Which is More Important: GCSE English Language or Literature?

In GCSE by Think Student Editor1 Comment

Many students want to know which subject is more important, GCSE English Language or Literature? They sound like they are very similar subjects, but actually there are many differences between these two subjects. This article will be discussing why each subject is important in its own right and why it may be more important to you. 

In short, there are many different aspects to consider when deciding which subject is more important. In terms of the skills that you will learn, both English Language and Literature are equally valuable. However, from an academic standpoint, it is important to know that it is compulsory that you pass GCSE English Language with a grade 4 or above. This does not apply to GCSE English Literature. 

This article will talk through a number of commonly asked questions related to the importance of both GCSE English Language and Literature. I recommend that you give the whole thing a read! 

Do you need to pass GCSE English Language and Literature? 

The most commonly asked question about English Literature and Language is about which one you need to pass. For most GCSE subjects, there is no required final grade between a 9 and a 1, however the exceptions are English Language and Maths 

You will need to achieve a grade 4 or above in GCSE English Language, otherwise you will have to resit the exam the following year. Some students end up resitting multiple times in an attempt to pass, and this is compulsory until you reach the age of 18. You can learn more about compulsory GCSEs in this Think Student article.

Obviously resitting your exams is not an ideal situation, especially if you want to focus on the subjects that you are studying after you have left school. If you find yourself struggling with GCSE English, you may want to put some more time into your English Language revision rather than English Literature, as this is the subject that you really need to pass. If you would like to find out more about how to revise for GCSE English Language, you may want to look at this useful article You can also click here to learn about GCSE retakes.

This absolutely does not mean that you should abandon GCSE English Literature entirely (or any of your other subjects!) – having good grades all round is still something that colleges and employers highly respect and seek out. You can find out more useful information about GCSE English Literature and how to revise in this useful articleIn order to find a balance between putting more work into English Language and retaining passing grades in other subjects, you should create a revision timetable which leaves slightly more space for revision on English Language than other subjects. If you need some guidance on how to create a good revision timetable, take a look at this Think Student article 

Ultimately, English Language is the subject that you need to pass but that doesn’t make it more important than English Literature, it just means you might need to put some extra work in. If you are wondering how much extra work you’ll need to do, I’ll be discussing revision later in this article so make sure you continue reading! 

What happens if you fail GCSE English Literature but pass GCSE English Language? 

Although you should be aiming to achieve pass grades (grades 4 and above) in all of your GCSEs, you will not be required to resit any exams other than GCSE English Language, and GCSE Maths. This means that if you fail GCSE English Literature, but achieve a pass in GCSE English Language, you will not be required to resit any English subject.  

Obviously, that being said, passes in both GCSE English Language and Literature will be useful, and passes in as many GCSE subjects as possible (especially core subjects like English) will be desirable to employers, sixth forms, and universities. If you would like to find out more about how important GCSEs are in your life, you should have a read of this useful article 

Do you have to resit GCSE English Language if you have passed GCSE English Literature? 

Unfortunately, even if you pass GCSE English Literature, if you haven’t achieved a grade 4 or above in GCSE English Language, you will have to resit your Language exams. The requirements aren’t that you need one pass in any GCSE English subject, they are that you specifically need a qualification in GCSE English Language.  

This is seemingly because of the idea that the transferrable skills that GCSE English Language allows you to develop are considered to be more generalizable.  

What are the GCSE English Language and Literature pass rates? 

Pass rates for a subject can sometimes be a good indicator of how ‘difficult’ a subject is. Of course, there isn’t always direct correlation between the pass rate and how hard the exam is but it does show the proportion of the country that achieved the necessary grades and perhaps shows how competitive the top grades are. 

In the 2019 GCSE exams, English Language had a pass rate of 62% meaning 38% of students had to resit their exam. English Literature, on the other hand, had a higher pass rate of 73.7%. 

At first, this appears to indicate that more students struggle with English Language compared to English Literature. This could be one of the reasons that GCSE English Language is often considered to be more difficult than Literature, despite the fact that it is ‘more important’.  

However, far more students sat the English Language exams than English Literature. In the 2019 exams, there were 765,332 entries for Language compared to 587,051 for Literature. The main reason for this is that English Language not only includes current GCSE pupils, but also students in Year 12 who are resitting the exam. Additionally, as it is only necessary to pass English Language, so some students who struggle academically, will not be entered into the GCSE English Literature exams, which accounts for some of the higher number of pupils entered into the English Language exams.  

Taking both sets of data, we can see that 474,505 students passed English Language and 432,656 students passed English Literature. Therefore, the number of passes for each subject are far closer than the percentages made them seem. From this, we can see that English Language is not actually drastically harder than English Literature, it’s just that more students sit the Language exams.  

