The English Language exam often involves a piece of creative writing.
As part of this, the AQA exam board specifically provides a picture for students to write about.
Thinking of ideas to write on, knowing where to start and finding ways to incorporate different techniques can be challenging.
Here are a few methods that can help…
Assuming you have an image to base your writing on, try dividing it into say, quarters. If you don’t have an image, you can still follow this method.
Now list words that spring to mind. They could be anything; based on what you can see, what you can’t see, the senses, what you feel, and so on. If you have an image that you have divided into sections, annotate each section with words to ensure you do not miss any important details.
There are a few elements that make a good piece of creative writing. Now that you have a list of various words (and perhaps phrases too), highlight, in different colours the ones that relate to the following:
• Setting – have you got some words that indicate the time and place?
• Register – what words describe the look and feel of the overall setting?
• Starting point – highlight words that give you a start for your creative piece.
• Where to next? After you have started your writing, what will you write about next?
• Linguistic devices – do you have words that enable you to demonstrate techniques like personification, metaphors, similes, alliteration and so on?
• Sensory descriptions – have you used all five senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch)?
This will help you decide quickly whether any sections need more words.
Now that you have a plan (that should take you no more than 10 minutes), you can start writing. You should know where to start, and what should follow. By this point you will have gained enough momentum to keep your writing flowing.
What makes a good story? Here are some ideas:
• Believable and interesting characters
• Vivid descriptions
• Different types of sentence (for a varied pace)
• Interesting language
They are all designed to interest the reader. Writing with a 360 degree view means that your reader should not simply have a sense of what is in front of them, be it a picture or an imaginary scene. They should know what is happening all around. They should have more information than just what they can see – they should feel something.
At present, GCSE English Literature exams does not allow students to take their textbooks in with them. The AQA exam board requires them to have learned the following:
• A Shakespearean play
• A 19th century novel
• A modern text
• 15 poems belonging to the anthology of Power & Conflict or Love & Relationships
That’s 18 texts – and other examination boards have similar requirements. Students are expected to have an in-depth understanding of each, be able to analyse them and remember quotations. This raises the question, is the exam a test of skills or memory (or both)? And which should it be?
Granted, being able to memorise can be a skill-for-life. For instance, doctors need to be able to think on their feet and recall information, often with no time to check a textbook. Surely, though, this skill doesn’t need to fall on subjects like English. It leads me back to my original question – is the English Literature exam a test of memory or skills?
In my view, it is both. As a teacher, however, I often see how the pressure to remember everything overshadows the time invested in understanding texts and practising analysis skills.
I’m sure that the thinking behind the decision for the exam to be closed book stems from the idea that it makes it easier for students. Or perhaps there is the idea that they could cheat. But would making the exam easier be a bad thing? After all, it would be making it easier for good reason – the pressure to remember would be alleviated, without compromising on the application of skills and understanding of texts. And, if there is the belief that it could lead to cheating in exams, I ask – how?
Even if students brings an annotated book into an exam, they can’t cheat. They won’t know what the question is, for a start. And they still need to know the book, cover to cover, to know where to look and what to reference. Yes, they may have notes about the writer’s methods but they will still need to analyse this in the context of the question.
In addition, there are questions on unseen poetry and on set texts, that dictate which extract students must place their initial focus on. My opinion is that the exam should allow students to bring their texts in with them. What’s yours?
On the 15th April 1755, Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was published for the first time. His book, which he complied with the help of six assistants, took eight years to compile. Listing 40,000 words, each of which was defined in detail, it was the most comprehensive to date.
Johnson was accused of being something of a snob. He frequently chose to use words in his book which the majority of the British population would never use and could never understand (such as ‘deosculation’). He also famously managed to offend the population of Scotland when he defined the word Oats as ‘A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.’
Despite his ability to offend and annoy, Samuel Johnson was widely respected for his academic achievement, and his dictionary was extremely popular. But what of the dictionary today? In a world of digital downloads, online dictionaries and spelling and grammar checkers, as well as language learning packages on our computers, tablets and phones, is the future of the paperback dictionary in danger of extinction?
Speaking on the subject, Stephen Bullon, Macmillan Education’s Publisher for Dictionaries, said, “Our research tells us that most people today get their reference information via their computer, tablet, or phone, and the message is clear and unambiguous: the future of the dictionary is digital.” This opinion would certainly reflect the modern drive towards the majority of reading matter. Newspapers, magazines, journals and novels are increasingly being read on digital devices rather than via their traditional paper constructions.
It was in the mid nineteenth century, with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, that the consumer market for dictionaries saw its first major expansion with paper and books becoming more generally affordable and the number of people who could read and write slowly increasing.
