How I achieved a grade 9/8 in my GCSE English - being in Set 5

(these tips apply mostly for previously studied text)


First of all - You have to believe in your capability to achieve those 8s and 9s - sounds very stereotypical (I know) but let me give you an example. I could have said to myself: You are in set 5, surely the highest grade you can achieve is idk a 6. However, I tried to convince myself I could do better. I started off by redrafting my coursework over and over again, although my teacher told me it was good enough(at this point a massive thank you to her, as most of these tips came from her and I just absolutely loved her teaching - it motivated me so much) and went on to look up tons of exam techniques and tips. The mindset is definitely a key ingredient to success. I kept thinking I wanted it to be good for a set one, not a set five student.*In the end I achieved grades I was more than pleased with, so I thought I'd share some tips with everyone who wants to improve their Essay writing (specifically in English)


My Number One Tip? Structure: Trust me in saying that the way I structured my essays are the reason I got the grades that I got. Not being a native speaker, I didn't have the same range of vocabulary as most other GCSE student - but structure is something I consistently worked on! Keep reading to read my 'Recipe of Essay Writing'


Time Management in the exam

Do timed essay practices. Having the best arguments will be no use to you if you run out of time. Use your time depending on the number of marks available. Eg 20 marks: 5 minutes planning and 15 minutes writing. If you take a watch into the exam I recommend setting the watch to 12pm as it makes it easier to check how much time you have left.


PLEASE plan your essay and don't just start writing - it doesn't have to be a mind map, it can be just some bullet points. Make sure you use your best points first (if you were to run out of time) and arrange them for your essay 'to make sense' to an examiner. Planning ensures that you don't make a point and remember more details two paragraphs later making it impossible to go back and change it.


'Recipe' for writing a 8/9 English Essay


Here is an example paragraph on 'Of Mice and Men' to illustrate the 4 key factors when writing an English Essay:


Q: How is the theme of racism portrait in the novel 'Of Mice and Men' by John Steinbeck?


P: Firstly, Steinbeck uses the character Curly's Wife to underline the inherent nature of racism in the 1940s.


E: Curly's wife who suffers discrimination herself, only being referred to as Curly's wife rather than an own name, uses her race to execute power over Crooks. Steinbeck writes 'I could have you strung up on a tree so easy it ain't even funny'. This threat, referring to lynching, quite common during 1940s America has a strong impact on Crooks who 'reduce(s) himself to nothing'.


C: This underlines the theme of racism portrait in 'Of Mice and Men leaving the readers feeling empathy and pity towards Crooks'.


Analysis of the paragraph:

1) Structure - PEC (Point, Evidence, Conclusion / Link back to Q)

2) Staying relevant - This is crucial. The examiner 'doesn't care' about your knowledge of the text, unless it is relevant to the question. In order to stay relevant use words from the question in your point and conclusion.

3) Evidence - Use quotations to support your points, particularly in Literature essays analyze your quotations: what device is it? impact on the reader? tone? word choice? how does it fit into the wider context of the book / the time it is set?

4) Context - when is the text set and what impact does it make? format: is it a novel, play or poem (depending on each you will either have to use reader or audience)


When comparing two texts use the 'Diamond Technique'.

1) Make a point / link

2) Explain it's relevance to text 1

3) Explain it's relevance to text 2

4) Link back to point


Eg: Both texts X and Y use Metaphors, however whilst the author of text X uses them to show ... text Y's author uses them to indicate ... An example of this in text X would be ... AN example of this in text Y would be ... (Don't forget the analysis of each quotations!) This conveys how both texts...

Finally, as I mentioned above the reason I started to love English was because of the teacher I had. I don't think I would have achieved the same grades if I would have stayed in set 4. So if you ever get moved down sets etc: Don't be disappointed! See is as an opportunity because it can make you achieve better grades in the end :)


*Disclaimer: For those of you who's schools don't have 'Sets': my year group was divided in 6 sets (with set one being the most able students for that particular subject). Despite me being moved from set four to set five in year 10, I managed to achieve a grade 9 in my English Literature and grade 8 in my English Language exam, as well as full marks in almost all of my course works.I do not want to show off with my grades the sole purpose of this post is to help some of you to achieve the grade you want to.

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