How to revise for GCSE English Language exams: AQA explains what to do

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Exam and revision advice to help you get your target grades in GCSE English Language

When you're revising for your GCSE exams, you want to make the most of your study time.

So, we invited the experts at the AQA exam board to share their tips and advice on preparing for GCSE English Language exams.

The article that follows has been written by an AQA curriculum expert, based on their years of experience in the assessment of their subject.  

You can find more articles in this series, covering a range of subjects at both GCSE and A-level, over on our revision section.

Also on The Student Room, you can find student discussion of 2024 GCSE exams.

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We know there’s a lot to think about as you prepare for your GCSE exams. We have provided this handy top tips revision guide full of great advice and key reminders to support you in the GCSE English Language exams. We’ve deliberately kept it short, so you can pin it up and glance at it when you’re revising.

There are two exam papers and each paper has the same layout each year, so you can use the past papers on our website to help you practise the questions in timed conditions and get used to the format.

  • Paper 1 – Explorations in creative reading and writing. Section A has 4 reading questions about an extract from a story (literary prose fiction text from either the 20th or 21st century) and section B has a choice of two creative writing tasks. The total paper is 1 hour 45 minutes.
  • Paper 2 – Writers' viewpoints and perspectives. Section A has 4 reading questions about two extracts from non-fiction texts on a linked theme. One source will be a 19th century text. Section B has one writing task and you will be asked to present your own views on the topic. The total paper is 1 hour 45 minutes.

The advice below is relevant to both papers:

  1. Read the resource materials carefully and annotate anything you think is interesting in terms of language and structure as you’re reading.  Give yourself time to understand what the texts are about and use the headings to help give a context for the extracts.
  2. Use our AQA approved revision videos!  Our Spotlight videos for GCSE English Language  can be found on our website AQA | GCSE | English Language | Teaching resources  ( the files are named ‘Teaching guide’ but the Spotlight videos within the zip file are aimed at students too and give you lots of top tips and revision advice for these questions)
  3. Write less, but instead think more about the points you’re going to make and how you’ll explain and develop each point. Remember also to leave time at the end to check through and improve your work – don’t worry about crossings out and changes, this means you’ve proof read your work!
  4.  In paper 2, question 5, read the question carefully and think about the audience, form and viewpoint you will adopt. As part of your planning for the writing task, try and write a summary of your argument in a single sentence . Plan your argument and consider how you link paragraphs  and make use of discourse markers (eg ‘to begin with’, ‘later on’ ‘ in addition’ etc ) to help your argument flow and  improve the overall quality of your argument.
  5. For paper 1, question 5, use the image as a springboard into your imagination. What does it make you think of, feel, and how would you react? Imagine you’re looking at the image through a camera lens, what would you focus on and why? Zoom in on small details, or zoom out to capture the big picture. Write something you would enjoy reading.
  6. For the writing section on both papers, you should spend 45 minutes on the questions - 5 minutes planning, and 40 minutes writing your response. It’s really important to use all of the available time when answering these questions as they’re worth 50% of the available marks on each paper.  Make sure what you write is in response to the question.
  7. When you’re answering questions that require some comparison, use connectives such as ‘whereas’ and ‘on the other hand’ to help link ideas and evidence.
  8. For questions 3 and 4 on both papers, there are no right or wrong answers, as long as you can give evidence to support what you say! Remember to choose the best quotes for demonstrating your point.
  9. For the reading questions that ask about ‘use of language’ make sure you select the best examples of language to talk about and think about how the language features create an effect on you and the reader. You need to select examples that you can say some interesting things about what language is doing ( not just telling the examiner what it means) .  
  10. Read the questions carefully and underline key words to help focus your answer. . When a question wants you select evidence and quotations from a certain part of a text, make sure you follow this  (you could even put a box around the lines the questions asks you to focus on to make sure you select from the right bit of the text)  

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