A little introduction
The previous Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, thought that GCSEs just weren’t hard enough, and in attempt to make them harder he chose to concentrate on English and Maths as to him ‘they are both fundamental to facilitating learning in other subjects’. The Department of Education have therefore made English and Maths tougher, thinking that this will have a knock on effect on GCSEs more generally.
Out of the two, it seems that English has taken the brunt of the changes. Ofqual, the exams regulator, considers the subject to have been historically ‘overgraded’ due to the weight that the coursework and Speaking and Listening assessment have carried within the overall grade. As such, they decided to scrap the coursework and Speaking and Listening, in an attempt to make the subject more demanding; this has resulted in the subject being vastly different to what it was in the last decade or more.
A Summary of the changes to English Language and English Literature GCSE
How the students will now be assessed:
Coursework, which previously would have counted as half of the final grade for both GCSEs (approximately), along with the Speaking and Listening assessment, have been scrapped, and replaced by exams at the end of the two year course. At this point a resit option is available for English Language in the November after the exam, and teachers hope that this will also be made available for Literature too (though it isn’t as yet).
What the students will now be assessed on:
The Language exams (there will now be two) will include more literature- taken from the 19th, 20th and 21st century – and can either be fiction or non-fiction literature. This will make the new Language exam much more difficult: the current Language exam comprises of non-fiction writing strictly from the 21st century, which is often quite similar in nature, whereas the new Language exam will contain writing that will be much more wide ranging, and far less predictable.
The Literature exam will now be dedicated to ‘classical literature’, and will assess students on Shakespeare; a nineteenth century novel; poetry since 1789, including Romantic Poetry; and Fiction or Drama from the British Isles. On top of this, there is an emphasis on ‘substantial texts’, which means two new things- short stories are out, and that students must read texts in their entirety. And on top of this, there will now be an unseen section; where there wasn’t one before.
It goes without saying, I think, that the Literature paper too is now substantially harder. Students will have to study more challenging texts for it, and they will have to come to terms with being confronted with an unseen piece of literature to analyse as well.
It should be mentioned that all of these changes have related to Reading and not Writing (both the Literature and Language exams are made up of a Reading and a Writing section). Writing hasn’t been changed as much, save in one area- SPAG, as us teachers call it (which is short for spelling, grammar and punctuation). In the English Language Exam, spelling, grammar, punctuation and writing structure will now make up 20% of the students’ final grade- a very big jump from what it is currently- and in the English Literature exam it will count for 5%
How students can best prepare for the changes
The importance of reading
Reading has never been as important as it is now for success in the GCSE exams. Reading, which will now mean reading the right sorts of texts, will really prepare students for the new, Literature-heavy GCSEs. In both Literature and Language they will be assessed on sophisticated texts from three different centuries, so not only do I recommend students getting used to reading texts from all/ any of these time periods but also making sure that the texts they choose are what we call classics. A book chosen from the 19th century probably will be, but be careful with something from the 20th and 21st century- it would be a good idea for a student to ask their English teacher as to whether the book is considered one or not.
Reading will also help develop vocabulary- which is obviously important for the Writing sections, but also for the Reading sections of the exams for both Language and Literature, (students will now have to analyse ‘unseen’ literature in both exams). The more students familiarise themselves with styles they aren’t used to and vocabulary they may consider challenging, the better chance they will have in understanding and coming to terms with analysing the set texts and the potentially challenging unseen questions in the exams for both subjects.
It is now all the more important for students to get used to reading a text all the way through, as in the Literature exam they will now be questioned on any part of the text as well as the text as a whole- which for the first time in a long time means getting through the whole text!
Getting the basics right
Since spelling, punctuation and grammar are now so important, and more heavily weighted, it’s crucial that students actively work on improving in these. Small things can really help and I recommend the following:
- Checking over paragraphs to ensure that the simple things have all been done – full stops, commas, apostrophes and capital letters are all present and correct
- Making sure to use the full range of punctuation- students should make sure they can use all of forms correctly, and if unable to, making sure to seek help
- Using a variety of sentences: long sentences and short sentences; simple and complex sentences- and making sure to vary the complex sentences too
- Students should keep track of words they often misspell, and learn to spell them correctly
To finish off I’d say, students who really want to do well in English will make sure that they: develop a really good understanding of the set texts they are and will be studying in class; get to the point where they feel comfortable analysing a range of extracts from texts they wouldn’t have seen before; and feel confident in their ability to come up with interesting writing, that is also grammatically correct and contains accurate spelling.
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