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A very practical guide to what your child should be revising for English

It's February half term and let's admit it, the GCSEs are swimming nauseatingly near. For parents as well as teenagers, it's a nerve-wracking time whether you've got a child who already has their GCSE timetable colour-coded and laminated or a child who is burying their head ever deeper under their winter duvet. I'm here to give you clarity about the English Language and English Literature GCSEs and what revision must be, could be, should be done. I'll also give you some knowledge so that you can gauge whether your child is revising what they should be. Let's be honest; you know your child and how this knowledge should be used. For some you will be able to ease some of their anxiety and stress. For some you can do nothing and this blog will just rest your mind as you will see that they are doing what they should. There is the final group; the ones where this can be used to put the proverbial bomb up their backside!

(Note: all the below is related to AQA board although some will be relevant to other boards too).

What to revise for English Language

Students always seem to think that you can't revise for English. That is absolutely not true. There is perhaps less knowledge to learn than other subjects such as history and science; however, there are fundamental skills and techniques that need practicing in exam conditions and exam timings and mark schemes should be clearly understood. There is also some knowledge that they need to be comfortable with to do well in English. So what should they know?

1) Students should have an extensive knowledge of English terminology such as metaphors, repetition, imagery right down to verbs, adjectives and nouns. They should be able to easily identify these in passages from a text. Some students will have a much more complex list of terminology to learn depending on what they have learned in class and their ability that could include semantic fields, oxymorons, dramatic irony, pathetic fallacy etc. They should have a list somewhere in their English books or that they can make one themselves from their English book. Get them to find it and learn it!

2) As well as knowing lots of terminology and techniques, students need to be clear about the difference between structural techniques and language techniques. They should understand that foreshadowing and flashbacks are structural, whilst personification and similes are language features. This is so that they can answer questions 2 and 3 on Paper 1. Question 2 asks about language, whilst question 2 asks about structure. If they write about them in the wrong place, they are going to lose marks.

3) Students need to know how long they can spend on each question. The rule of thumb is spend about the amount of minutes on the question that there is marks. However, it doesn't work perfectly as there is some reading time too. Each teacher will have given advice on exactly how to tackle the questions time-wise. Students should be very clear about what this advice is and, if they are not, now is the time to find out.

4) Often teachers have given a series of dizzying formula to students to get them to answer questions in an effective way (3 SQIZE, TEAZELC, PEAZEPEAZE). Whilst this may all sound like gobbledy-gook to you, it should make sense to your child! Each teacher/ school will have chosen formulas that they think will help in the exam. Again, for each question students should know how they should be writing and if they don't, again, now's the time to ask!

5) Much of English Language revision though is about practicing and the best revision is to get some past papers which can be find on the board's website and have a go in timed conditions. I can honestly say that not nearly enough students are doing this. I know because over the past 10 years I have rarely been brought examples of extra papers that students have done at home. If any of my students do want to do some past papers, I'm happy to read over them and mark them.

What to revise for English Literature

English Literature is much more content heavy than English Language. The good news is that many of the skills needed are similar somewhat to English Language so that when you are revising for English Language, you are in a sense preparing for the literature exam too; it should help you with picking out and writing about terminology and with beginning to structure effective essays. However, there is much more to learn. Here's the list:

1) There are a LOT of quotations to learn... Students should know a variety of quotations both from the 3 texts that they read and study and the 15 poems. They DO NOT need to know the whole novels, poems or plays off by heart (thank goodness) but they should have short quotations at their disposal to cover a variety of ideas, characters and themes. They also need to know what is happening when the quotation is used - I see too many people using a quote because it is on a list they have been given but they have no idea what the significance is of it. Students will probably have been given a list of quotes to learn for the text but they can spend some time re-reading their literature texts to look for key quotations too. And how should they learn quotations? Reading them over and over is a start but for most is not the end of the process. Some students find writing them out lots helps them; others like to create posters of them for their bedroom that they can then annotate with details about meaning, structure and language; some create raps and songs; others create flashcards or use mnemonics to help them remember things.

2) They need to know all about the plot, characters and themes IN DETAIL. To help them, they could draw out storyboards, make character profiles, do mindmaps, watch video clips (MR Bruff has some informative videos on YouTube and BBC Bitesize has come engaging videos too) and re-read the texts. There are also revision books to buy and revision resources online.

3) Students also need to have an understanding of the context that the texts were written in. So for example, they should know about Shakespeare, his theatre and attitudes to men, women and marriage in the period. Similarly if they are studying "An Inspector Calls", they need to have some understanding of attitudes to women and class in Edwardian England (when it was set), attitudes to women and class in post War Britain (when it was written) plus an understanding of what happened between the time periods (1912 and 1945) and the writer's Socialist viewpoint. Again, students will have been studying context alongside their chosen texts and should have notes in their English books to be written up as exam notes and learned in whatever way they learn best.

Your son or daughter should have all the information at their disposal by this point so that they can get on with learning. The responsibility really lies on their small shoulders now to get cracking. These exams are stressful and HARD and the best that a child can do is start doing a little bit of English revision often now rather than leave it until the last minute and panic. I recommend NOW as the time to start the process of looking out for signs of stress, prizing the laminated timetable out of your child's hand to force them to have a bit of fun and also the time to prize the bedcovers away and force a pen into their trembling fingers! It's an awful time for a 16 year old. If you need any help with revision and skills get in touch to book into one of my small, friendly classes. Call 07743378429.

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