids are calling it!)
1. Read for pleasure, (a tough one to encourage teenagers to do, but proven to help them pick out all of the things they need to in the exam) for 30 minutes every day.
Encourage them to choose pieces of fiction they enjoy, rather than what the exam board dictates they should be reading (controversial, I know, but it’s really worked for my Year 11 classes time and time again.)
2. Practise the ‘SPLITS’ technique, (no, don’t do the actual splits, that’s potentially dangerous without supervision or suitable training!) with poems, song lyrics, any kind of short, creative, fictional piece of writing you can find off the internet.
SPLITS stands for:
S – Subject matter (what is the poem about?),
P – Purpose (why do you think the poet has written the poem?),
I – Identify (the mood of the text),
L – Language (Pick out three individual words you could discuss in detail),
T – Technique (Does the text rhyme? What kind of structure does it have?),
S – Summary (What is your personal view of the text? Did you enjoy it? Why/why not? Use quotations from the text to ‘back up’ what you’re saying and prove your point).
3. Make flash cards and practise learning quotations from the set texts they have been studying in class.
4. Make use of internet resources (LOADS of links at the bottom of this article!)
Find out which exam board and exams your teenager will be sitting in the summer (if they don’t already know themselves) and access the past papers on their website. The key to using this tool for revision is not to overload your teen with millions of past paper questions – it’s the skills they need to practise, and the styles of questions they need to become familiar with (not know off by heart!)
English Language (there’s no cool kids nickname for this – it is what it is!)
There are usually two key sections to any English Language GCSE paper, which can loosely be broken down to ‘reading’ and ‘writing’.
1. Reading Revision
Choose, with your teenager, a (relatively) challenging article that is about 2 sides of A4 from ‘BBC News’ or ‘The Guardian Online’. Then get them to…
a. Read the article
b. Create a question focusing on the content of the article
c. Find 10 facts that answer the question
d. Create their answer, including all 10 facts
Tip top tip for this activity: Get the highlighters out!!
(You might be interested in this article: Why is GCSE tuition important?)
2. Writing Revision
Get your teenager to choose a style of writing they have been studying in class (usually formal and informal letters, speeches, articles, reports, etc…) Then get them to…
a. Pick a topic they want to write about (something they are passionate about, for example, parents making them do revision when they don’t want to!), plan the opening and one main paragraph (if they’re still stuck for tasks, they could look at past papers on their exam board’s website)
b. Time their work when writing, to no more than 10-15 minutes.
Here comes the tricky bit…
c. Get them to check their work (no matter how little or how much they’ve written in the short time frame) – if necessary, get them to sit on their hands and read in silence.
They need to focus on the expression and punctuation in what they’ve written, as they get marks in the exam for spelling, sentence structure, punctuation and style.
As with Literature…
d. Make use of internet resources (LOADS of links at the bottom of this article!)
Find out what exam board and exams your teenager will be sitting in the summer (if they don’t already know themselves) and access the past papers on their website. The key to using this tool for revision is not to overload your teen with millions of past paper questions – it’s the skills they need to practise, and the styles of questions they need to become familiar with (not know off by heart!).
The End! (Definitely NOT the way your teenager should end ANY piece of writing in their English Language exam!)
So, there we have it! A (relatively) simple and fool-proof way to helping your teenager (and yourself) survive the dreaded English GCSEs.
Take some time to read and digest the hints and tips, then pour yourself a large gin (or non-alcoholic treat if you don’t like booze!) and revel in the fact that you’re playing an amazing role in helping your teenager succeed in the most important exams of their life!
You’re doing a brilliant job – keep it up!
Super-cool Free Stuff:
Mr Murale's English Blog (Very useful blog written by an actual English teacher that isn’t me!)
English Biz (All round good revision site, and has the added bonus of being written in ‘teen speak’!)
Education Quizzes (Making revision more ‘fun’ – some interactive quizzes for English Language and English Literature)
AQA Exam Board (English GCSE page)
Edexcel Exam Board (English GCSE page)
WJEC Exam Board (English GCSE page)
OCR Exam Board (English GCSE page)
Get Revising Planner (Really useful for help with making a revision timetable)
‘Flipboard’ App (available across iOS and Android platforms from the various app stores) This is a great starting point for encouraging your teenager to read, as they can input all of their interests and it provides them with articles based on these interests.
This was a big hit with my year 11s last year!
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