However, there have never been many producers of the paperback dictionary in the UK. The most well known being those coming from Oxford and Cambridge Universities and those produced by Collins. Of these, however, there are hundreds of varieties, from children’s illustrated dictionaries to short pocket dictionaries, to the full catalogue of the Oxford English Dictionary which runs into dozens of volumes.
Despite this, sales of paperback dictionaries are currently in steep decline. When talking to The Irish Times, Dr Chris Mulhall, a language lecturer at Waterford Institute of Technology explained, “The depleting value of the paper dictionary goes hand-in-hand with a declining use of the printed word and our growing interaction with technology… But the view of technology as a potential distraction in the classroom offers a lifeline to the future of the pocket-sized paper dictionary so perennially loved and loathed by students in language classes…. They (paper dictionaries) should be viewed as complementary, symbiotic objects in the educational space: one diligently providing a structured picture of language within a networked lexical, semantic and syntactic system, the other hurriedly rushing to offer multiple translations or definitions for our information gaps. Paper dictionaries narrate the value and changes of our past and present. Electronic dictionaries, on the other hand, will define how we see the future. There is a value to both functions.”
Whether Dr Mulhall is correct or not, only time can tell. In a world where knowledge is acquired via an instant trip to Google (as we usually learn on a need-to-know basis rather than via a trip to the library to pick up a book on the subject), where spelling can be checked during the writing process itself, and where our foreign pronunciation can be spoken to us via our computer’s speakers, the continued existence of the physical copy dictionary must be in some doubt. Personally, I really hope not. Dr Samuel Johnson would certainly not approve.
Hopefully you have not left all of your revision to the last minute! But even if you have, these tips should help you.
First things first – relax. You cannot study well or absorb information if you are stressed. It may be last minute, but you are not out of time. And you’d be surprised at how much you can pack into your short-term memory.
Also make sure you take breaks. A common response to last-minute revision is to try and study for as long as possible. But you will remember more if you take regular short breaks and get enough uninterrupted sleep.
This is a tip that I first saw on TES and although it is described as a teacher activity, it is adaptable.
How it works: split topics into 5 minute chunks and make notes. That way you will only focus on the key areas and, get through a lot of information in just 60 minutes.
This leads me to an important tip – don’t sweat the small stuff.
When you are revising close to the exams, you need to prioritise on the major topics or key areas of each topic.
Instead of revising material you already know, try and identify your knowledge gaps and focus on filling them. It makes last minute revision both efficient and effective.
A good way of identifying gaps, is by using a checklist or the contents page of a textbook and ticking everything you feel confident on. That way, you can easily see areas that need more attention.
I love this one. The best way to know any topic is to teach it. And whilst you may not have the time or opportunity to actually teach others a topic, you do have time to write your own exam paper.
In writing an exam paper, you will be forced to think about the topic in-line with the style of questions you will face in the real thing. The most useful part here is writing the mark scheme.
Look at sample material from your exam board and write in their style. This will help you revise topics and improve your exam technique.
A quick, and more importantly an effective way to revise, is by using visual aids like mind maps.
Think about memory tricks and visual aids to avoid trying to remember large chunks of text or lots of terminology.
Recently in TES news, exam board AQA shared some feedback to teachers about what to avoid. What does this mean for students?
Here is what they said.
One of the most useful skills you can develop as a GCSE student, of any subject, is to learn how to mark exam answers.
It is the single-most powerful method to understand what the examiner wants from you.
Most exam boards provide past papers and mark schemes for free, through their websites. Use them.
A great way to learn what the assessment objectives mean, is to do some research. There are many useful YouTube videos that discuss these. You may even find some exemplar work to view – mark it yourself and see if your final grade matches theirs.
Many GCSE exam questions provide guidance on what to include in answers. Despite this, AQA found students struggled with the less structured questions.
Here is an example of a guided question (English Literature):
How does Priestley explore responsibility in ‘An Inspector Calls’?
Here is an example of a less structured question:
Compare the ways poets present ideas about power on ‘Ozymandias’ and one other poem from ‘Power and Conflict’.
Neither of these questions are easy. The first does at least tell us what to write about, though. The second is a lot more open-ended and therefore harder. Approaching them needs to be practiced.
I am going to tweak this one slightly and translate it to: ‘practice past papers’.
Learning the topics is one thing. But understanding an exam question, recalling your learning in its context and writing full-answers in timed conditions, is no mean feat.
