The English GCSE is split into two qualifications - English Language and English Literature. Although students typically only go to English class, English Language and English Literature are two distinct subjects and students will receive a separate grade for each one.
The English Language exam tests students overall ability to read, write and analyse English. This sounds quite straightforward but it is challenging paper which requires a well-developed critical and creative skill-set. The English Language qualification is of vital importance to students who wish to go onto further training or study. A pass-grade in the English Language GCSE is a requisite for all University courses in the UK. Increasingly, a pass in the English Language GCSE is also a requisite for people undertaking vocational training.
I believe that my approach to the English Language paper is unique. It is a methodology that I have developed in response to the needs of students over years of private tuition classes.
Understanding assessment criteria
I found that many students struggled due to a lack of a structured means of improving the quality of their writing and critical skills. Another common issue is a lack of understanding regarding the assessment criteria of the course. In my tuition course I break down English Language development into its constituent parts and go through each area one-by-one.
For each area, I take a methodical, rigorous approach - nothing is left to chance and nothing is vague. We begin with all of the fundamentals of grammar and sentence structure. It is rare that students don't have any issues with their writing - we go right back to basics and ensure that every element of grammar, punctuation and sentence structure is crystal clear. In my study of languages at Oxford and during my time working with foreign students learning English I've been exposed to a number of processes for learning grammar. We use only the most effective strategies to absorb the essentials of grammar in the most efficient manner possible.
After all of the fundamentals are in place we move on to develop the core intellectual skills that the course requires. Specifically, we work on developing a clear methodology for approaching a text critically - understanding the associations of language, commenting on narratorial tone, discussing sentence and paragraph structure and interpreting the intentions of the author.
Writing strategies and devices
In addition to the work on critical reading, we look at persuasive language and this includes a section on the origins of rhetoric in ancient Greece. We also work on developing a method for planning answers, strategies for producing engaging creative writing and structuring discursive essays.
The idea that English is a subject that you either have or lack the gift for is simply untrue. Granted some students do have a natural flair in the subject, but all students can improve their skills with a structured and conscientious approach. My private tuition approach has been particularly successful with students who enjoy the structure and clarity of the sciences but who come unstuck when faced with the broader, less easily-defined skill-set required to succeed on the English Language paper. I have written an entire course for the English Language paper which is designed specifically to be delivered online.
Over the years I have prepared hundreds of students for their GCSE English Language exam. Over the last three years over twenty students have worked with me online. On average, students I have worked with for five months or more have increased by 1.9 grades. Most students have seen a two-grade increase and the majority of the rest have seen a one-grade increase. A large number of students have gone from failing grades to pass grades on the English Language paper. This is something that I'm particularly proud of as a tutor as it is notoriously difficult to help a failing student turn their results around. However, as fantastic as it is for students to achieve the best grades possible, I'm certain that the long-term benefits of developing accurate and articulate writing, honing analytical abilities and improving communication skills will be the true legacy of going through a course of private tuition. The rush of a successful exam result will fade, but the skills and confidence a student develops through their education is carried forward into every area of their life.
The English Literature course presents students with a variety of fictional texts - specifically one Shakespeare Play, one nineteenth-century text and one twentieth-century text. Pupils also study a collection of poems centred around an abstract theme such as love, war or the passage of time. The assessment requires students to engage with texts in-depth and to offer long, well-developed answers on an aspect of the text such as its themes, development of characters or narrative style. Students are required to have an in-depth knowledge of the texts and a well-rounded understanding of their historical, political and intellectual contexts.
The English Literature GCSE requires students to sustain a subtle and well-thought-out argument, using quotations and accurate textual references to back up points. The English Literature exam provides an excellent grounding for students who intend to go on to University, regardless of what subject they choose to pursue. Reading and researching a text thoroughly, thinking critically and presenting ideas in a well-considered manner are skills that are essential on any University course.
First and foremost, I work to ensure that students have an excellent knowledge of the texts themselves. It's important to have a very detailed knowledge of the timeline within the narrative and a clear understanding of character development. We also focus in on key episodes texts and explore how they impact the direction of the story.
We look closely at the writer's style - this encompasses phrasing, sentence structure and vocabulary. Students should feel very confident in commenting on a writer's use of language and the particular qualities that distinguish the author's prose. We spend time considering exactly how the author's style impacts on the text as a whole. We work on selecting and preparing an in-depth analysis of key quotations and I ensure that students have their own individual selection of quotations, not just the out-of-the-box quotations that masses of students lift from revision guides.
Perhaps the most important thing that distinguishes a mediocre mark from a higher one on the literature paper is the depth of analysis that a student offers. During the course, we look at the critical reception of the texts over the years to help students develop further ideas of how they can be interpreted and understood.
One strategy that has been exceptionally effective in improving student's exam scripts over recent years has been the incorporation of contextual knowledge into answers. This is something that even relatively good candidates tend to neglect. We look into the biography of the individual authors as well as the historical and intellectual backdrop of the texts in some detail. It is relatively rare to come across scripts that show evidence of in-depth contextual awareness, thus candidates who display this ability set themselves apart.
This year's cohort fared extremely well in the English Literature exam. There were as an average grade increase of two grades for students that I worked with for five months or longer. Several students made an increase of three grades and even the student with the lowest level of improvement saw an increase of one grade. Two students who described themselves as 'uninspired' by the literature course at the beginning of the tuition process went on to achieve a grade 9. It was to see fantastic to see so many students come out with an excellent result, but it was even more satisfying to see how many students had become so much more engaged in the study of literature by the end of the course. The skills they take away with them will prove invaluable in the coming years.