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How to Get Top Marks in GCSE English Literature

In today’s blog, we’ll be paving your roadmap to success in GCSE English Literature: one of the core subjects. Whether you’re a natural bookworm or not, we’ve got the top tips to help you score top marks in your English exams!


What is the Difference Between GCSE English Literature and English Language?

First things first, let’s start on chapter 1: what is the difference between the two similar-sounding subjects? Well, the English Literature GCSE course does more than just delve into the use of English as a language - it is the study of specific texts, including novels, short stories and poems. The subject aims to give students the tools needed to make thematic links and to hone their reading and analytical skills.

Does the Exam Board I’m Taking Matter?

Each exam board has their own set of texts, marking schemes and assessment distribution that make them slightly different from the other. You may have heard that X exam board is ‘easier’ than Y exam board, or that A exam board is ‘better’ than B exam board.

No matter which you take, the techniques that you will need to answer the questions remain the same. Ultimately, examiners across specifications are looking for concise answers that show a deep understanding of intertextual themes and contexts, secure grasp of key events in the set texts and use of language and structure to build these ideas.

For example, if we draw parallels between the different syllabus objectives, many remain the same:

AQA, GCSE: AO1 Read, understand and respond to texts. Students should be able to:

• maintain a critical style and develop an informed personal response

• use textual references, including quotations, to support and illustrate interpretations.

Cambridge, IGCSE: AO1 Show detailed knowledge of the content of literary texts in the three main forms (drama, poetry and prose), supported by reference to the text.

Students revising English

Do I Have to Read All of the Texts?

A common question that is asked is whether or not you can get away with just reading chapter summaries or even a bullet list of key themes and characters to do well in the exam - tempting for those on a time crunch!

Chapter summaries and lists of key quotations are excellent tools to use as a refresher if you haven’t recapped your knowledge of a particular novel or short story in a while, but skipping the readings altogether sets yourself up for failure. Not reading a text will mean you miss out on the nuance of the language used throughout and on important quotations which add more context to ‘key quotations’ which are often analysed.

Sure, the exams won’t ask you to answer 1-mark recall questions which test your ability to remember whether it was Frederick or Pilkington who Napoleon seemingly befriended in an act of cunning in Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, but it’s the details in your answer which add up and help to give a more rounded structure.

How to Structure Your Answers

In particular, one method to structure your responses which many students might be familiar with is the PEEL technique: Point, Evidence, Explain, Link. Done correctly, this hits upon each of the assessment criteria examiners are looking for and offers a concise approach to constructing an answer.

In a nutshell:

  • Point: Make a claim according to the question;

  • Evidence: Provide textual quotations and key events to support your point;

  • Explain: Zoom in on the intricacies relevant in your evidence, from use of language and literary devices to character studies and other events in the text;

  • Link: Zoom out and consider the greater contexts and themes. Take the opportunity to link historical analogies with the writing at hand.

A wonderful roadmap, PEEL is not enough to nab you that coveted Level 9 grade. It’s important to acknowledge how to effectively use PEEL: write more than one or two sentences for each step, concentrate on the explanation and link portions of your answer and add flow to your paragraph.

Another important point to consider is the vocabulary that you use to convey your ideas. Why use ‘change’ when ‘metamorphosis’ may better capture your intent in explaining the evolution of Macbeth’s character in Shakespeare’s play? Up level your vocabulary by referring to thesauruses, reading a variety of texts and using word association maps to brainstorm and branch out.

What Resources are Available to Support Me?

Looking at past papers and their mark schemes is a good way to prepare yourself for what is expected. Better still would be looking at documents which contain examiner commentary on model answers, which give you ideas to magpie in your own writing or errors to avoid. Oftentimes you will be able to find these on the website of the exam board you are taking.

You can also get ahead of the game and read any poems or short stories mentioned in the specification ahead of time to really familiarise yourself. Some older texts are usually out of copyright and are freely available on the internet.

If you aren’t able to access these resources or would prefer to have someone at hand to guide you, consider finding an experienced English tutor at Titanium Tutors. Examiners and qualified teachers would be more than capable of helping you navigate the intricacies of the English Literature exam and support you in reaching your aspirational grades.


Blog Post Crafted by Cheryl

Cheryl manages our Admin Team, and is a qualified teacher with 5 years' experience in schools across England and Canada.

Cheryl graduated from McMaster University with an Honours Bachelor of Commerce and a Minor in English, and from University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Education, with a specialisation in Aboriginal Studies. She tutored secondary school students in English for over nine years in Canada.

Cheryl speaks Cantonese, English and French, and in her spare time, she can be found illustrating and reading children’s books for inspiration.


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