If you are a student, revision is probably your worst nightmare, and you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of revision English literature requires. English literature is a tricky subject in that you are expected to understand many texts inside and out. You then have to memorise and apply all of this knowledge within each exam question under a tight time limit.
However, by taking a few simple steps your revision can be successful. Therefore, you will be in a better position to approach the exam questions.
There are many ways to revise for English literature at A-Level. These include making revision cards, using past papers and using revision guides. However, there are some additional ways to boost your revision and hit those higher grades. This may include looking at the assessment objectives on the exam board website.
So, if you are an A-Level English Literature student heading towards your exams, have a read through this article to help you prepare.
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How can you revise for A-Level English Literature?
Before starting to think about how to revise for A-Level English Literature, you should also refresh your memory on how you revised for GCSE English Literature. If you are currently a GCSE student, check out this helpful Think Student article on how to revise for GCSE English Literature.
Many students use the same revision techniques and just adapt them depending on their year of study and subject area. This can be useful, although it may not be enough for your A-Level revision. Check out the following techniques for some useful tips on how best to revise.
Use revision cards to revise for A-Level English Literature
Using revision cards is one of the most popular revision strategies. You can make revision cards to summarise on each chapter, scene, or act in the text or on each character or theme. You can then look through these cards to refresh your memory on the texts you have studied.
Making revision cards can be difficult as it requires you to condense what you have studied. To learn how to make revision cards that will actually work, check out this Think Student article.
Use mind maps to revise for A-Level English Literature
Mind maps can be a helpful tool if you need to link ideas together. For example, you may create a mind map on the different themes presented in the text. You can then make links to different characters that demonstrate these as well as the chapters, scenes or acts they occur in. This can be especially useful in A-Level English Literature as these links will support your close analysis.
If you want to learn how to use mind maps effectively, check out this Think Student article.
Use quizzes to revise for A-Level English Literature
One very helpful revision strategy is to complete quizzes, particularly specific parts of your different texts. This will boost your memory of the events within the texts and what different characters represent or the actions they take. Furthermore, quizzes are more likely to hold your interest, helping your revision to feel less monotonous.
Use past papers to revise for A-Level English Literature
Reviewing other students’ past papers as well as practising writing your own responses to questions are a great way to take your revision to the next level. This is because it sets you up directly for the exams. Your teacher may even be able to mark some of your responses to give you some valuable feedback.
Use videos to revise for A-Level English Literature
When studying English literature, many of the texts will be quite old. Whether this is a positive or negative to you, one good thing about studying such texts is that many of them are available on DVD.
Watching a video version of your texts can really support your understanding of it. However, do not depend entirely on this as it may differ to the text itself.
There are also many revision videos online, with some analysing a range of themes and characters within different texts. If you use resources such as YouTube, you should be able to find a range of videos to help you.
Use school revision sessions to revise for A-Level Literature
Many teachers will organise revision sessions for students as their exams approach. You will need to use these effectively to maximise your personal revision. This can be particularly useful if you are confused about a text or how to approach particular exam questions.
If these are not available, this may be something you can organise with your classmates out of lesson time. Just be careful to make sure these revision sessions are actually spent revising rather than just talking or doing other things.
Use revision guides to revise for A-Level English Literature
Each exam board have their own revision guides containing all relevant and up to date content. For many students these are an essential source for revision so if you are unsure about which revision guide to purchase, make sure to ask your subject teachers.
Some revision guides may be available to purchase through your institution, whilst poetry anthologies for example may be given to you to use within your lessons.
How can you achieve an A* in your A-Level English Literature exams?
You only reap what you sow, meaning you can only achieve an A* if you put the time and effort into your revision. Here are a few tips to help you achieve the top grade:
- Begin revision early – The best way to achieve an A* is to begin your revision early. One way is to create revision cards or notes throughout your two years of study. It is easiest if you do this at the end of each lesson or once a week adding to your notes or cards. This is when you will understand and remember the information clearest, meaning your revision notes/cards will be accurate. When you come to revise, you will have a full set of revision notes to hand.
- Complete outside reading – reading a range of texts outside of the mandatory ones for your course will be massively beneficial for your coursework. If you can find a text that really captures you interest, you may be able to write your coursework essay on this. Although your coursework is only worth 20% of your overall grade, a good grade in this can be enough to help you reach the top grade of an A*.
- Mark schemes and assessment objectives – one very important step in your revision should be to look at how you will be marked and what objectives you need to meet. Once you understand this, you will be able to practice tailoring your answers to meet these requirements to achieve a higher grade. You can find this information on the exam board website.
- Create additional revision resources – in order to reach the top grade, you really need to take your revision to the next level. Creating character profiles, analysing themes and forming detailed summaries of each section of the text can really help. You can also make a log of key information for each chapter or scene for texts that are open book in the exam. This means you can remember which section you need to quickly find quotations.
Where can you get extra support with your A-Level English Literature revision?
