English GCSE revision tips

Mar 1, 2023

The half term break now seems a distant memory, whether it was filled with sun, or snow, or drizzle (if your holiday destination of choice is North Yorkshire, which it is for Clarendon). If your child or student is preparing for their GCSEs, then perhaps at some stage of the half term break you may have had the temerity to suggest – after a solid 8 hours on their phones – that now might be the time for some English revision. Possibly, at this stage you may have been met with an almost pitying look and a sullen “you can’t even revise English”. Well, Clarendon is here to help and there will be no such excuses after you’ve read today’s newsletter.

We sat down with two of our top English tutors to have a chat about how best to prepare for the exams.

Holly holds a Masters in Comparative Literature from UCL, as well as Masters in Education, Policy and Society from King’s. She was head of Secondary English at School 21 and has taken a sabbatical this year to write a book on the current state of the UK education system.

Benedict graduated with a double first from Cambridge in English Literature, as well as receiving a distinction in his Masters in Acting from Royal Central. He has taught English and Drama in a number of schools.

Benedict and Holly

Clarendon: How can you revise for English Literature?

Holly: Your revision should always be active to help it stick, like creating mind maps, flash cards or quote banks. Choose three quotes for each character or theme, and then stick them up around your house. You can stick them up in the bathroom, so not a moment is wasted!

Benedict: Knowing the format of your exam will help you separate your revision into more manageable chunks. Then you can prepare bullet-point notes – or mind maps / spider diagrams if you’re a visual learner – on the major characters and themes. You can’t know the exact wording of the question in advance, but you can make sure you know the characters – and what they represent – really well.

Clarendon: What is a good tip for a student who struggles with the language of Shakespeare?

Benedict: Be sure to find an Arden edition of the Shakespeare play you’re studying. These are packed with really handy explanatory notes on all the tricky vocabulary, allusions and references.

Holly: No Fear Shakespeare has really good modern translations of language if you are getting stuck.

Benedict: Watching a production can help too. Head to the Digital Theatre+ website to find past productions.

Holly: Also, remember that you don’t need to understand every word! It’s better to focus on key scenes and key quotes.

Clarendon: What are your top tips for helping a student improve on their English Language paper?

Holly: Practise, practise, practise! Do timed papers and mark yourself using the mark scheme. Don’t forget that half the marks on the paper are for writing!

Benedict: Be bold in your use of vocabulary. Rather than describing ‘cold’ weather, raise the stakes: perhaps it’s piercing, biting, bone-shaking!

Holly: Read as many short stories as you can and familiarise yourself with what great writers do. Great writers are great readers!

Clarendon: What is the no. 1 thing you tell your students to help them with their essay writing skills?

Benedict: Substance over style. Of course we should aim for sophistication in our writing, but clear ideas and insightful analysis will always be more important than florid prose.

Holly: The students who get the top marks always come up with a ’thesis statement’ and then plan their points around that. A thesis statement sums up the argument essay will make; the better ones will be nuanced, rather than simple black and white statements about a text.

For example, rather than writing ’This essay will argue that Shakespeare shows the witches caused Macbeth to kIll Duncan’, a higher band student might write, ‘Whilst the witches contribute to Macbeth’s downfall, as did Lady Macbeth, Shakespeare shows that ultimately Macbeth was ambitious right from the beginning of the play’.

Clarendon: Which exam boards do you like and why?

Holly: AQA has a good selection of texts and the papers are straightforward. As someone who has marked AQA exam papers, their process if also fair and rigourous.

Benedict: The Cambridge iGCSE eases you into the Language exam with short and snappy comprehension questions before the analysis and composition: it’s reminiscent of 11+/13+ papers in this way. From Tanika Gupta and Lemn Sissay, there’s a refreshing range of contemporary texts in Edexcel’s literature exam.

We are immensely proud of the calibre of tutors we represent; if you would like support for your child, then don’t hesitate to get in touch.