Taking into account these considerations, it’s clearer that the difficulty of each subject is on a similar level and arguably makes them as important as each other.  

How much revision is required for GCSE English? 

Another factor to consider when deciding whether GCSE English Language or Literature is more important, is how much revision you need to do. The revision styles for each subject are very different and require varying levels of work.  

For English Literature, your revision will be more traditional as you need to learn quotes, understand themes, and memorize key parts of the texts you’ll be examined on. When revising English Literature, many students will use flashcards for learning quotes or mind maps for looking at themes within poems and texts. If you want to learn more about how to make the best flashcards, take a look at this helpful article. Similarly, a useful article about how to make useful mind maps can be found here, and would be worth a read if you are concerned about revision.  

English Language has a very different style of revision as it’s all about understanding how to answer the questions and where the marks come from. The main way to revise for English Language is practicing the analysis of texts and doing past papers, so traditional revision materials won’t be the most helpful. Again, I would like to direct your attention towards this useful article, which explains the English Language assessment criteria and explains exactly what each question expects from you.  

In terms of allocating time, you will probably spend much more revising for English Literature, than on English Language, due to the amount of reading and memorization you need to do. The same may also apply to your lessons in school as Literature does have a lot more content that needs to be covered before the exam. Taking this into consideration, it could be argued that English Literature is more important as you need to do more traditional revision to get the best grades in the exam. 

Despite this, it’s very important to prepare well for English Language and plan to do plenty of practice papers. Although there is far less to memorize and learn, if you don’t understand how to answer the questions you will fall short of even passing the exams.  

What are the requirements for studying English at A-Level? 

Many students will go on to study English at A-Level – it is a very popular subject. There are three different English options at A-Level; English Literature, English Language and combined English Literature and Language. 

The requirements for English A-Level subjects vary between sixth forms. However, the majority will ask for a minimum of a grade 5 or 6 in English Language and Literature. If you have the necessary grades in both subjects, of course, you’ll have a better chance at getting on to the course.  

Colleges ask for these higher grades, as A-Levels require a lot of dedication to manage the workload – by achieving a 5 or 6 in your GCSE exams, you are proving that you will be able to cope with the course content and exams.  

If you are interested in studying English at A-Level, both Language and Literature are of equal importance as many colleges want both and ask for grades higher than the pass rate. Every college or sixth form will have different requirements, so ensure you check the prospectus and know exactly which grades you need for the sixth forms around you.  

It’s worth mentioning that if there were external circumstances which stopped you achieving the GCSE grades needed for the course, you should contact the college admissions team. Tell them about your situation and see if there are any places available. 

To summariseEnglish Language and Literature are both equally important for studying English at A-Level, but the grades asked for will vary depending on where you choose to study so always double check the college or sixth form’s website.  

Transferable skills gained from English Language and Literature

Although you may not love English, there are good reasons why most students need to study it. Both subjects teach very valuable skills that can be used throughout your life. They will also really help with your other GCSEs and your A-Levels.

For example, History is a very popular subject at both GCSE and A-Level. A large portion of it is analysing sources and explaining their significance, so the skills you learn in English GCSE can be very beneficial. The same goes for subjects like politics or philosophy. The creative aspect to English can really help with subjects like film studies or drama, as you get to practice your creative writing and learn about a variety of techniques used in play and film scripts as well.  

If you are interested in studying English at A-Level, you may be wondering what subjects you should take that pair well. Any essay-based subject, specifically humanities, will require similar skills to A-Level English so these would be very complimentary to any A-Level English subject, as you can apply techniques from various subjects to enhance your writing. On the opposite side to this, STEM subjects can be a welcome alternative to all the essay writing, so if you enjoy English and science, don’t feel like you have to pick between the two. 

Benefits of studying GCSE English Language and Literature

English Language is all about comparisons and extracting information, so by studying this subject you are really developing your analytical skills. There are so many areas in life where you need to analyse information; whether you are a scientist analysing data from an experiment or a journalist analysing a news source for its reliability. Having this chance to practice your analysis skills  allows you critique the world around you and it gives you skills to form your own opinions on things, from politics to literature to global news.  

English Literature has a big focus on drawing themes and being able to recognize techniques. For hundreds of years, plays and stories have been used to represent current events and have allowed people to use their voices to make changes in the world. 

By reading more, you will be introduced to a world of varying perspectives and opinions that can really challenge the way you think and teach you so much. From George Orwell’s 1984, showing the power of censorship and surveillance, to The Great Gatsby’s portrayal of high society and the American Dream, literature can be used to explore themes you may never otherwise encounter in day to day life.  

Both subjects can help you navigate the world around you and shape the people we will become so although you may not enjoy your English lessons at school, try to appreciate the skills you are learning and how you will carry them with you throughout your life.  

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