A-Level English Language Guide

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Year 11 is hard. Not only do you have your exams coming up, but you also have to decide what you want to do next. One of your options is to study A-Levels but even this comes with problems of its own. To begin with, you’ll have to pick which A-Levels you want to do. Picking your A-Levels can be a difficult process. After all, you have so many different things to consider. From the subjects you are good at, the ones you enjoy and then there’s also the ones that will help you out in the future.

Picking any A-Level subject can become near impossible if you don’t truly know what is involved in the subject. This is especially true for subjects like A-Level English Language as you may think of it as an extension of what you studied at GCSE. However, it’s not the same.

Continue reading to learn what A-Level English Language is all about. In this article, we will explore how it is different to the GCSE and why it may be an option for you. If you’ve not yet chosen, this article will help you to make your decision.

Can you do English language at A-Level?

There is so much emphasis on GCSE English Language. Not only is it a compulsory subject but it is also normally a requirement along with GCSE Maths to go onto many further education courses, such as A-Levels, or even to get some jobs.

For more information about compulsory GCSE subjects, check out this Think Student article. For more information about the subjects that you need to do A-Levels, look at this article from Think Student.

While there is this emphasis at GCSE, this doesn’t continue to A-Levels. This may make you wonder whether English language is even offered at A-Level.

To put it simply, yes you can study A-Level English Language. However, it is very different to the GCSE.

As an A-Level English Language student myself, I would personally describe it as the linguistic study of the English language. In comparison, GCSE is more about the building up of your core skills in English and your ability to apply these. You can learn more about it in the following section.

What do you do in A-Level English Language?

As mentioned above, A-Level English Language is very different to GCSE English Language. However, as this is such a vague description, you may be wondering what this actually means.

While what you exactly study will depend on which exam board your school or college chooses, for all exam boards with A-Level English Language you will do textual analysis. This will be throughout a range of texts, from transcripts to multimodal texts.

You will also learn about the history of the English language and its different varieties, often including the language of children. For more information about this, check out this article by CIFE. Also, look at this guide by Superprof.

While they will vary, all the A-Level English Language courses are based around the 5 assessment objectives (AOs) that are set by Ofqual. These assessment objectives essentially set a basis of what you need to have learnt and achieved by the end of your qualification.

These AOs are then tested in both your final exams and your non-exam assessment (NEA). The assessment objectives are the same for each exam board. For A-Level English Language, they are as follows:

  • AO1– Students need to apply appropriate levels of language analysis, use the appropriate terminology and write coherently.
  • AO2– Students need to show their critical analytical skills in reference to language issues and concepts.
  • AO3– Students need to analyse and evaluate language use and features in relation to context and the meanings created.
  • AO4– Students need to compare different texts using linguistic analysis and language concepts.
  • AO5– Students need to show a creative and overall good use of English communication.

For more information about these assessment objectives, check out this guide from AQA.

How are you assessed in A-Level English Language?

Like many A-Levels, particularly the humanities subjects, A-Level English Language isn’t only assessed with the typical written exams. Instead, it usually comes as a mixture of coursework also known as a non-exam assessment (NEA) alongside those more typical written exams.

Both the A-Level English Language exams and the NEA will greatly vary based on your exam board. However, they all share some similar aspects, especially as many of the taught topics are roughly the same.

Also, as mentioned above, they are all designed to test you on 5 pieces of criteria known as assessment objectives (AOs). To learn more about these, please refer to the section above.

To learn more about how the main exam boards’ assessments in detail, check out the following headings.

How is AQA A-Level English Language assessed?

AQA A-Level English Language is comprised of 2 exams and a non-exam assessment (NEA). The NEA is worth 20% in total, although it is worth 2 pieces of coursework and so these are 10% each. The 2 exam papers are then worth 40% each.

The first paper is called ‘Language, the Individual and Society’ it lasts 2 hours and 30 minutes and is worth 100 marks. On this paper, students are assessed on variations and representations in texts and children’s language up to the age of 11.

The second paper is ‘Language Diversity and Change’, it is also 2.5 hours and 100 marks. Students are assessed on diversity and change in the English language as well as their writing skills among other things.

On one piece of coursework, students will have to carry out their own language investigation into an area of language of their choice. They will then have to write up a 2000-word report on this.

In the other piece of coursework, students will have to do their own piece of writing based on a similar piece of their choosing. They will then have to write a linguistic commentary comparing these.

To learn more about how AQA A-Level English Language is assessed, check out this page from the AQA website.

How is Edexcel A-Level English Language assessed?

Edexcel A-Level English Language is comprised of 3 exams and a non-exam assessment. The NEA is also worth 20% of the overall qualification, leaving the 3 papers to be worth 20%, 25% and 35%.

The first paper is focused on language variation. It is worth 35% of the qualification and 60 marks. In total, students will have 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete it.

 In section A, individual variation in modern texts is assessed and in section it is variation in different time periods.

The second paper is focused on children’s language and is worth 20% of the qualification. It is 45 marks and only last 1 hour and 15 minutes. Students will only answer one question on this paper.

