GCSE English Language: A Students Guide

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English language is one of the most essential GCSEs to pass. You need to have passed GCSE English Language in order to be employed. This is also true regarding maths. However, passing this GCSE is not easy by any means. It is extremely hard to prepare for and it is unlikely that you will recognise the texts you will be presented with during your exam.

However, don’t lose hope! If you familiarise yourself with the exam questions and make sure that you know key terms, passing this exam should be a walk in the park.

If you are unsure what GCSE English Language is or want to familiarise yourself with the exam structure, carry on reading! Hopefully, your questions will be answered.

How many GCSE English Language papers are there?

Most people know that students should receive two different English GCSE qualifications when they sit their exams. One GCSE will be for English language and the other for GCSE English Literature.

You can find more information about GCSE English qualifications on Think Student, if you click here.

This fact makes students think that they only sit one paper for each qualification. However, this is not the case! Each student has to sit two GCSE English Language papers and two GCSE English Literature papers.

This is true if they are with the exam boards, AQA, Edexcel or OCR. Each paper then accounts for 50% of the English language GCSE in the AQA and OCR exam boards.

However, for Edexcel, paper 1 is only 40% of the GCSE and paper 2 is 60%. More information about this can be found on the Edexcel specification if you click here.

Logically, these two papers are called paper one and paper two. They focus on different elements of English language. Different exam boards contain different types of questions in the papers.

However, they all assess the same skills. Both of these papers must be sat in order to calculate an overall grade.

If students miss an exam, this will complicate matters and how their grade is calculated will depend on the reason they missed it. More information about missing exams can be found on this Think Student article, if you click here.

What does GCSE English Language paper 1 consist of?

Different exam board’s structure English language paper one differently.

The AQA GCSE English Language paper 1 is called ‘An exploration in creative reading and writing’. It is split into section A and section B. Section A involves reading a fiction text and you will have to answer questions related to this. This section is worth 40 marks.

There will be a short comprehension question, a question on language, a question on structure and then an evaluation question.

Section B is very different. You will have to write your own creative text. There will be a prompt given to help you, for example a picture. You will then have to write a description or story about this.

This section is also worth 40 marks. You are given one hour and forty five minutes to complete the whole paper. Click this link to read the full AQA GCSE English Language specification on their website.

The OCR GCSE English Language paper 1 is slightly different. It is called ‘Communicating information and ideas’. This paper is also split into two sections.

Section A provides you with two non-fiction texts, which you must compare. You will then be asked questions about language and structure, regarding the two texts.

In section B, you will need to write a non-fiction creative writing piece. Both sections are also worth 40 marks each and you are given two hours to complete the whole paper. Click here to read the full OCR GCSE English Language specification on their website.

For Edexcel, paper 1 is called ‘Fiction and imaginative writing’.  You will be given a fiction text in section A. You will then be asked questions on this text regarding language and structure. This is worth 24 marks.

Finally, in section B, you have to construct a creative writing piece. This section is worth 40 marks and you are given one hour and forty five minutes to complete the paper. You can check out the full Edexcel specification on their website if you click here.

What does GCSE English Language paper 2 consist of?

Again, the content in paper 2 differs depending on different exam boards. For the AQA exam board, paper 2 is called ‘Writers’ viewpoints and perspectives’. In section A, you will be given two non-fiction texts, which you must compare when answering the questions that follow.

Section B requires you to create your own writing piece again. However, this time it is non-fiction. Therefore, you could be asked to write texts, such as a letter or speech.

Each section is worth 40 marks. You are given one hour and forty five minutes to complete the whole paper.

For OCR, paper 2 is called ‘Exploring effects and impact’. If you sit this paper, you will be given two fiction texts to compare in section A. You will be given language and structure questions. You will also have to answer an evaluation question.

In section B, you must write an original piece of fiction. Each section is worth 40 marks and you are given two hours to complete this paper.

Edexcel paper 2 is called ‘Non-fiction and transactional writing’. You will be given non-fiction texts to compare in section A. Some questions will ask you about the texts individually and others will ask you to compare and contrast the two texts.

In section B, you have another creative writing task. This is non-fiction. Therefore, you may have to write a speech, a letter or an article. You are given two hours and five minutes to complete this whole paper.

You will be given this much time because the Edexcel exam board has paper 2 account for 60% of your overall GCSE English Language grade.

To learn more about these, you can click on the links with their respective exam boards: AQA, Edexcel and OCR.

