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(Re)sitting GCSE English or Sitting GCSE English Literature? note: this site is specifically geared towards aqa "A" syllabus 3702 and 3712 final year 2011

...Then this is the site you need. Here you'll find links to notes for Poems from Different Cultures and the Literature poems, as well as Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird. Note that these are the only prose works covered. On the last page there is general advice on tackling the two exam papers for Language, and the single one for Literature. Although this site has been substantially overhauled, this is the last year of this exam and it will be converted next year to a revision site for the new syllabus.

Important: Links now open in a new tab or window.

Harper Lee and Truman Capote

"Dill" and "Scout" in 1966. Harper Lee and Truman Capote celebrate the fateful publication of Capote's book In Cold Blood.

Of Mice and Men by john steinbeck

In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other. - John Steinbeck.

Steinbeck's 1937 tale of two itinerant ranch-hands — one smart, one simple — in the America of the Great Depression, has become one of the most studied novels in schools around the world, despite being the second most banned book in its native land. Its shortness and its dialogue-heavy, pulp-fiction style conceal a depth of symbolism and meaning. Below are some links which should prove helpful for the exam. Rule No. 1: Answer the question, be relevant and if you mention anything that's not relevant, make it relevant. Rule No. 2: Under no circumstances write about something that is in the film but not in the book.

Note: AQA tends to begin the exam paper with a prose question from the Anthology, which has nothing to do with you (you answer the Anthology poetry question in Section B, making two questions in total). Instead, look for the Of Mice and Men questions, which last year were on Page 4.

To Kill a Mockingbird by harper lee

Unlike John Steinbeck, Harper Lee wrote only one book, a plea for racial tolerance and understanding of mental illness, again set in the Great Depression (though published in 1960). Its genre is bildungsroman or rites-of-passage novel, though it also contains many elements of the Gothic. This time we see through the eyes of a middle-class child, "Scout" Finch, who with her brother Jem goes through life-changing experiences as the eventually intertwining stories of Tom Robinson and Boo Radley unfold. Although Mockingbird seems more like "literature" than Of Mice and Men, in fact many of its effects appear to have been produced through a two-year collaboration with publisher's editor Tay Hohoff. Rule No. 1: Answer the question, be relevant and if you mention anything that's not relevant, make it relevant.

Note: AQA tends to begin the exam paper with a prose question from the Anthology, which has nothing to do with you (you answer the Anthology poetry question in Section B, making two questions in total). Instead, look for the Mockingbird questions, which last year were on Page 6.

The following links should help with revision.


The Poetrymake sure you appreciate it

Poetry in anthologies chosen by examiners tends to be a mixed bag, selected often because they are easy to make questions from, rather than by quality. If you are resitting Language, remember that you must know all the poems from one cluster to guarantee a question, and all poems from both clusters to guarantee two. Questions are often about changing culture, emotions (anger, love etc.) or locations. Cluster 1 has better poetry than Cluster 2, but try to cover them all. If you are entered for English Language only you should ignore the section on the Literature Poetry.

For English Literature candidates only. The Literature poetry question was originally formulated to make the exam difficult. You still have to range between your two modern authors and the Pre-1914 Bank, but it's not quite as hard as it was, and you get a fair range of questions. Just make sure you write about the number of poems you are asked to—a stumbling block for many students in the past.

Poems from Different Cultures remember: you must learn all poems to guarantee a choice of question

Whether you like poetry or not is irrelevant here, though if you know enough about these poems you will like it. All that is required is that you write relevantly on one question (typically about two poems) for half the exam. Try to compare the poems closely, in the same paragraph or (if you can) in the same sentence; don't write down all you know on one poem, then all you know on the other. At the end summarize everything in a conclusion, making sure you have answered the question directly.

The Literature Poetrycheck the list of 12 compulsory poems for your paper - you must know them

The choice of modern poets is between Duffy/Armitage and Heaney/Clarke, and (I can only speak for the first pairing) there is a good choice of poems (despite the removal of "Education for Leisure" by the craven AQA). The early stuff—the Pre-1914 Bank—is a haphazard selection, mainly geared towards throwing up questions. It's hard to believe that William Blake and Gerard Manley Hopkins are two of the greatest poets of all time from the evidence here. Nevertheless, the possibility of predicting the questions is an important advantage. Sort out the poems according to theme (violence, crime, family, nature etc.) before the exam and rehearse comparisons between them. This examination is tight for time, so be ready to roll with ideas, and with the quotes to back them up.

