Some students think that English is a subject that cannot be revised, so they do not need to include it on their revision timetables, and can instead use the time for fact-heavy subjects such as Maths and Science. However, revision is absolutely key to succeeding in English examinations, and with Sixth Forms and Colleges requiring a Grade Four at the very least (with many asking for Five and Six), students really cannot afford not to be revising for English. Here are a few suggestions about the sorts of things they should be doing with their revision time for English. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a guide to help students get started.
Read the Books!
It may sound incredibly simple, but so many students do not factor in time to read the books they are studying as part of their revision. If you have only read the text once in class with the teacher, when there is a chance you were distracted or it was a hot afternoon in a stuffy classroom and you struggled to stay focused, you are unlikely to know it in sufficient depth. Ideally, students should have their own copy of the text, rather than relying on a class copy. Often teachers are unable to allow class copies to go home, given how many copies never manage to find their way back to school again, resulting in big holes in already over-stretched budgets when they need replacing next year. This makes it really hard for students to do their own revision work at home. Furthermore, they really need to be annotating the text as they go. Reading in preparation for academic work is different to reading for leisure, it needs to be a much more interactive process. The text is the main tool students have in English when they are answering the questions, so it needs to be absolutely central to their revision.
Learning the Quotations
Students will not have the texts with them when they take the examinations, and that is why it is absolutely vital that they have learnt quotations off by heart. This is unlikely to happen unless they set aside time to actually revise them! There are different techniques they can use to revise quotations, for example a lot of students like to use index cards, which they can separate into different themes and characters. Students need to be careful they are not being unrealistic when it comes to learning quotations. They do not need to learn long quotations, in fact often short quotations embedded into the text are more effective. They also need to ensure that they really understand why they are learning a particular quotation. How does it link to the themes/ideas of the text? What does it show about a particular character? Which techniques is the writer using? Quotations are the gateway to analysis, so students need to make sure they are picking quotations that they can actually analyse. If there is nothing interesting to say, then do not use it!
Mind maps about Story/Character/Themes/Techniques
For students who are visual learners, mind maps can be a very effective way to organise their ideas before the examination. They need to think about the types of questions they are likely to be asked in the examination, and the themes and characters in the text they need to explore. For the English Language papers, mind maps could be used to recap writing techniques that they need to include in each style of question.
Practice Answering the Questions
The best way to really prepare for English examinations is to actually practice doing them! I always use the running analogy with my students. If you want to get better at running, you can read books about running, watch YouTube videos, listen to podcasts, but ultimately the only way you will really get better is to get those trainers on and go out running. It is the same with English, the only way to really make an improvement is to answer the questions and get feedback. I frequently offer to mark practice papers for students, and only a tiny number ever actually take me up on this offer!
Students need to become familiar with the style of the questions and make sure they actually understand what they need to do. The English Language papers in particular are often very intense, with multiple questions and strict time limits. They need to understand how they should be dividing up their time between the different sections. They also need to revisit previous essay answers and redraft in order to make improvements. Practice papers are available on the examination board website, plus your child’s school should be able to provide additional material if it is needed.
If you need further help and guidance on how your child can prepare for GCSE English Language and Literature, please do not hesitate to get in touch.