A-Level English Literature Guide

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A-Level English Literature can be a niche or popular subject – sometimes classes have less than 10 people, sometimes classes are full. Whether you’ve picked it for A-Level or are sitting on the fence, it can be one of the hardest subjects to get right. Think you need some help? This guide is here to help answer all your questions.

In this guide I’ll be discussing whether you should take A-Level English Literature, what the course involves and what the benefits are to taking it. Keep reading to find out more!

Should you take A-Level English Literature?

Personally, I feel that A-Level English Literature is one of the most creative A-Level subjects. If you enjoyed English Literature GCSE, the chances are you’ll also enjoy English Literature A-Level.

I’d only recommended taking English Literature A-Level if you are strongly passionate about it. The workload can be intense, so if you don’t enjoy the subject, you probably won’t enjoy the A-Level course.

Most schools will hold events for future sixth form students to learn more about each subject. From these you find out more about the course the school offers, or you can ask your teachers.

Alternatively, exam board websites usually post their specifications. For example, you can find the OCR specification here.

If you know what you want to pursue beyond A-Levels, you should also consider whether English Literature A-Level is necessary for future careers. This Think Student article has information on the most respected A-Level subjects.

Alternatively, read this Think Student article if you want to read more about A-Level combinations favoured by universities.

However, if you really want to take English Literature, you should choose what you’re interested in — it will make A-Levels in general more enjoyable.

Ultimately, whether you take English Literature A-Level or not is up to you. If you have a passion for the subject or think it could help you in the future, you should definitely consider choosing it.

How hard is A-Level English Literature?

Any A-Level English Literature student will tell you that it’s not an easy A-Level. In fact, this Think Student article has a list of the top 10 hardest A-Levels to take.

However, you shouldn’t let difficulty put you off. If you achieved the GCSE grades required to take the A-Level, you’re good enough to take the subject.

I would say that A-Level English Literature is moderately difficult. What many students, including myself, like about English is that there is technically no “wrong” answer. However, this also means your knowledge has to be on-point.

Still, don’t let difficulty get you down. Your school wouldn’t let you take A-Level English Literature if they thought you couldn’t handle it. Difficulty is also subjective; what other students find hard, you may find easy.

However, if you are a few weeks into the course and you decide it isn’t for you, there will still be time to switch subjects. If you have any concerns, this Think Student article offers advice on how to know if a course is right for you.

Now that we’ve established whether A-Level English Literature is right for you, let’s look at what the A-Level actually involves.

What do you do in A-Level English Literature?

The A-Level English Literature course is different depending on which exam board your sixth form uses. Even so, most of the courses have similar structures or modules.

As I mentioned earlier, if you enjoyed your GCSE English course, you’ll probably like the A-Level course too. Keep reading to find out more about the general structure of A-Level English Literature.

Exam boards provide a list of “set texts”. This means that your school has to choose a text to study from that specific list.

Exactly which texts are chosen is entirely up to your school. Meaning that you might study a different text to someone doing the same course.

What kind of work does A-Level English Literature involve?

The literature you study will cover poetry, prose and drama, and each exam board requires an NEA (non-exam assessment) project as part of the A-Level. Across the course, you’ll be analysing texts in response to questions on specific themes, ideas, characters or events.

The kinds of questions you get can vary. Sometimes, they’ll be a statement which you’ll be asked to agree or disagree with.

As well as this, you’ll be asked open-ended questions like discussing the presentation of a particular feature. This is one of the best things about A-Level English Literature: your opinion matters!

You’ll also have a lot of new and more complex terminology to learn, to help you analyse texts. This can definitely seem daunting when you first start. Although, if English is your favourite subject, then like me, you’ll learn to love it pretty quickly!

Does A-Level English Literature involve a lot of work?

I don’t think I need to tell you that A-Level English Literature is a very essay-based subject. However, this also means that you will have lots of writing to do and you will probably get set essays regularly. Your teachers may even set you an essay every week or two.

Due to this, for English literature, the jump from GCSE to A-Level is pretty noticeable. Especially as you will generally have quite a lot of work to do. If you’re worried that you aren’t prepared enough for it, this Think Student article has tips you’ll find useful.

Like I said earlier, exactly what you do, including how much work, depends on which exam board your school has chosen. Read further to find out more about the different exam boards, and what they offer as part of A-Level English Literature.

What are the exam boards for A-Level English Literature?

All 4 English exam boards – AQA, OCR, Edexcel and Eduqas – offer A-Level English Literature as a subject. Earlier in the guide, I mentioned that each exam board offers different texts and modules.

While your specific texts will depend on your sixth form, the modules are the same for everyone under the exam board. Continue reading for more information.

What is AQA A-Level English Literature like?

AQA, unlike the other exam boards, actually offers 2 different specifications: A and B.

In specification A, there are 3 compulsory modules. These are “Love through the ages”, “Texts in shared contexts”, and “Independent critical study: Texts across time”.

In specification B, there are also 3 compulsory modules. These are “Literary genres”, “Texts and genres”, and “Theory and independence”.

The texts that are part of specification A include one Shakespeare play, one pre-1900 poetry anthology and one pre-1900 prose text in one module. As well as 3 texts (one prose, one poetry and one drama) with at least one text written post-2000 in another module.