If you are struggling with organising or completing your revision, your first point of contact should be your teachers. Your teachers may be able to offer you additional support for example, going over particular texts or supporting you with organising a revision timetable. Likewise, speak to your classmates. They may suggest alternative revision techniques, or you could organise group revision sessions.
If you find yourself really struggling, you could look into getting a private tutor. This option will be costly. However, a private tutor will offer one on one support helping with all aspects of revision from going over texts or marking some practice papers.
If you do not want to pay for a private tutor, you could look at online revision websites such as Seneca. Alternatively, there are many video tutorials available online. Some go through past paper one question at a time, whilst other videos offer summaries of different texts, themes and characters.
Finally, have a look on your exam board website where you can find a range of information concerning your exams and grades. Most exam boards have revision guides available for a range of A-Level subjects including English literature. These will suit the texts you are studying as well as your specific assessment objectives.
What is involved in A-Level English Literature?
English literature can be studied at A-Level either alone, or with English language. Most sixth forms and colleges give students the option to study English literature as a single A-Level.
English literature at A-Level mainly focuses on the use of themes within a text and how these are demonstrated. Some of the themes may include isolation, grief or love. It is similar to GCSE in that you will study and analyse a range of texts. These will then be used to frame the questions within your exam papers.
As this is an A-Level course, you may find the texts more challenging whilst the assessment objectives may be more demanding in order for you to reach the higher grades. Likewise, you will learn new terminology to apply in your answers.
Your English literature course will vary slightly depending on your exam board. This may include the texts you study and the approach you take to exams. Common exam boards include AQA and OCR. You may find your exam board is the same as it was for your GCSE English Literature studies.
How many texts do you study in A-Level English Literature?
You will study three mandatory texts, one prose, one poetry and one drama. As well as this, you will have to answer questions on some unseen texts.
The course may include texts by famous writers such as William Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams. The texts you study will vary depending on your exam board as well as your individual sixth form or college.
Often the exam board will offer a range of texts under each genre, with the final choice of texts selected at the discretion of each individual institution. These can also change each year, depending on how students preform and how popular the texts were.
How many exam papers are there in A-Level English Literature?
According to AQA, A-Level English Literature consists of both core content which is mandatory and one piece of optional content.
- Paper 1 – This exam has three sections. Section A is based on a Shakespeare play, section B on unseen poetry and section C on comparing two texts. Paper 1 is three hours long and worth 40% of your A-Level.
- Paper 2 – This exam has two sections. Section A which is on one set text and section B which has a question on an unseen extract and another on linking two texts. Paper 2 is two and a half hours long and also worth 40% of your A-Level.
- Coursework – This is a non-exam assessment which involves writing an extended essay of 2500 words on two texts. It is worth 20% of your A-Level.
What are the A-Level English Literature assessment objectives?
The assessment objectives are provided by Ofqual. They are the same across all exam boards for AS and A-Level English Literature.
The assessment objectives are as follows:
- AO1 – Articulate informed, personal and creative responses to literary texts, using associated concepts and terminology, and coherent, accurate written expression.
- AO2 – Analyse ways in which meanings are shaped in literary texts.
- AO3 – Demonstrate understandings of the significance and influence of the context in which literary texts are written and received.
- AO4 – Explore connections across literary texts.
- AO5 – Explore literary texts informed by different interpretations.
For a more specific description of each assessment objective, check out this official AQA page.
How are you graded in A-Level English Literature?
You will be awarded marks for each assessment objective. These marks will then be added up and used to award a grade.
As presented by AQA, the percentages available for each AO are as follows:
|AO’s||Component weightings (%)||Overall weighting|
|Paper 1||Paper 2||Non exam assessments|
The marks for each AO will vary depending on whether you are studying A-Level or AS level English Literature. The marks are similar across different exam boards.
What are the different question types in A-Level English Literature?
An important aspect of revising aside from learning the content is to understand and recognise the different question types. It is important to understand how to approach each exam question and what context to include.
According to this Revision World article, the most common types of questions in A-Level English Literature exams are as follows:
- Open Book Questions – For these questions, you will have access to a copy of the text. The question is often framed around a specific theme or character within the text, meaning you are free to choose your own sections to discuss. The question may give you a small section to look at first and you will be marked on your close analysis of the text.
- Closed Book Questions – For these questions, you will not have access to the text. Instead, the question will focus on the text broadly, usually on a common theme. Therefore, you will not be marked as much on your close analysis, rather you can discuss the text as a whole and paraphrase quotations.
- Comparison Questions – For this question, which is usually in paper 2, you will need to compare one text with another. This question usually asks you to compare the texts through similarities and differences. You may have access to a printed copy of the texts.
It would be very beneficial to practice answering a range of exam questions. This will enable you to recognise what to include and how to organise your answer depending on the question type. You can find some past papers for both A-Level and AS level here on the AQA website and here on the OCR website.
Revision is difficult, especially at A-Level study. Hopefully, some of the tips in this article will help you to be more prepared for you English Literature exams and to achieve a higher grade. Remember, if you are really struggling there is support available from your peers and your subject teachers. English literature is a fantastic subject and as long as you prepare and put in the effort, you will succeed!