Some Good Advice... and how to avoid a Dgolden rules which (providing you've revised) will help you, foundation or higher, to get at least a grade c in the exam

  • English Language Paper 1 (16/5/2011):
  • Read the instructions carefully. Usually you have to answer all questions from Section A, and just one from a selection in Section B.
  • Read the questions carefully and answer only what is asked. If they ask you on language, comment on the words used, giving examples; long and short words, long and short sentences and long and short paragraphs are all relevant here. The longer these are the more likely they are aimed at well educated people; if they are short the text is usually aimed at children, less educated people, or people in a hurry (for example, in a flyer or advertisement).
  • If you are asked on "presentational devices", you are meant to comment on the impact of colour, position, white space, captioning, font type and size, old, italic and underline, use of columns, use of bullet points, use of headings and subheadings etc. Remember that the more white space there is the easier it is to read. If the typeface is Times New Roman it is traditional, reassuring, aimed at an older reader, though you could also say it is conventional, stuffy, old hat. Modern faces, often aimed at younger people, are like the one you are reading now: it is a sans serif font, which means that it has no twiddly bits like Times New Roman—it is clean, clear and easy to read. Sometimes this question will only concern the pictures, or some other element of presentation. Think who is writing, and who the audience is. Cover as many things as you can in the time—the examiner is marking against a tick list.
  • Don't say "writing", say "text".
  • Always refer to people you don't know by their last names: "Beckham", not "David". And make sure you get the gender of the person right.
  • Never use "they", as in "They put this so people would understand about poverty." Who put it? Use a name if you have it, or think who did the writing: the advertising copywriter, the charity, the designer, etc.
  • Write in paragraphs, or you will get a D or below. If you forget a paragraph put two lines like this // where the paragraph should be. Change paragraph for change in topic, time, location or speaker.
  • Be careful to write expressions such as "a lot", "in front", "in fact", "as well" etc. as two words.
  • Don't confuse "were" and "where", "to", "two" and "too", "there", "their" and "they're". Learn the differences now if you don't know them. And learn how to use the apostrophe if you don't know that. Ask someone—a teacher?— if necessary.
  • Leave five minutes at the end to check your English for spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes, as these affect your mark.
  • If you draw in the margins of your paper, the examiner may draw unflattering conclusions about you.
  • If in Section B you are asked to write a letter do the following. Your address (make it up) should go in the top right hand corner; then leave a line, and put the date against the left margin; then leave another line and put the recipient's name and address under the date; leave another line and put the salutation (Dear...); leave yet another line and write what you have to say in paragraphs; then leave a final line and put the valediction (Yours...). Remember: if you know the name it's "Yours sincerely"; if you don't, it's "Yours faithfully". "Sincerely" has an "n" in it since you know the name. Important: keep letters formal, even if you are asked to write to "a friend".
  • If you write a speech, make it look like a speech: "My fellow students, I have been asked to come here today to talk about..." Do not say "Thank you for listening" at the end, but instead something like "I hope you will leave here and consider what I have said".
  • Time on your hands? You probably haven't written enough.
  • Don't try to be funny—examiners have no sense of humour.
  • Additional help from "This is English".
  • English Language Paper 2 (18/5/2011):
  • Typically you will answer two questions, one from Section A and one from Section B. Section B is like Section B in Paper 1, but it will test a different skill. When comparing poems in Section A try to do it sentence by sentence: "In this poem the poet uses this device; on the other hand, that poet uses that device." Be relevant. If you list everything you know about one poem, then everything you know about another, you will get a low grade.
  • Call poets by their second names—e.g. "Afrika" not "Tatamkhulu".
  • Use a dedicated revision site.
  • Get together with fellow students to test each other.
  • English Literature (24/5/2011):
  • These are the poems you must know thoroughly (as they will be named in the question):
  • (Higher) (Heaney/Clarke) "At a Potato Digging", "Storm on the Island", "Digging", "Death of a Naturalist", "Cold Knapp Lake", "A Difficult Birth", "Catrin","The Field Mouse", "Patrolling Barnegat", "The Affliction of Margaret", "On My First Sonne", "Sonnet"; (Armitage/Duffy) "Anne Hathaway", "Before you were mine", "Havisham", "Stealing", "Mother, any distance...", "Homecoming", "Kid", "Hitcher", "Sonnet 130", "My Last Duchess", "The Laboratory", "On My First Sonne".
  • (Foundation) (Heaney/Clarke) "Mid-Term Break", "Follower", "Digging", "Death of a Naturalist", "Baby Sitting", "On the Train", "Catrin", "The Field Mouse", "The Eagle", "Song of the Old Mother", "On My First Sonne", "Sonnet". (Armitage/Duffy) "Salome", "Elvis's Twin Sister", "Havisham", "Stealing", "My father thought it bloody queer...", "November", "Kid", "Hitcher", "The Man He Killed", "Song of the Old Mother", "On My First Sonne", "The Laboratory".
  • You will be answering one question from Section A and one from Section B. Read the questions very, very carefully. For the novel you may have to turn over several pages to find your choice of question. Make sure you cover all the poems the question asks for in Section B; typically these are one from one modern poet, one from the other, and two from Pre-1914. Compare poems as closely as you can. You must comment on the way form ties in with meaning to avoid a D.
  • Literature is a short exam, so you must go in with your guns fully loaded. Learn quotes and comparisons in advance. Keep the novel and Anthology in front of you only in case of emergency. If you are on the Higher Paper treat it as a "closed book" examination.
  • How to do this? First, you learn by teaching, so try teaching what you are trying to learn to someone else, or pretend you are doing this in your head. Secondly, the most efficient way to learn is by writing things out until you learn them. Reduce what you know gradually to two sides of A4 (one for the poems and one for the novel), which you can carry around with you, and read through at odd moments. Go through past papers and rehearse answers in your head. Commit quotations to heart, and develop your ideas. Be proud that you are becoming an expert in these texts.