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How to pass GCSE English Literature

How to pass GCSE English Literature

How to pass GCSE English Literature
Top tips for passing GCSE English Literature from our specialist teacher, Eileen.

How to pass GCSE English Literature

Does Shakespeare make you shiver? Does “Frankenstein” make you feel like a bit of a monster? Well, have no fear. Instead, read our guide for how to pass GCSE English Literature.

GCSE English Literature requires students study a variety of texts (usually a Shakespeare, a 19th Century novel, a modern novel or play) and some poetry. This knowledge alone can send many of us running for the hills. But the good news is, if you can learn some basic skills for writing an analysis-style essay then you can transfer these skills to write any essay on any text you study. 

To gain a pass mark in any essay you write for GCSE English Literature, as a general rule you must show the examiner that you have a “clear and relevant” understanding of the question asked. But what does this mean in reality? If you want to gain the Level 4 pass, follow these steps to success:

Make sure you’ve actually read the book or play or poem and you are familiar with:

  • -the plot
  • -the main characters
  • -the main themes
  • the reason the writer wrote the thing (eg. Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol to highlight social injustice and the plight of the poor in Victorian times). 

THEN – practice answering lots and lots and lots of past essay questions. But how to do this?

  1. Make sure you answer the question asked. Identify the key idea in the essay question and stick to it. Eg. How far does Shakespeare go to present Lady Macbeth as an evil character? Key idea: Lady Macbeth is an evil character. Ask yourself – has Shakespeare presented her as fully evil, partially evil, not evil at all? Once you’ve answered this question to yourself then you’re ready to go on. 


2. You then need about 5 quotes to back up what you think. For AQA exam board you have an extract from the play to help you get started. Tip: pick 3 quotes from the extract and remember 2 quotes from the wider play and use these to write your essay. AQA say if you only use quotes from the extract, you can’t pass. You need quotes from the wider play also! Each quote forms the basis for a paragraph therefore you will have a minimum of 5 paragraphs. 


Sticking with Lady Macbeth, you’ve decided she starts out as evil then by the end she isn’t – she’s just human and has made mistakes (admittedly big, murdering mistakes but mistakes nonetheless). You need 5 quotes to back up this idea – perhaps 3 which show her doing/saying evil things then 2 showing her being a normal person who has made mistakes and is now paying for them.

How to pass GCSE English Literature
How to pass GCSE English Literature

3. Pick short quotes and try to say a lot about what each quote means. Try to speculate. Eg. the quote could suggest blah di blah about Lady Macbeth… it might also imply do di do about her….


4. Try to zoom in to single words inside the quote and REALLY go town on what the word suggests, linked to the question. The tip is write A LOT about a LITTLE quote.


5. Include a bit of context (background / why the writer wrote it) and link it back to the question. Eg. In Shakespearian times, women were expected to obey their husbands and be docile and meek. Women who were not like this were very unusual and often seen as witches and evil. Shakespeare is exploring these ideas using the character of Lady Macbeth and a modern audience can see she is not evil, she is in fact an ambitious woman trapped by the confining circumstances of the times who made some bad choices to try and realise her ambition.   


If you follow these steps for writing ANY essay this is your passport to a pass. This formula relies on you knowing the texts really well, learning some key quotes and practice, practice, practice your quote analysis. Hard work will pay off so good luck and happy essay-writing 😊 

Click here for more information on our GCSE English Tuition at Impact Tuition

For more help with GCSE English Literature click here for BBC GCSE English Literature Bitesize website

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