The texts that are part of specification B include one Shakespeare play and two pre-1900 texts in one module. As well as one post-2000 prose, one poetry, and one pre-1900 text in another module. As you can see, both specifications feature similar content but divide them differently.

However, this guide can only offer you a brief overview of the A-Level course. You can find the specifications for AQA A-Level English Literature here (specification A) and here (specification B).

What is OCR A-Level English Literature like?

The OCR A-Level English Literature specification is divided into 3 sections. These are “Drama and poetry pre-1900”, “Comparative and contextual study”, and “Literature post-1900”.

The latter section is a coursework module. Some exam boards require coursework as part of A-Level English Literature, but some don’t.

In the first section, you’ll study one Shakespeare play, one pre-1900 drama and one pre-1900 poetry text. In the second section, you’ll choose one theme (from a list provided by the exam board) and two texts, with at least one text from the list provided by OCR.

The third section is a coursework module, which means you don’t sit an exam for it. Instead, you produce an essay over the course which determines a percentage of your final grade. You can find the full OCR A-Level English Literature specification here.

What is Edexcel A-Level English Literature like?

Pearson Edexcel offers 4 components as part of A-Level English Literature. These are “Drama”, “Prose”, “Poetry”, and a coursework module.

As with the components and modules of other exam boards, each module has its own exam (except for coursework). For Edexcel, the “Drama” and “Poetry” exams are 2 hours 15 minutes, and the “Prose” exam is 1 hour 15 minutes.

In “Drama”, students study one Shakespeare play and critical essays related to the play, and one other drama. In “Prose”, students study two prose texts with one text written pre-1900.

In “Poetry”, students study an anthology and a range of poetry from either a specific poet or specific period. The Pearson Edexcel specification is linked here.

What is Eduqas A-Level English Literature like?

The Eduqas English Literature A-Level specification also has 4 components. These are “Poetry”, “Drama”, “Unseen Texts”, and “Prose Study”.

The “Prose Study” component is a coursework module. All 3 Eduqas A-Level English Literature exams are 2 hours long.

In total, you’ll study two selections of poetry (pre-1900 and post-1900), a Shakespeare play, two non-Shakespeare plays (pre-1900 and post-1900), and two prose texts.

Unlike the other exam boards, Eduqas dedicates a whole module to unseen texts, so you can’t directly revise for that. If you want to read the complete specification, you can do so here.

How to do well in A-Level English Literature

Every student knows there’s no set way to do well. There are way too many changing factors to offer you a fool-proof guide to success!

However, there are definitely techniques and processes to help you secure those top grades. Continue reading for my personal advice on how to succeed in A-Level English Literature.

The best advice I received while studying A-Level English Literature is to include your work in your everyday life. This could be as simple as telling your friend about a character you liked. Alternatively, you could use a key quote in a conversation.

These things both count as revision, because it helps you remember important information. For more revision techniques, see this Think Student article.

in A-Level English Literature is to take advantage of peer review. You’ll definitely make mistakes in your work, no one is perfect!

Asking a partner, friend, or family member to read your essay is a great way to pick up on things you miss. This Think Student article has some useful advice for English literature essay writing!

How to write an English literature essay for A-Level?

Sometimes, the exam system can make it feel like you don’t have much self-expression. I know I’ve certainly felt that way.

One of the great things about essays, and English literature, is that you get to voice your own opinion in your own way. I’ll take you through some general tips on what makes a good essay.

The most important thing is to perfect your spelling and grammar as much as possible. One thing I was always told in school was that if your essay is coherent, you’re halfway to a good essay. Obviously, this is harder if English isn’t your first language, but practice makes perfect!

On top of spelling and grammar, you should make your argument as clear as possible. Teachers will often refer to this as “signposting”.

It lets examiners know exactly what you’re going to talk about. It’s also useful if you run out of time, as examiners can see what you were planning to talk about; it shows you had good ideas, you were just limited by time. For tips on how to structure an English essay, check out this Think Student article.

A third, more obvious tip is to keep your assessment objects in mind as much as possible. In your essays, it’s good to mentally check off what criteria you’ve followed. This way you can keep track of the marks you’ve achieved, and the ones you still need.

What can you do with an English literature A-Level?

Being a student who took A-Level English Literature myself, one of my biggest concerns was the pathways available to me afterwards.

English is often talked about as a subject with limited options – but don’t worry! A-Level English Literature is useful for degrees in fields like English, History, Law, Politics, Philosophy and more.

It might surprise you, but English is a subject that a lot of universities and employers like. You don’t have to want to be a writer to find English A-Level useful.

The writing skills you gain are desirable to universities and employers in a range of fields. However, if you’re still uncertain, I’d recommend researching what A-Levels you need to pursue your future degree/job.

For example, if you want to be a vet, midwife, counsellor, nurse, social worker, police officer, pilot or account, you can click on their respective links to see what A-Levels you will need.

Don’t let how useful A-Level English Literature is stop you from taking it if you really want to! The most important thing about A-Levels is that you choose the subjects you like.

From personal experience, I can tell you that if you don’t care about the subject, you won’t enjoy the A-Level. If you think A-Level English Literature is right for you, choose it!

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