Why Study English Literature?
English Literature gives you a basic awareness of looking critically at all sorts of literature - from short poems to long novels. Once you can begin to see how form, vocabulary and imagery are used to enhance the style and effect of the text, you will find you can appreciate the point the author is trying to make better.
The popular AQA A course consists of just one terminal written examination alongside coursework assignments. For the examination, the first questions gets students to compare four poems from towards the rear of the board's Anthology looking at a certain aspect linked to them all, ie danger. Students should draw upon knowledge linguistic devices when attempting to write a critique of the poetry. A similar tactic is required to answer the other question on the paper; which is either about a studied novel or a short story out of the back of the Anthology. For the coursework, a student will have to complete assignments on various novels, and be able to write their own related text, such as a gothic story if one has studied Frankenstein.
Why Study English Language?
English Language, properly English (but often called English Language in schools due to possible confusion with English Literature GCSE), is a compulsory GCSE for all schools within England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its central emphasis on basic literacy and simple textual analysis has gained it a place in the ranking of schools in league tables: now, the tables are based on the proportion of students having 5 good (NQF Level 2, i.e. A*-C) GCSEs including English and Mathematics. It is central subject for the development of essay-writing skills. It does have elements of actual linguistics (as further explored in A-Level English Language) as well as moderate amounts of literary analysis (poetry from different cultures is a requirement in at least one specification, and Shakespeare is a compulsory part of English GCSE, allowing cross-over with English Literature GCSE with which many schools accompany English).
The popular AQA A course covers a broad range of skills. The first paper asks students to analyse an article from the media - usually a newspaper article or an advert; with questions being on the methods that are used to help the text fulfil its purpose. The other half of the paper requires students to write a piece of text whose emphasis is to advise or persuade on or about a certain situation. In the second paper, the first half asks students to analyse two poems from the "clusters" in the board's Anthology, whilst the second half gets students to write a descriptive/explanatory text. An intriguing example of such a question is "Describe your worst nightmare." There are written coursework components, as well as an assessment of the candidates' listening, speaking and interaction abilities. This course is favoured by teachers as it covers a wide range of useful skills. It also overlaps somewhat with the AQA A English Literature course, which enhances progress in both subjects amongst students.
A Level Literature
The study of English Literature at A-Level naturally leads on from GCSE English. The course is 2 years and is examined twice. The entire GCE A-Level is split into two sections, AS and A2. The difference between these varies considerably in terms of the amount of work involved, teaching style, and the level of written work you will be expected to produce. English A-Level would suit anyone with an interest in Literature, however diverse this maybe for you. If you're predicted a B (OCR stipulates a minimum of a grade C at GCSE, but I think to access high marks at A-Level, you should be expecting a B) at GCSE or above, then English Literature A-Level might just be for you.
Read the English Literature at A-Level guide for more details on this subject.
A Level Language
English Language at A-level is less of a direct progression from GCSE English, though the basic foundations for it are there. A-level involves a lot more linguistics, with an important emphasis on analysing grammar to help bring out meaning, as part of textual analysis - an integral part of the A-level. Topics within the A-level can be interesting, including representation (of gender, ethnicity etc.), child development, conversational interaction, and some of the history of English (generally in the A2). There is some creative writing, though not much - usually a piece in AS, often as coursework, and a piece at A2 normally in the exam. The A2 offers you the chance to investigate language through fairly in-depth analysis of a topic of your choice.
Read the English Language A Level guide for more details on this subject.
A Level Literature and Language
As with all IB subjects, English can be taken at HL or SL. Students must also choose between A1, A2 and B.
English A1: The course consists of the study of a wide range of works from different genres. It is divided into four parts: Part 1 is World Literature Part 2 is Detailed Study Part 3 is Focus on a specific Genre Part 4 is School's Free Choice.
Part 1 - World Literature The World Literature section is the study of works originally written in a language other than English, with a unifying theme. HL students must write two World Literature essays: one as a comparative work between two or more of the World Literature texts, the other based solely on one of the texts. SL students write a comparative World Literature essay only. World Literature essay[s] count for 20% of the final grade.
Part 2 - Detailed Study Detailed Study works can be from any genre of literature. They are assessed by an taped oral commentary of about 15 minutes in length. The student is presented with an extract from one of the works in Part 2 and is given 20 minutes to prepare. The oral commentary is worth 15% of the final grade.
Part 3 - Focus on a specific genre This is a group of texts from one genre: Drama, Poetry, Prose: Novel and Short Story, Prose: Other than the Novel and Short Story. This is assessed in the Final IB exams. On Paper 2, students must answer one essay question: either from the genre they have been studying or from the General Literature questions. SL students have 1 hour 30 minutes to complete the essay, HL students have 2 hours. This is worth 25% of the final grade.
Part 4 - School's Free Choice As suggested by the title, this is a group of works selected by the school [or more likely your teacher]. It is assessed by an oral presentation on one of the works, worth 15% of the final grade.
On top of each of these assessments, in the Final IB exams students must also complete a written commentary on either an unseen prose extract or an unseen poem. SL students will get guiding questions with the extract, HL students do not. SL students have 1 hour 30 minutess to complete the commentary, HL students have 2 hours. This paper is worth 25% of the final grade.
Scottish Standard Grade
This course is for students achieving a 1 or 2 in Standard Grade or an Int 2 A or B, it is typically taken in S5 but can be taken in S6 for those achieving Int 2 in S5. It is split into 3 units which are all accessed as NABs (tests to show level C competence) - these include a personal study, textual analysis and close reading. These NABs are either passed or failed and each need to be passed in order to take the final exam.
The reading and writing components of Standard Grade are expanded on in Higher but the talking component is completely dismissed. The final exam counts for 100% of your grade, it is split into 2 parts - close reading and critical essays both worth 50 marks each.
Close reading - 2 unseen passages are given with a common theme with a several questions on each passage before the final few which are comparing the two. Time given was 1 hour and 30 minutes but from 2009 onwards, it will now be 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Critical essays - Students have to prepare a number of pieces before the exam (normally 3-6) which they should have memorized key quotations from and know how to analyse them - in the exam, NO texts or notes are allowed. A question booklet which is split into different sections (Drama, Non-Fiction, Fiction, Poetry, Film/TV Drama and Language) is given and students have to pick 2 questions to answer, each from a different section, on their chosen texts and as relevancy to the question is needed to pass more than 2 texts need to be prepared fully. Each essay is marked out of 25 (although only in odd values) but each criterion needs to be fulfilled to get even 7 marks eg even if your essay is well analysed with key quotations but you have too many spelling errors, your essay could be brought down from 17 or 19, right down to 7. Time given to complete both essays is 1 hour and 30 minutes, ideally split into 45 minutes to plan and write each essay.
English degree courses vary widely from university to university. You need to consider whether you want to study English Literature, English Language, some other aspect of English or a combination of these.
These should reflect your true interests and although it is necessary to show a passion for reading when it comes to English Literature it's important not to simply list books or writers, but make it clear why you like certain areas or genres in literature.
SWOT Revision - Revision guide for GCSE English Language and Literature. Also has GCSE History & German and A-Level Physics, Chemistry & Business.
English Biz - Revision guides, tips and tricks for A-level English Language, English Literature and Media Studies.
GCSE Bitesize English - Notes on GCSE English Language and English Literature.
IGCSE English Language & Literature - Syllabuses, past papers, specimen papers and examiner reports.
- University lectures for A-Level students (external website) - TheEnglishFaculty