The more you practice, the better you will become. If you are starting to time yourself, try and assign yourself 1 minute per mark. So, if a question is worth 20 marks, it should take you no more than 20 minutes to answer. You won’t be able to achieve this a first but, if you practice, you will be surprised at how quickly you improve.
Have you have ever used sayings such as “tongue-tied”, “in a pickle” and “cruel to be kind”? If so, you have quoted Shakespeare. In fact, it’s likely we each cite him every day without even realising it.
Shakespeare also crafted unique words like “hoodwinked” and “bedazzle”, and even created common words by changing nouns to verbs, verbs to adjectives, and so on. But, aside from his immense contribution to the English language, there are many more reasons why his work is still studied today.
Think about some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, such as Romeo and Juliet. It is a classic and tragic love story that we see time and time again. Or how about Macbeth, a good man consumed by ambition, ultimately leading to his downfall – a story of good conquering evil. Shakespeare’s plays have formed a template for many books and movies produced today.
Shakespeare was a master in creating characters rich in personality and traits. They never go out of date, with their various qualities of jealousy, ambition, naivety, power, kindness, nobility – the list goes on.
Shakespeare’s works have strong themes that run through each piece. And again, these themes are still relevant today – love, death, ambition, power, fate, free will, just to name a few.
So Shakespeare’s works are timeless and universal. That also makes them relatable. His plays were written a long time ago, true, but they are based on his view of life as a whole. They are not just reflections of his own life within the confines of his own times.
Of course, social factors did have some influence. The Elizabethan audience, for example, believing in witches, would have gained a lot from Macbeth. These factors were never the main focus of his works, though.
You may question why we study the works of a writer who died over 400 years ago. But if you take into consideration that we quote him everyday and can still relate to his characters, stories and themes, the answer becomes a lot clearer.
There are many ways to learn online. You can participate in online one-to-one lessons, remote classroom sessions, e-learning or a combination of all three.
Since online lessons do not lend themselves to a traditional way of teaching and learning, some people are sceptical about them. And they are entitled to be, because online courses aren’t for everyone. For most, though, it is a convenient and effective way to learn.
That’s a big question and a difficult one to answer because everybody has different learning preferences.
But, as a general guide, online learning should work well if you:
• Are organised, motivated and self-disciplined
• Have the right equipment
• Do not have serious learning difficulties
• Wish to learn a subject that lends itself to the medium. A practical course like hairdressing, for example, may not be suitable.
There is the obvious advantage of being able to work in an environment you are comfortable in without needing to travel. This is great for most learners, regardless of age. However, it is also true that for some, specific learning environments, like a classroom, work better.
Usually online courses allow you to go at your own pace. This presents an advantage for most people but particularly for mature students who may have other commitments. Since online courses have less overheads for course providers, they are often cheaper than face-to-face learning.
Aside from these specific advantages, online learning shares most of the advantages of face-to-face learning. This is because, with classroom software and even video calling software like Skype, you can do things like sharing screens. So viewing work or learning material is not a problem.
Homework can be completed and marked electronically. Since you may need to take your exam by hand, written practice can be carried out during lessons.
So, should I enrol on an online course?
The only real way to know whether it is right for you is to try a few different types of online learning. See whether you find the teaching effective. Discover if you have the discipline to see it through.
One thing, however, is always true. If you can welcome this modern learning method, you will open the doors to a wide range of learning opportunities.
Whether you are an adult learner or a teenager who is juggling multiple subjects, working efficiently and effectively can be challenging.
But it doesn’t have to be. The solution lies in being organised – specifically with your time.
Whether you prefer a handwritten calendar or an electronic one, think about colour coding it.
Perhaps you could assign a different colour for each subject. Or maybe a different colour for different aspects of your life.
This is a great visual method to ascertain whether you are spending enough time on your learning, and helps you dedicate a solid part of your day to it rather than thinking ‘I’ll do that later’ and never quite getting around to it.
Effective learning doesn’t depend on how many hours you put in. It depends on what you do in that time.
So when organising your learning time, don’t simply slot study periods into your diary. List what you will specifically work on during that time. This will not only help you stay on-track but also ensure that you are making steady progress in all areas that need attention.
Don’t forget to schedule in some relaxation too!
Look ahead at your learning schedule and think about what you need to do now, and what can wait until tomorrow (so to speak).
It can be overwhelming when you have a long list of tasks – especially if you feel like all of them had to be completed yesterday. But when you zoom in, you will see that you can divide your list into manageable chunks.
This will help you actually complete your list and is a great strategy if you have a tendency to procrastinate.
We all like the feeling of being successful. So when we find something difficult, we can often be tempted to avoid it. This is the opposite of what you need to do. Think about it: if you spend more time on things you find hard, they will soon become easier.
