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How To Revise For GCSE English Exams

Updated: Mar 3

Many people tell me that they don't know how to revise for GCSE English exams and I've often been told by Year 11 students that "you can't revise for English Language" or "there’s too much to remember for Literature.”

These opinions are completely understandable but it is possible to revise both English Language and Literature and this article will show you how to revise for GCSE English Exams and to practise the skills which need to be demonstrated.

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Girl sat at a desk with her head back and a book on her face

What are the problems with GCSE English Revision?

Some of the most common things I hear from GCSE students include:

  • I don’t know how to revise.

  • I have read and highlighted all my notes but just can’t seem to remember anything.

  • How do I revise reading and writing?

  • I need to memorise quotes but don’t know where to start.

Revision Strategies for GCSE English Exams

Girl with brown hair laying on a bed reading a book

1) Read as much as possible

It doesn't matter if it's fiction, non-fiction, 19th century, 20th century, books, comics, newspaper or magazine articles but, the more you read, the more familiar you will become with different sentence structures, language techniques, text types and writing styles. It's also a good opportunity to practise skimming and scanning skills.

For more information, you might like to have a look at 10 reasons why reading is essential for children.

2) Make sure you know a range of literary techniques and how to use them

Authors use a wide variety of literary techniques, such as metaphors, similes and personification. Therefore, you will need to know what they are, how to use them and, more importantly, the effect they have on the reader. You can revise these by using traditional textbooks or websites such as BBC Bitesize or YouTube. Completing past papers from your specific exam board will help you to identify and analyse literary techniques as well as practise using them in your own writing.

Students putting up hands to ask questions in a classroom

3) Make the most of any lessons and revision sessions before the exams.

Complete all work to the best of your ability, ask your teacher for further explanation after the lesson if there is anything you don't understand and, if you are absent, ensure you find out what you have missed.

If your school offers a revision programme for Year 11 students during lunchtime or after school, find out where and when they are held and make sure you attend.

Your parents may also be able to help you but you need to remember that the people around you can only do so much. These are YOUR exams for YOUR future so YOU will need to accept some of the responsibility.

A book and a pair of headphones

4) Re-read the set texts, listen to the audiobook and/or watch a film or theatrical production

In the exam, you will need to demonstrate a good understanding of the plot, characters and themes of your set texts and listening to audiobooks or watching the film versions will help you with this.

You will also need some knowledge of the context of the literature you have studied, such as the Shakespearean plays or the19th century novels, so that you can link your comments about the plot, characters and themes to the world in which the author or playwright was living.

5) Learn some key quotes on different themes of the novel or play which you can use to illustrate a range of points.

For example, Juliet's line "My only love sprung from my only hate" can be used to illustrate Shakespeare's themes of love, hate, internal conflict and family loyalty.

Learning quotes is difficult so you might need to try a range of different ideas to help you. For example, you could use mind maps, post it notes, flashcards or making up a short rhyme or song.

It might sound strange but quotes written on Post-it notes and stuck on the bathroom mirror will help you to learn them whilst brushing your teeth! Some of my previous students have also stuck them on their bedside table so they could read through them before going to sleep and others have asked family and friends to test them.

6) Make sure you know what the examiners are looking for

Examiners' reports on the most recent exams can be downloaded from the websites of all exam boards and can be a useful source of information. However, these are often long and complex documents which can be difficult to read through and understand. There are many YouTube channels which have videos explaining the main points which might be helpful but an alternative is to ensure that you read and understand the assessment objectives, look at model / sample answers and identify the strengths and weaknesses and look at past papers AND the relevant mark schemes.

A person writing on paper with a pen

7) Use Past Papers from the Exam Board

Past papers and mark schemes can be downloaded from the website of your exam board and reading a few of these will help you to familiarise yourself with exam language, style of questions, marks and time available for each question and a range of extracts.

However, it is recommended that you should use these papers to test yourself on your subject knowledge and exam technique by writing your own answers. If you practise answering exam questions (particularly in timed conditions), you will soon have a clear idea of which topics you know, any gaps you need to fill and your own time management skills.

An open book with a blue highlighter, yellow sticky notes and a pencil on it

8) Invest in a Revision Guide / Workbook… and actually use it!

Revision guides and workbooks are designed to help you to become more familiar with the style, content and language of the exams and test your knowledge and skills.

There are numerous GCSE English revision guides available so you need to ensure that they are relevant to the exam board you are studying, include clear study notes and examples and plenty of exam-style questions for every topic.

I have used a few GCSE English revision textbooks with my students in the past and each of them have advantages. However, one of my favourites is the new CGP GCSE English Language & Literature AQA Complete Revision & Practice because it includes:

  • Printed material (study notes, examples, exam-style questions and sample exams with graded answers etc)

  • Knowledge organisers

  • Online videos that explain how to answer each of the GCSE English Language questions

  • An online edition which enables you to read the entire book on a computer or tablet.

If you invest in a textbook, make sure you use it as leaving it untouched in a bag or on a shelf will not help you. It's not necessary to read it from cover to cover but it can be useful to dip in and out of a textbook to find information on a topic you need help with or highlight key points or quotes. You may also like to write down some brief notes to help you to plan the content and structure of a written response to an exam question as this type of active revision will help you to learn and improve your skills.

Smiling lady sitting at desk and looking at a laptop

9) Investigate Online Resources

If you prefer technology over textbooks, there are numerous online resources available, such as BBC Bitesize. Your teachers might also be able to provide a list of suggestions or GCSE Exam revision websites and resources which are relevant to the exam board you are studying.

10) Be Creative

If you hate writing endless notes, try some alternative visual and auditory revision techniques, such as creating mind maps, dictating / recording your notes on video or meeting up with a friend and teaching each other certain topics.

How can English Home Studies help?

I'm a private tutor (and former teacher) with over 20 years of teaching experience, providing online English tuition to students from Year 5 -Year 11.

Firstly, I provide personalised, 1:1 tuition sessions on a weekly or fortnightly basis. However, I am often fully booked by mid September so, if you are interested in tuition to help with GCSE exam preparation, please contact me as soon as possible.

Secondly, if you are interested in English or looking for advice and resources to help you with GCSE English, you might like to visit the English Home Studies Facebook page and / or join one or both of my GCSE English Facebook groups:

Finally, I'm familiar with all exam boards (but specialise in AQA) and, as I'm often fully booked for GCSE English tuition, I decided to create some digital and printable guides to help students with their exam preparation:

Student Strategies for GCSE AQA English Language - Paper 2 ebook

The last thing you need to know about GCSE English Revision the importance of being prepared!

It's going to take time to learn and understand the plot, characters, themes and context of a Shakespearean play, a 19th century novel, post 1919 prose or drama... and a whole heap of poetry! PLUS you also have to remember the definition and effect of literary techniques, learn and practise the skills required for commenting on a writer's craft, demonstrate these skills in your own writing...and so much more!

To ensure that you achieve the marks you are capable of, you should:

  • Give yourself plenty of time.

  • Create and use a revision timetable.

  • Start by revising your weaker subjects / topics first

  • Organise your revision into manageable topics and only study for a maximum of 45 minutes before taking a break. This will help you to remember what you have learned, reduce stress and prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.

To summarise, DO NOT leave your revision until the last minute in the hope that watching a couple of YouTube videos or a film version of "Romeo and Juliet" or "A Christmas Carol" the night before the exam will be enough to help you to pass.

To find out more about what WILL help you and how English Home Studies can prepare you for the GCSE English Exams, please contact me.

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