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How to Get Top Marks in GCSE Drama

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

GCSE Drama is often chosen for the love of acting, creating and collaborating and, through whatever exam board you are studying, you will certainly get plenty of opportunity to explore all of the above. Non-Drama students, however, may not be aware that there is always a written exam, and it is worth a chunky 40% of your overall grade; this is the case with AQA, Pearson, Cambridge IGCSE, WJEC Eduqas, and OCR. Mastering this exam is key to bagging a top score.

GCSE Drama class acting out scene

Common ground between different GCSE Drama exam boards is that you are likely to have to answer questions on a play you have studied, including how choices made by the actor, director and designers (set, costume, sound and/or lighting) create a particular experience for the audience. Some exam boards require you to answer an extended response question regarding your devised performance and its development, whilst others will have a weighty question asking for your response to a piece of theatre you have seen. Like in English Literature, there are loads of choices of potential texts to study, as well as an endless list of live productions you may have seen and, whilst we can’t cover every play here, we can definitely give you some top tips to maximise those marks. So, without further ado, have a read of our expert guide to getting top marks in GCSE Drama.

Prepare For All Eventualities

Make sure you know exactly what questions you will be answering; you will have been prepared for a particular text and you should know whether you are answering a performance question or a design question. Go into that exam knowing everything you can about what to expect so you limit the element of surprise.

If you haven’t been given one or made one already, create a breakdown of the play you’ve been studying. You’ll need to create a table on a computer or a really big piece of paper! Break the play up into scenes or “moments” and write them down the side. These will be your rows. Then, write along the top categories such as “ what happens”, “characters involved”, “mood/atmosphere”, “interactions”, “staging ideas”, “props”, “set”, “costume”; the list can go on and on and these will be your columns. You should then have ideas to cover every combination of question that might be thrown at you. Simply creating this for yourself is great revision and it can then be used for any practice questions you want to try ahead of the exam - it’s the gift that keeps on giving!

Brush Up On Your Vocabulary

Showing that you know technical terminology and how to apply it correctly will not only ensure the examiner knows precisely what you mean, but it also means you can grab some easy marks in multiple choice questions (such as in the AQA paper). You need to know your dramatic terms like “genre”, “ensemble” and “structure”, spatial terms (do you know your up-stage left from your down-stage right?), and performance terms like “posture”, “motivation”, “physicality”, “proxemics”. Can you define the job description of the performer/actor, the designers (costume, set, props, sound, lighting), and the director?

You can make sure you aren’t caught out with silly mistakes with some really simple and fun revision tasks. You can make flash cards that can also double up as a game of charades - team up with study buddies, one person picks a card and needs to silently act out the term while the others guess. Get on your feet, find a space, and mark it out as if it’s a stage: upstage, downstage, centre, left and right. With at least one other friend you can then play a game of ‘Simon Says’. You can then get creative and active with your revision, calling out things like: “Simon Says stride confidently downstage centre” or “Simon Says put your shoe upstage right”!

It’s All In the Detail

Never assume the examiner will fill in any blanks you leave. It can be tempting when you are against the clock to rush and skip over details which could cost you valuable marks. Give the examiner evidence that you know the world of the play inside out and that you understand the social, political and cultural context of when it was written.

Look closely at the GCSE Drama mark scheme and past papers. What exactly does the examiner want from you? Your time is limited in the exam so you want to be familiar with the wording of the questions and the assessment criteria. You don’t, for example, want to take up time giving the entire plot before explaining why a character is wearing scruffy shoes! What the examiner will want to know is what these shoes look like, why the character can’t afford these shoes, what this tells the audience about the social status of this character.

When you’re describing a performance, always ask yourself if someone else would be able to follow what you’ve written and act that scene out in the way you are imagining. Have you created a good enough guide for an actor, set, costume or lighting designer to reproduce exactly what you have in mind without asking you to explain anything further? If the answer is YES, then move on to the next question!

GCSE Drama Top-to-Toe diagram

Always Cover the "What", “How” and "Why"

Whether you are answering how you would perform a role or direct another actor, or discussing the live performance you saw, always “what/how/why”-proof what you’ve written. This means making sure you have not left any opportunity for the examiner to ask “What do you mean?”, “How?” or “Why?”.

Be careful not to spend too much time on the WHAT and not enough time on the HOW and the WHY. Describing WHAT is happening, WHAT the actor is doing or WHAT the costume looks like is important but you need to show you can analyse and evaluate too. Balancing the "What", "How" and "Why" looks something like this:

GCSE Drama What, How, Why

Remember to look at the GCSE Drama written exam as your opportunity to demonstrate how much you know about the plays you’ve studied, how well you understand theatrical terminology and dramatic techniques, and how you can put together all you have learned into answers that allow the examiner to visualise the character, scene or set exactly how you intend. If you can back up every choice you make with reasons that prove your understanding and knowledge, you’ll be on your way to a high mark.

If you still feel like you need some support in getting your exam performance up to scratch, our Drama and Theatre Studies pros are ready and waiting in the wings at Titanium Tutors.

Drama teacher inspiring students

Contact us here for more information, and keep an eye on our blog for more top tips to score top marks in your GCSEs this year! We hope you “break a leg” with your Drama exam!


Blog Post Crafted by Jenny

Jenny is a Deputy Company Manager, co-managing our Admin Team.

She studied Theatre Studies at Rose Bruford College and got a First Class BA Hons from University of Manchester, before going on to teach Drama in schools.

She loves chilli con carne and a cup of tea, but not together, and is quite confident she could beat you at scrabble.


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