Starting English A-level

English

English subjects (Literature, Language, Language and Literature) are the 2nd most popular at A level. In 2017, 48,697 students sat English Literature A-level exams alone, with  99.2% passing and 8.7% achieving an A*.

TSR offers masses of help for English students. You can ask any question about the subject in our English forum and can find over 9,000 flashcards, quizzes, mindmaps and other A-level English resources.

If you want to compare the English subjects, you can also find out what students had to say about A-level English language.

Here’s what some TSR users said about starting their A-level English literature course.

What did you do in the first few weeks?

During the first weeks we were introduced to the books we were studying and we read them. We also had discussions that would become very heated. With English almost anything goes, there's no right or wrong answers.

- Ask-questions

We did some general activities, getting to know the way t our teacher taught and what was expected from us. We also went straight in to looking at some of the simpler poems we were studying, so it wasn't particularly a baptism of fire, we were actually eased in quite gently.

- HeyImKate

Our main tutor (we had two for the course) gave us a general introduction in which we found out which texts we would be studying and started to read Tess of the d'Urbervilles with one tutor and Othello with the other.
CatusStarbright

Our first few weeks were spent acting out our first text (A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams), fathoming out what was meant by ‘Dystopia’ for another text (1984 by George Orwell), and getting to grips with the demands of the course. The teacher also asked us each about our favourite fictional characters, authors, and books.

- SteamboatMickey

What was the hardest thing about the step up to A-level?

English literature was definitely a step up from GCSE. Analysis became even more of a focus, so developing my analytic skills was the biggest step up.

- Michiyo

It's like you no longer read for fun. Instead you're searching for awe-inspiring quotes and sophisticated language and literary devices. This can get a bit tedious.

- Ask-questions

I'd say how technically accurate you have to be. English Lit at GCSE, for me, was just about pointing out meanings and inferring things from texts, but A level is completely different. Instead of just picking out meanings, we had to look at specific devices the author used to create them, and believe me, there are a lot of devices and techniques you have to learn!

- HeyImKate

The step up wasn't massive but gradual. Over the year you find yourself developing analysis and essay-writing skills without really noticing. The main difference was having to learn more about the context as it was important to not just look at historical context, but also know a little about the author themselves and the literary genre where the text fits.

- CatusStarbright

The hardest thing about English Literature at A Level as opposed to GCSE study was the detail and confidence you need. No longer can you get away with a generic “Curley’s wife wears red lipstick, which signifies danger”. At A level you need lengthy explanations, context and the views of literary critics, and that can be difficult to grasp at first. I know many, many people in my class struggled to adjust. You also must develop a fluid expression, and put in the extra effort to read that bit more, research that little bit more, to really get the high grades!

- SteamboatMickey

What surprised you most about this A-level?

English literature was definitely a step up from GCSE. Analysis became even more of a focus, so developing my analytic skills was the biggest step up.

- Michiyo

I'd say how technically accurate you have to be. English lit at GCSE, for me, was just about pointing out meanings and inferring things from texts, but this is completely different at A level. It was hard for me to stop just picking out meanings, instead expanding on them by looking at specific devices that the author has used to create them, and believe me, there are a lot of devices and techniques that you have to learn!

- HeyImKate

The step up wasn't massive, but more gradual. Over the year(s), you find yourself developing your analysis skills and your essay-writing skills without really noticing. The main difference was having to learn more about the context, as it was important to not just look at historical context, but also know a little about the author themselves and the literary genre into which the text fits.

- CatusStarbright

I think how rewarding the subject can be was really surprising. I feel like I’m more cultured, more literary aware and more well-rounded from studying the subject. I’m more critical and I’ve developed a bigger appreciation for literature.

- SteamboatMickey

What advice would you give to someone starting English A-level in September?

My advice would be to read as much as you can for fun during the summer holidays. It can also help improve your vocabulary. Closer to term time, I suggest having a look at some mark schemes especially since you'll be doing the new specifications.

- Ask-questions

MAKE GOOD NOTES. This is especially important now that it’s a two year course as we had little time to revisit the texts we studied in first year, so detailed notes been my saviour this year.

- HeyImKate

Ask for help if you need it as its very challenging (as I have found out being a grade C student!)

- Pedrex

Read your texts. Not summaries on TSR and other study sites, not the notes from your friend and not the revision guide a few weeks before the exam in your local library. Read your texts as soon as you can (the earlier the better), reread them twice or three times if you can. So many people don’t do this, and though I admittedly only read the texts once, I regret not re-reading them later on in my A-Level career.

- SteamboatMickey

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