Much has been said about the “new” English Literature GCSE, yet it has left many educators, students, and parents left in the dark. Catherine Campbell our Tuition Client Manager and Qualified Secondary School Teacher takes a closer look at what you should know about the exams.
Long gone are the days of dog-eared student copies of classic texts being taken into GCSE examinations, the text barely visible through the underscoring and highlighting of key passages.
The new English Literature exams, which were first sat in 2017, are linear, closed book, and without a coursework element. This applies to every exam board other than IGSCE’s.
In essence, the English Literature GCSE requires an in-dept knowledge of one 19th century novel; a Shakespearean play; a collection of poems usually late 18th century to modern; and a post-1914 play. For most students, the prospect of memorising passages from works of literature is supremely daunting. Learning lines from Macbeth has led to a past student of mine to declare, ‘But I’m not an actor! Why do I have to know all this by heart!’. I explained that, alas, this was out of my hands and they were more than welcome to lobby for Educational Reform. In the meantime, the new 9-1 GCSEs are staying put and we need know and accept that Lady Macbeth thinks her husband is ‘too full o’the milk of human kindness’.
Pupils will be given an extract from the work in question in the examination. Using this, they are asked to analyse the language, structure, and form of the extract and relate that to the rest of the novel or play. Furthermore, the social and historical context surrounding the works of fiction needs to also be considered.
To put this in context, if the 19th Century novel studied is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, a good example question could be;
“In this extract Mr Darcy and their party are seen for the first time at the assembly-room dance. (Here an excerpt from the novel would be included.) Starting with this extract, write about how Austen presents attitudes towards men.”
Students would then be expected to write an essay that closely focuses on the attitudes of Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley. This is where learning quotations by rote comes in as students will not have access to the whole novel, play, or poetry anthology in the exam.
Whilethis can be done during the later stages of revision, my advice to students is to create a bank of key quotations throughout their study. If students make notes or even flashcards throughout their studies that group quotations by theme, character, and social and historical context, they can build long-term memories. This contrasts with the short-term memories that derive from last-minute cramming which often results in panic and sub-par examination results.
- Students must read the exam texts thoroughly and understand them back-to-front-inside-out.
- Create revision materials from the outset.
- Be active with their revision rather than passive – avoid last minute cramming!
It’s never too early (or too late) to consider extra tuition help when undertaking a new course of study. If your child would like bespoke, one on one tuition, please do not hesitate to contact us.