‘You Can’t Revise English!’

How to Revise for GCSE English

Or can you? In our latest blog, Beyond Revision demonstrates that GCSE English revision is manageable, achievable – and vital! How to revise for GCSE English hinges on following a few tried and trusted methods passed down by the legends of old (ie. experienced teachers!).

It’s time to impart the wisdom…

‘You can’t really revise English.’ If I had £1 for every time I heard a student tell me this was their idea of GCSE English revision, I’d be able to take early retirement. Well, actually you can. This whole idea that English is un-revise-able is a myth. 

Another oldie, but goodie is ‘I’ll just read the play…’

Don’t get me wrong (and don’t let me stop you), reading is a key component of the GCSE exam but there is so much more you can do to gain that illustrious target level. Here are five myth-busting revision methods to ease exam stress. 

Top Tips on How to Revise for GCSE English

1. ‘Know thy enemy’

Walking into the exam hall can very much feel like you’re walking into battle, especially if you’re feeling unprepared. Of course, the exam paper isn’t really your enemy, and it’s certainly not out to trick you, but it’s absolutely essential that you know what is expected of you from each paper.

AQA divides English Language and English Literature into 4 separate exam papers; each paper has a different topic, skill set and focus. Edexcel and OCR do the same.

So, know thy enemy; make sure you know what each paper asks of you. This is particularly useful when it comes to the ‘unseen’ section of the paper as you can practise the skills here at your leisure.

Check out our brilliant Micro Papers for GCSE: easy-to-download and complete in a revision session and so accessible if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the traditional paper layout. Complete a mini mock once a week and you’ll walk into that hall armed for battle!

2. ‘Once more, unto the breach…’

Practice. Never underestimate the importance of practice. You don’t have to sit a full paper (although I’d recommend you do, at least once, for each exam paper) but you can absolutely pick out questions you may find more challenging and craft a response to those.

You will find a huge range of complete GCSE papers for all the major exam boards, along with sample answers to compare yours to and mark schemes to assess your own answer. It’s useful to get your teacher’s feedback but by using the mark scheme yourself, you will recognise which skills you’ve already gained and which you may need to develop.

3. ‘Time waits for no [student].’

Time management is overlooked but it’s as important as learning the poem or the play. The GCSE papers ask a lot of you in a very short space of time – the Writing to task in Section B of English Language Papers 1 and 2 is a make-or-break task. It carries over a third of the total marks and, frequently, it’s the lowest scored.

Why? Simply because of time management.

People spend so long on Section A, they forget all about Section B, leaving themselves barely enough time to read the task, never mind compose a response. Make sure you divide your time appropriately between the questions – spend longer on higher-mark questions as they earn you more. Use a timer or stopwatch to accurately monitor how long you need to spend on each question. 

There is also the bigger question of how much time you should allocate to your English revision. I’m a big advocate of shorter, more regular sessions. Three one-hour intensive sessions scheduled in a weekly revision timetable will allow you to cover a lot of ground without feeling a slog. Use Beyond’s handy blank template to create your own revision timetable. 

4. ‘Note again!’

Yes, the puns are pretty thin today but, joking aside, note-taking is a hot topic. Every student has their own way of doing things. Spider diagrams are brilliant visual aids, and great for making connections between separate texts. Pyramid systems are particularly useful for close textual analysis but, for day-to-day revision, I recommend Cornell notes. It can be easily adapted for poems, whole novels, plays, chapters, scenes, characters and themes.

You will be asked to compare poems on a Literature Paper and respond to extracts (pieces from a larger text) for the Shakespeare play and 19th-century novel. The Cornell Notes System will help you organise your notes so you can refer back to a topic whenever you feel the need. If you are unfamiliar with this technique, you can watch handy video tutorials online, as well as downloading your template from Beyond. 

5. ‘Do the write thing – read’

We’ve gone full circle to that mythical notion that you can’t revise English – well, by now you’ll have a much clearer idea of just how manageable English revision can be. Along with making your detailed notes, completing mini-exam papers and self-marking, don’t forget to read.

Naturally you may want to revisit the poems (there are a lot), or even the play or novel. A thorough understanding of the whole text is important as you will be asked to refer to earlier or later parts of the plot in your response. There are hundreds of ways you can make text revision that little bit more fun. I love making my own flashcard – great for important quotes, characters, plot events.

Check out our brilliant revision guides on various texts. There’s also an assortment of knowledge organisers and revision notes for every poem from every exam board. Who knows? By setting yourself time to read, you might learn something new… 

And there we are. Five myth-busting methods to make revision manageable. I hope this blog has given you a starting point, but the revision process is entirely your own and you should use whatever strategies you are comfortable with. I want to end on one final, crucial piece of revision advice: 

Be good to yourself

Take regular breaks, see friends, leave some time free from exam revision. Do something fun just for yourself, whether it’s watching a film, reading a book completely unrelated to GCSE English (I hear they do exist), playing your games console or making a TikTok. Exams are part of student life, but they shouldn’t become your life. If you feel overwhelmed or anxious, there are people out there who will listen and support you. Read our blog on Coping with Exam Stress for much information and guidance. 

You are not alone. Look after yourself, but keep an eye on your mates too – share this blog if they, too, are struggling to know how to revise for English. 

And last of all… 

Good luck! 

So you’ve followed the 5 tips on how to revise GCSE English and you’re hungry for more!? Well, you can read even more of our blogs here! You can also subscribe to Beyond for access to thousands of secondary teaching resources. You can sign up for a free account here and take a look around at our free resources before you subscribe too.

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