The third paper is about language investigation and is worth 25%. It lasts 1 hour and 45 minutes and is also 45 marks. It also has a section A and a section B.

The NEA is all about crafting language and so writing skills are mainly being tested.

For their first assignment, students will need to write two pieces in the same genre that are different either due to their purpose or their intended audience. This first piece should be between 2500 and 3000 words.

Their second assignment is to write a commentary on this. This linguistic commentary should be about 1000 words.

To learn more click here to look at the Edexcel A-Level English Language specification that can be found on their website.

How is OCR A-Level English Language assessed?

OCR A-Level English Language is made up of 2 exams and a non-exam assessment. Its structure is more similar to that of AQA with the NEA being worth 20% and the two exams 40% each.

The first paper is about language exploration. It last 2 hours and 30 minutes and is worth 80 marks.

Unlike the previous exam boards, it is split into 3 sections A, B and C. These are all involved with students being assessed on language analysis, textual comparisons and language debates.

The second paper is about linguistic variation. Once again, it is 2 hours and 30 minutes long and is worth 80 marks. It is also split into sections A, B and C.

These sections are each focused on how language is used in specific contexts across time and place. This includes children’s language as well as language in the media.

The OCR A-Level English Language NEA is also split into two tasks. The first task is a language investigation of the student’s choosing. This part in particular will help to develop their research skills.

Their second task is to create an academic poster that clearly presents the research they carried out for their investigation.

To learn more about OCR A-Level English Language, check out this page on the OCR website.

Is A-Level English Language respected?

When considering A-Levels, it can be hard to tell what subjects are more respected than others. This is especially as different people choose their A-Level options with different things in mind.

 However, there are a group of subjects that can be considered more respected than others. These are called facilitating subjects.

Facilitating subjects are subjects that are recommended options for A-Level study if you are considering going to university.

This is because these subjects are very academic and so are often preferred by universities, particularly the most prestigious ones, such as Russel Group universities. They are especially recommended if you aren’t sure what you want to take at university.

There are 10 of these facilitating subjects. They are as follows:

  • English literature
  • History
  • Geography
  • Modern languages
  • Classical languages
  • Mathematics
  • Further Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Biology
  • Chemistry

To learn more about these options and facilitating subjects altogether, check out this guide by Success At School.

A-Level English Language is not a part of this list. This shows that it is not considered one of the most academic and as a result isn’t the most respected A-Level subject.

 Despite this, A-Level English Language is still a core subject that is respected. For more about this, check out this article from Stonebridge College.

Also, A-Level English Language can help you to develop a wide range of highly respected transferable skills for both work and further study. These include analytical skills, critical thinking, research skills and communication skills.

 For more about what you can get from A-Level English Language, check out this article by Oxford Home Schooling.

Is A-Level English Language hard?

As A-Levels are level 3 qualifications, they are a step up from GCSEs, which are level 2 qualifications. How big this step appears will very simply depend on what A-Levels you study. Despite this, it is often a pretty big change.

To learn more about level 2 and level 3 qualifications, you can check out their respective Think Student articles here and here.

Questioning the difficulty of a subject, especially one like A-Level English Language, is bound to be incredibly subjective. This is especially as it will depend on your strengths and how you work best.

Despite this, I would personally say that A-Level English Language is pretty hard as there’s quite a lot of content and you will also have a substantial amount of coursework.

Naturally, A-Level English Language is an essay-based subject. It also deals quite heavily with analysis as well as different theories and researchers. All of this put together can make it quite a frightful set of exams. However, you may find this easier if these are your strengths.

All in all, A-Level English Language is most certainly doable as long as you are properly prepared. The best way to be prepared for it is to revise effectively.

If you want to learn how to best revise for A-Level English Language, check out this Think Student article

Should you take A-Level English Language?

Deciding whether or not you should take an A-Level is going to depend on a range of criteria that you will need to set for yourself. I can’t tell you if you should take it or not. However, you check out the following tips for a bit of guidance for what you need to think about when deciding.

Will you be able to work independently during A-Level English Language?

Regardless of which exam board you get for A-Level English Language, you will have to do some kind of coursework or non-exam assessment (NEA). These pieces of coursework will have to be completed independently.

While you should still be able to get support from your teacher, you will mostly be working on this outside of class. You will also have deadlines to meet, and you will have to juggle it with all the other things you have to do.

If you are someone who thrives in this kind of environment, then doing A-Level English Language will be better suited to you. That’s not to say that you can’t take it otherwise. However, you will need to work on these skills.

Will you enjoy A-Level English Language?

No matter what benefits it may bring to your future, taking subjects you don’t enjoy can truly be a mistake. To begin with, if you don’t like them then you’re less likely to do well in them as you won’t be able to motivate yourself as easily.

This can backfire on you as you may not get the grades you were after, or you may end up simply dropping the subject.

Is English Language one of your strengths?

A-Level English Language is a lot harder than GCSE English Language. If you really struggled in GCSE English Language, it is probably not a good idea to take it at A-Level.

This is because if you are struggling from the start you will end up more stressed during your A-Levels. This could lead to burn out or a range of other negative effects to your mental health. If you want to learn more about burn out, check out this article from BBC Bitesize.

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