How do you write an essay in GCSE English Language paper 1 and paper 2?

Writing an essay for GCSE English Language paper one and two is pretty simple. The hardest part is identifying interesting techniques in the text.

If you are answering the question involving language, read through the text or texts given and highlight words which seem interesting. You can then create overall ideas about the text and use these as points to structure your paragraphs.

For example, if it was a text about a storm and it was described to be ‘blinding’, I would highlight this adjective. I could write how this adjective suggests that the storm was so bright, the people couldn’t see. It implies that the people who saw it were physically harmed just from witnessing it.

 An alternative interpretation could be that anyone who was in the presence of the storm didn’t want to see it. Therefore, they pretended to be ‘blinded’, so that they couldn’t see its destruction. Consequently, my point would be that the storm is presented as deadly.

If this was a comparison question, you could then find adjectives in the other text describing the storm, for example, and then contrast the different effects conveyed.

Essays on structure are slightly different. The best tip is to look at the start and end of the text and see if they are linked.

Then look at sentence structures. For example, if it was about a person running away, short sentences may be used to mirror their heart beat.

Once you have found specific techniques for these questions, you can link them together with overall points and create a number of paragraphs.

Remember to write a lot about a little!

The creative writing pieces in section B have no formula in order to be constructed. This question basically asks you to write a story.

Therefore, you can write in any way that you want to! Just make sure that you use literary techniques, such as metaphors and similes.

Structural techniques are also useful too. Try out different sentence lengths. See if you can link the start and end of your story together to create a cyclic structure.

What are some revision tips for GCSE English Language?

The very best way to revise for GCSE English Language is to complete as many past papers as possible. I don’t mean quickly reading past paper questions and rushing to answer them. I also don’t mean sitting there for hours working on a past paper, looking at your phone every five minutes.

To use past papers effectively, you must pretend you are in the real exam. Print off a paper and set a timer for how long you are allowed in the real exam. Ask your family to lower their voices, keep the dog in the garden. Turn off your phone!

Do whatever it takes to sit an exam paper properly. Once you have finished, don’t throw it out!

Ask a teacher to mark it for you. Ask them for feedback, so that you can see where you went wrong and how you can improve. If they can’t mark the paper for you, then go over the paper yourself.

Check for any times you didn’t make sense or find instances where you could have explained the effect of the technique more. If you have completed all of the past papers, find your own texts and answer the same questions using them. Keep testing yourself on key terminology, so that you can easily pick out the names of words and techniques.

For the creative writing parts of the paper, revising is simple. All you need to do is practise writing stories and descriptions. Find random pictures and use them as a prompt to create stories.

For more tips on how to revise, check out this guide by Teach Wire if you click here.

You may think that revising for GCSE English Language isn’t easy. However, you may be doing it without even knowing! Reading is a great way to revise.

Reading broadens your vocabulary, meaning your creative writing pieces could really stand out.

For more revision tips for GCSE English Language, check out this article from Think Student.

Does GCSE English Language have coursework?

Unfortunately, GCSE English Language is completely exam assessed. It did use to involve some coursework. However, this was changed in 2013.

The Department for Education announced that English would be assessed differently in 2013 to become more exam focused. This meant than in 2015, the new teachings for GCSE English language and Literature could begin.

Therefore, the first exams were held in 2017. Click here to visit the Think Smart website for more information on this.

However, you may be asked to perform an oral assessment. This doesn’t contribute to your English language GCSE grade. Instead, it creates a separate grade, where you can achieve a pass, merit or distinction.

If you do this, you may have to perform a spoken presentation in front of some teachers and you could be recorded. They will assess how well you speak and present. Your grade will then be determined by examiners.

If you want to learn more about the oral assessment in GCSE English Language, check out this guide from the AQA website.

Is GCSE English Language hard?

Many students find GCSE English Language hard because they don’t know how to revise for it. However, if you read the revision tips outlined in this article and the ones found on the other links, you should be fine!

Check out this article on Think Student about how to get a 9 in GCSE English Language. Hint: it’s easier than you may think! You can also click on this link to find some great tips on how to revise for GCSE English Language.

GCSE English Language papers are only assessing the things you do every day! If you can read and write adequately, then you’ll be sure to pass. Click here to read the intentions of GCSE English language on the government’s website.

Don’t leave revision to the last minute and make sure that you know key terms for English language. If you do this, then there is nothing stopping you from smashing these exams.

Good luck!

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