English Language is one of those subject areas that can be rather problematic, especially when you are faced with an overwhelming pile of study and not really enough time to fit it all in. Unlike other core subjects there is less of a factual content element and it’s therefore difficult for students to know exactly how to revise it and when to make it a priority.
We’ve all been in the position when time is running out and the only option you have is to cram in as much as you can as fast as you can. But this is where English Language presents an issue. As a skills-based subject it’s fantastic that this is an area of study that it is possible to grow and develop in. However, this can only come with regular practice and a steady, organised approach to preparation. Squashing in facts and hoping for the best in mid May is simply not an option.
So how can GCSE English students best prepare themselves for the English Language exam series? Fortunately there are many things you can do to make sure you are fully exam-ready and raring to go. Here are my top five tips for acing your English Language revision:
1. The English Language GCSE tests a student’s understanding of genre and ability to read, process, synthesise and evaluate language. Therefore, a good starting point is to know your non-fiction text types. Focusing on the common features and techniques used by writers when creating texts is one of the most valuable things you can revise. Not only will it help you to analyse genres in the exam but it will also help you in the writing sections of the papers when you are required to adopt a specific writing style.
2. Know your questions! If you study the sample papers you will see that the exam boards ask very similar questions about the unseen extracts every year. The student revision guides produced for your exam board can also help to guide you through this. Make sure you know what skills are being tested for each question and practise answering them. If there are questions that you find more challenging ask your teacher or tutor to support you with this.
3. Read some fiction. This doesn’t mean you have to read long novels but at the very least read short extracts. You can find these all over the internet and the more you read the more comfortable you will feel about analysing the longer extracts in the reading paper. Try to develop an approach to analysing fiction. As you read, think carefully about how the writer is using language to create setting and characters. Ask yourself how the characters feel and think about how the extract makes the audience feel. Usually the extracts will evoke a sympathetic or empathetic reaction in the audience.
4. Understand how writers use techniques. This doesn’t mean you have to spot features. Understanding techniques is part of your explanation of the effect of language. When you have read the extract and have a good idea of how, for example, the character is presented, you should then think about how the writer has created this impression. This is when you need to consider their techniques. Has the writer used a metaphor or a simile? Direct speech or a semantic field? How does this or that technique help the reader to understand the character further? This takes practice, so dust off your revision guides and get started!
5. Write, write, write! The English Language exam tests your writing ability so the best thing that you can do is to practice this as often as you can! The more you write, the better your skills will become. Write a little bit on a daily basis. You can tackle writing exam questions or just choose a genre and practise writing for a different purpose and audience. Pay attention to how you use punctuation and experiment with your style and use of language. And remember the examiners are not expecting you to be novelists or journalists. They just want to see that you can understand genre, that you can paragraph, that you can use accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar, and most of all that you have ideas!
Jude Vale was a secondary school English teacher and head of department for over 16 years. She is now a freelance writer and runs her own tuition and coaching services company in Bath, Adspiro.