How To Support Your Students In Their English GCSEs

GCSEs are among the most stressful times in a child’s life and studying for English literature exams is no exception. Famous for being some of the toughest exams that any teen can sit, English GCSEs are sure to strike fear into the hearts of any child staring down the barrel of a 3-hour exam, struggling to recall the minuscule details of a book that they’re not allowed to bring into the exam hall with them. 

With the news that a private school had been teaching their pupils the wrong book for two years and had to ask their exam board for special consideration, English exams can be an intimidating feat for even the most seasoned secondary school teacher. But hope is not lost! 

Here, we list some ways that you can help your students in the run-up to their English literature exams. 

Change The Rules

It goes without saying that when considering long form exam answers, any school-aged child has been taught to lean on the classic PEE (Point, Example, Explanation) to make sure they’re hitting their marks on every question. However, this kind of thinking can actually do more harm than good. 

Instead, instilling a focus on strong written communication and a wide breadth of vocabulary can ease the tension in stressful exam conditions and help pupils to write more confidently. For example, if we use AO5 as an example, students are predominantly scored on how well they communicate their argument. PEE is great, but confidence in language can help push students into the higher tier. 

Allow For More Time to Practise Skills

While teachers are undoubtedly pushed for time, it can make more complex memory teaching tough to carry out. One suggestion is to practice retrieval recall – for example, whilst students are writing ask them to stop and quickly fire off a question or two about the text. This will help the brain be prepared to not only deal with time pressure but also remember the answer to the question just asked, which is especially useful given your pupils are likely to encounter a closed-book exam. 

Building up Memory Over Time

One of the main challenges that face young people as they trudge into the exam hall is that it’s likely the first time that they’ve had to consider this exam without that all-precious text in their clutches. This can set about a panic, as they’re not used to answering questions about a particular text without the answers sat right in their very hands. 

Teaching to Annotate Correctly

It might seem straightforward to a teacher, but the allotted 15-minute reading time ay t the beginning of an exam is a key moment for students to annotate their texts for them to refer back to as they work their way through the exam. 

The time pressure of an exam might tempt them to just dive straight into the questions, but you should actively discourage this; by taking the time to answer questions carefully, they’ll limit their chances of misreading a question and doing the legwork on it, only to notice it’s too late once they’re done! 

Break Down The Paper Into Chunks

When it comes to any GCSE, the key is not only remembering the answer to questions – it’s also in knowing exactly how to answer the question and what it is that students can score points for. One way you can do this is by breaking down exam papers into easily digestible chunks so that your students needn’t feel quite so overwhelmed come exam day. 

Part of the confusion in exams comes from areas where the sections aren’t immediately clear without reading thoroughly – but by taking the time to break down the questions, and understand precisely what is needed for each can help avoid silly mistakes. For example, wherever there are two source texts provided, you might like to remind students to pick out areas where the two texts have either similar or conflicting viewpoints and explore those. It’s equally as important than students break down the text into sections, to make sure that they’re assigning the correct parts to the right questions.

Carefully Crafted Written Response

In any paper, regardless of which exam board your students are sitting, the written response is always going to be one of the areas that your pupils can pick up easy marks with a carefully put together answer, alongside showing off their technical knowledge. 

Students should always take the time to plan the structure of their response before they begin, rather than ploughing ahead under the time pressure. If your pupils prepare their response correctly, and with a set guideline that you have instilled in them throughout classroom time, this will allow them to demonstrate control in their argument, and make sure that they’re ticking certain boxes to score points where they really matter!