English language GCSE

There have been a number of changes to the English GCSE over the last few years but now that the first cohort has passed through the new system, the increased demands of the subject are much clearer. This means that revision advice can also be clearer and much more targeted.

Two papers

The new English Language GCSE is 100% examination with no coursework. Now that the coursework element has been removed, you will sit two, separate GCSE exam papers. Make sure you understand which paper is being examined and when, and that you are prepared for the different skills that will be tested depending on which paper you are sitting.

Critical Reading and Comprehension

You will need to be able to identify the themes and ideas that are explored in any given text. And you will also need to be able to make a strong case for your point of view on a particular text and to support that position with relevant evidence from the text. In addition, you must be able to identify biased opinions and the misuse of evidence in order to strengthen that bias.

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These skills will be tested by giving students an unseen text that could be:

  1. A leaflet
  2. A webpage
  3. A biography
  4. A newspaper article
  5. A report

Practising the core skills with unfamiliar short texts, for example a paragraph from lots of different types of text so you can handle the unseen element, will mean you are very well prepared and won’t get rattled in the exam room.

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20% of your marks will come from spelling, punctuation, and grammar (SPAG). In a way, this is the easiest bit of the English GCSE exam to get right and to get great marks in. Again, good readers make good and natural writers. If you have been exposed to a wide range of reading material this will help you out in all sorts of ways. There are a number of great resources online that will help you with SPAG (BBC Bitesize in particular), and a number of revision guides available to buy from bookshops – just make sure the guide follows the relevant exam board.

Again, good readers make good and natural writers. If you’re exposed to a wide range of reading material this will help them out in all sorts of ways.

Top tips

Improve vocabulary – the best way to do this is by reading a great variety of texts – get out of your comfort zone. Students need to be able to infer meaning as they read in an exam situation if they don’t know a word – master this skill with wide reading.

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There are millions of educational apps out there but one worth the money is a good, ad-free dictionary app. Because, after all, you’re probably always on your phone. Similarly, eReaders offer a range of handy features such as the ability to easily look up words in the in-built dictionary function.

Exam technique

Now that the new courses are linear, understanding the exam structure is key to getting a good grade. Making sure you know what to expect from the paper and have developed a strong exam strategy is vital. When you get into the exam hall, you need to get to work straight away and the confidence to do this comes from practice and familiarity.

This is where an English tutor comes in very useful. Tutors are very experienced when it comes to guiding youngsters through exams. Knowing how to answer each question, how long to spend on different sections, and how much to write are all a matter of practice which is why tutoring works particularly well in this respect.

This is where a tutor comes in very useful. Tutors are very experienced when it comes to guiding youngsters through exams.


In summary, knowing what you need to do well in advance means you are giving yourself the best chance to prepare well. Exam revision shouldn’t ever be about last-minute cramming, and should instead be a gentle incline toward the big day. Lots of practice, understanding exam paper technique, and lots of wide reading will help do your absolute best on the day of the exam.

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