How to revise for Creative Writing in GCSE English Language.
With the GCSE language paper coming up, the creative writing element is one that can easily be overlooked. Perhaps you wonder whether you can really learn how to do well in this part of the section or if it is simply down to talent. However, the key to excellent creative writing exam answers is imagination – using your creativity to come up with things to write.
A struggle that students I teach often find with creative questions is that the prompts are typically broad, and image prompts can be sparse with little detail. Sometimes they might spark inspiration, but sometimes you might be looking at them in despair, wondering what on earth you could write about.
Now, one huge advantage of these open-ended questions is that they allow you to have the prerogative to take the answer where you want it to go; there is no way for them to catch you out for not knowing any information. The broad question or image should not be restrictive: for instance, in a description you do not have to stick exactly to describing what you see; using poetic licence to imagine what might be there is strongly encouraged.
General Hints and Tips for Creative Writing at GCSE
A general piece of advice that I give to my students is to plan the structure of your answer. When you hear “creative writing”, you may not think that a plan would be necessary. However, in the mark schemes of all exam boards, the phrase “well controlled paragraphs”, and “well-structured answer” almost always features in the top band. Of course, you do not need to plan out all your similes and metaphors, but setting yourself out a basic structure of what to say in each paragraph will help it to read more clearly.
A key way to make it clear to the examiner that you know what you are doing is through consistency. Ensure that you have the same tone throughout your creative piece, and that your narrative style and tense remains the same. This way, you can show to the examiner that your narrative choices have been deliberate, and based on the purpose and audience of the brief you have been given.
Each GCSE syllabus has a different way of assessing for the creative writing element. Find your exam board below for some tips on how to tackle the specific exam questions you will be presented with.
How to write a description or a short story - AQA exam board
For the AQA creative writing section in particular, you will be asked to write either a description based on an image, or a short story. For the image description, as well as having a good standard of language, your marks will lie within your ability to use a wide range of language techniques: think metaphors, similes, sensory language, imagery, alliteration etc.
A description of this kind requires you to be very imaginative. If you are stuck on where to begin, look at the image and think about what mood you could extract from it. Does it look spooky? Does it look dangerous? Once you have identified this, try to reflect this mood in the tone of your description.
Some advice that was offered in the November 2017 examiners' report was to ensure that your writing is not too formulaic. For instance, try not to write “I can see… I can smell…” just to ensure you are filling in sensory language: this applies to both the short story and the description. This is perhaps the hardest element of the AQA creative language question: fulfilling all the criteria while making it flow and work as a creative piece.
My advice would be to read over your work after you have finished and try to imagine you are just reading this for fun, outside of the exam context. If it works as a piece of creative writing rather than just as an exam answer, you should be on the right track.
How to answer prompt-based questions - Edexcel exam board
The imaginative writing section of Edexcel requires you to take on a broad prompt, such as the 2017 question “write about a secret” with the aid of an image provided.
For this question, the mark scheme is fairly open as to the approaches you can take. It allows writing in the form of a description, an anecdote, a speech, or a narrative. The image is also only there to provide inspiration – you are not required to reference it directly in your answer if you do not wish to.
A good revision strategy for this question would be to pick a couple of forms that you want to focus on, and practice them before the exam. Then you could pick the form most suited to the question you chose in the exam, and you will be an expert in writing for this form: something that will immediately boost your marks.
A large part of fitting in with the mark scheme is “using appropriate techniques for creative writing”. This may include using a wide vocabulary, imagery, alliteration, similes and metaphors in order to describe and explain.
How to write for purpose – OCR exam board
For the OCR specification, the focus is on writing for purpose and audience. This is a large part of what you are being tested on, so you must always ensure that you identify these two things before you start writing.
In 2017, the options were to write a blog post describing how you successfully overcame a challenging situation, and to write a letter to an employer applying for a job you have always wanted. These two tasks clearly have significantly different purposes and audiences. A blog post would be for the general population, and the tone will need to be readable and informal, whereas the letter to the employer will need to be formal and tailored to the individual reader.
The mark scheme for these questions require you to cover the following areas: tone, style, register, and organisation. The first three in this list will need you to adapt for the purpose and audience. While going over past paper questions, if you’re unsure on how you should write, look up examples of that form online. For instance, looking for a letter to an employer online should give you some good examples, as would looking up examples of newsletter entries or blog posts.
My best piece of advice for OCR’s questions is to practise. Ask a parent or friend to come up with some different forms and audiences for you to write in, and practise adapting your tone, style and register for the different audiences.
OCR have also provided some helpful resources for creative writing (GCSE English Language 9-1 syllabus).
Blog Post Crafted by Genevieve
Born in Coventry, she now tutors English SATs and GCSE in her free time, as well as working for the university as an outreach ambassador in local schools.
She also enjoys playing piano and flute, and often performs as a backing singer at local gigs.
Whenever she has a moment to spare, you might find her driving to the beach or catching up on her reading!