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Since the summer of 2013, GCSE examinations have moved away from coursework and classwork based assessments, in favour of exams that are sat at the end of most two-year courses. January and March examinations have also been removed.  We want to provide you with information to help support your child at home.

The basics


All students will be entered for three English qualifications in 2017.  All are AQA qualifications.

  1. English Language GCSE (AQA Specification 8700)
  2. Spoken Language Endorsement (AQA Specification 8700)
  3. English Literature GCSE (AQA Specification 8702)

These three qualifications are designed to work together, giving students the opportunity to develop a wider range of knowledge and skills.


The new system does is currently untiered.  Questions on the papers get harder so students work their way through accessing the harder skills at the end of the paper.  This means the exams are written for all students to access.


English is a linear course which means the exams all come at the end of the course.  There are only re-sit opportunities in November and June during year 12 in English Language.


The new GCSE uses numbers 1-9 in order to identify levels of performance.  9 is considered the top level and 5 the higher pass mark (although in the next two years some schools and colleges will accept a grade 4).  If a student’s performance is below a 1 they will gain a U (ungraded).

English Language

This is an exam only qualification.  All exams are closed book, which means that students are not allowed to take in any pre prepared material with them.  All texts in these exams are unseen.

There are two exam papers:

Paper 1 – Explorations in creative reading and writing

This paper is based on fictional texts.  There is a reading and a writing section and students are required to be able to interpret and then create fictional texts.  The texts may include extracts from novels and short stories and will be chosen from the 20th or 21st Century.  The focus for this exam is being able to understand then create atmospheric descriptions and narrative perspectives.

How can you help your child prepare for this exam?

You need to get reading at home.  There are links at the end of this information you can use but essentially asking students to read as much as possible.  If this is more difficult, then enjoy talking about stories together, even from film scenes or sequences.  Ask your child questions about characters, their motives and authorial perspective. The more stories they encounter, the more imaginative they will be.

Paper 2 – Writers’ viewpoints and perspectives

This paper is based on non-fictional texts.  Again, there is a reading and a writing section.  This time students will get a 19th Century non-fiction text which they will be required to compare to a 20th or 21st century non-fiction text.  The kinds of texts they will encounter include, journalism, articles, reports, essays, travel writing, accounts, letters, diaries, autobiography and biographical passages or other appropriate non-fiction forms.  Section B (the writing section) will have a single task related to the theme of Section A (the reading section).

How can you help your child prepare for this exam?

As above, reading is the key to success.  Experiencing as many different texts as possible will allow students to engage with the style, tone and organisational features as well as understanding the meaning.  In school we are trying to give students opportunities to experience 19th century texts.  We would like you to help us build resilience in our young people.  They will encounter vocabulary or style that they are not used to in these older texts so they need to be able to ask questions, think of contexts for decoding language etc.  Get them to read articles, online or in newspapers, and talk about opinions, statements and personal response.

Spoken Language Endorsement

This is the only element of English which is non-examined.  The aim of the assessment is to allow students to demonstrate their speaking and listening skills by:

  • giving a presentation in a formal context
  • responding appropriately to questions and to feedback, asking questions themselves to elicit clarification
  • using spoken Standard English

Students complete this element of the course at the end of Year 10.  They were allowed to choose their own topic.  This qualification provides them with a pass, merit or distinction grade.  This element needs to be passed in order to qualify in English Language.


English Literature

This is an exam only qualification.  All exams are closed book, which means that students are not allowed to take in any texts with them.  There will be some extracts printed in the exam papers but essentially students need to know their texts very well in order to meet the requirements of the exams.

Paper 1: Shakespeare and the 19th century novel

All students in have studied ‘Macbeth’ as their Shakespeare play.  In Section A, they will be asked a question on an extract from the play then they will have to link the extract to the play as a whole.  For example, ‘How is Macbeth presented as tyrannical in this extract…and then in the play as a whole’.  In Section B, students will have the same kind of question but for their 19th Century novel – either ‘Jekyll and Hyde’, ‘Christmas Carol’ or ‘Frankenstein’.

Paper 2: Modern texts and poetry

In Section A, students will have studied either ‘An Inspector Calls’, ‘Lord of the Flies’ or ‘Blood Brothers’.  This time they are given a choice of two questions from which they will answer one.  The questions will all be linked to characters or themes in the text. For example, ‘Explore how responsibility is presented in ‘An Inspector Calls’’.  In Section B, students will answer one comparative question on poems from their anthology.  They will have studied 15 poems from either the Power and Conflict, or Love and Relationships Cluster. In Section C they will have two unseen poems to write about.

How can you help prepare your child at home?

We have copies of all of the texts and revision guides in school.  There are also lots of online resources available, some of which I have detailed links of below.  Please ask your son/ daughter questions about their texts like:

  • What happens in the story
  • How does the plot develop?
  • Which characters are in the story?
  • How are they important to the story?
  • Which themes can you describe?
  • What is the author’s purpose in writing this story?

Ensure they are keeping up with homework as teachers will put revision activities on Show My Homework all of the time.  If you are concerned about your child not engaging with work at home then please speak to their teacher or tutor at school.

General revision for English

Efficient and well-structured revision is the most important preparation your child can do in order to ensure their success in GCSE examinations. It is important that you work with your child to assess their academic weaknesses and strengths in order to carry out these revision sessions effectively.

In order to organise productive revision sessions which cater to your child’s specific academic needs, it is helpful if you can ascertain your child’s preferred learning style. It has been scientifically proven that there are seven different learning styles, listed as follows;

  • Visual (spatial): the use of pictures or images to remember and recall information,
  • Aural (auditory-musical): the use of sound and music to remember and recall information,
  • Verbal (linguistic): the use of words, both in speech and writing, to understand and impart information,
  • Physical (kinaesthetic): the use of physical actions to assimilate information, for example- associating facts or figures with body or hand gestures,
  • Logical (mathematical): the preferred use of logic, reasoning and systems to assimilate information,
  • Social (interpersonal): working best in groups or with other people,
  • Solitary (intrapersonal): preferring to work alone and use self-study.

As a result, it is important that you introduce your child to a diverse range of revision practices in order to ascertain which method is most effective for them at retaining knowledge. Popular revision techniques include; mind mapping; flash cards; making notes; drawing flow charts and diagrams. You could instruct your child on how to turn diagrams and pictures into words, and words into diagrams. Try as many different methods as possible to see which is most successful for your child’s learning style.

After revising a topic, it is crucial that you test your child to see whether their learning style has worked. There are a plethora of valuable online functions, such as past paper archives and revision tools and resources, which you can access in order to test your child’s knowledge. By doing so you can help to consolidate their confidence in their own academic abilities.

When creating a revision timetable, it is fundamental that you prioritise topics which your child finds difficult. By visiting the examination board websites for each GCSE subject, you and your child can access curricula, marking schemes and example answers from previous exam years, complete with the original examiner’s annotations and marks. By doing so, you can create an efficient revision timetable which actively targets problematic subjects and allocates time towards developing a comprehensive understanding of these topics.

Online links you may find useful

Key dates

Mock exams in TDA for Year 11

14th-25th November

27th Feb – 10th March

External exam dates for English

English Language Paper 1 – 6th June 2017

English Language Paper 2 – 12th June 2017

English Literature Paper 1 – 22nd May 2017

English Literature Paper 2 – 26th May 2017