Tips 1 to 3 feed into this – if you dedicate specific time to the harder topics, and prioritise them over ones you have already mastered, your learning will be more effective.
Some of us work better in the mornings, others at night. Still others find it is easier to work in the afternoon. Find out what your own peak learning time is. It will be when you make the most progress, feel freshest and absorb learning best.
Cramming before an exam is tempting and in principle, it can be effective. But only as long as you choose your study time wisely.
In 2018 the BBC reported that over the last three years the number of children who are being homeschooled in the UK has risen by around 40%. It’s not hard to see why; for parents, ensuring their child’s schooling is top quality is vital, and home schooling is definitely worth consideration as the new school year starts. Whether you’re considering homeschooling for your little ones or terrible teens, choosing to self-teach offers the perfect method for many parents who seek a more hands-on approach in their children’s education. In the UK, as a parent you must ensure your child receives a full-time education from the age of 5, moving through Key Stages 1-3 and on to GCSE and potentially A-Level education.
So is homeschooling right for you? Whatever the age or abilities of your child(ren), learning from home presents many benefits. Let’s look at a few of these advantages, which may help you decide.
Two of the main reasons influencing UK parents’ decision to choose homeschooling include protecting their children’s mental health and the ability to avoid exclusion. Being in a large classroom environment can present a number of challenges for children, including exposure to bullies, feelings of inadequacy from being around superior-performing peers and being singled out for being ‘different’ from other children. Many children may feel as if they simply don’t ‘fit in’. Home schooling offers a solution to avoid these situations and protect your children’s mental health and wellbeing.
The chance to learn one-to-one rather than one-to-many offers many children the chance to feel fully involved and immersed in their own learning. This increases their chances of remaining engaged and interested in their studies. This also allows you, as a parent, to build a stronger bond with your child; to be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses and work with them on these. It is attention that they may not get in a large classroom environment.
Homeschooling allows your child to proceed through their education at their own pace rather than that of scheduled class. Every child is unique, with their own abilities, and these abilities may vary from subject to subject. If your child needs more help with Mathematics and less so with English, you can adjust their learning schedule accordingly.
This means more healthy sleeping patterns and time to study – you have the time to flex your child’s learning timetable around your lifestyle and circumstances. You can take holidays when you want, too. A definite win-win.
Homeschooling offers many benefits over more traditional school classroom study. It’s worth weighing up the pros and cons of both options before making a decision to homeschool of course, and there are plenty of resources to do this, including the UK Government’s website, which can provide further advice.
Essay writing is, for many people, a difficult skill to master. For some of us, in fact, the problems begin almost before we’ve even started. With this in mind, I would like to offer my own top five tips to get you past that first line.
1. Do some reading around your topic in advance of starting
It is better to use few texts well than lots of texts badly. Make notes if it helps you but what matters most is that you digest the information, so that you can build on it in your essay. To write a good essay you need to feel confident enough about your topic to write out a paragraph without stopping to look something up. An essay will always read better if it has been written in a linear manner.
2. Begin by thinking about the end point
By this I mean think carefully about what your conclusion is going to be. What is your overall viewpoint? An essay is a chance to put forward a balanced argument for a view you have on a certain topic. Your essay will be more enjoyable to write if you are arguing for a view that you truly believe in.
3. Plan your introduction
What are the key concepts that the reader will need to know about to understand your essay? The introduction is your chance to capture your reader’s attention, so keep it snappy and to the point. Any topic can be interesting if it is well written about. If you just want to scribble down some key words and come back to it later that is fine.
4. Plan the sections in the main body of the essay
Sit down somewhere cosy and quiet and get the main body planned in one sitting. Libraries are free to use and can provide an ideal workspace away from distractions. You know the key concepts you would like to include and you know your concluding viewpoint. Move on from one point to the next, thinking about how they interact with each other. Each paragraph and sentence should connect to the one before and after.
5. Get someone who has little to no prior knowledge of the topic to read through your plan
Your essay should make sense to whomever wanted to read it, not just your teacher who already knows lots about the topic. Ask them a few questions about the topic or the view you’re discussing in your essay to see if it’s coming across in the way that you want it to.
BONUS TIP: Do your bibliography as you go along! The feeling of relief when you finish an essay can be ruined when you realise you need to write out a whole bibliography. It will take a lot less time to do if you constantly add in texts as you use them, because you won’t spend so much time trying to find lost details! Make sure you have a guide you find easy to use when writing out the references. There is an abundance of these to be found online, so you have plenty of choice!