Christian has a first-class BA (Hons) in English Language and Literature from the University of Oxford and is a full-time A-Level English Tutor. He also tutors History, Politics and Philosophy to students for Spires Online tutors and The Profs Tutors. As we build up towards exam time he shares his top revision tips for A-level English students.
“A famous Shakespearean lady once said to her beau: ‘Screw your courage to the sticking place, and you will not fail!’ Meaning: ‘get over your cold feet, you wet fish, and kill the King!’
Whilst Lady Macbeth’s aspirations are not wise to aspire to, you’d do well to emulate the gusto with which she goes about her task. ‘Screw your courage’… and let’s begin.
A-Level English Revision Tip 1: Keep it simple.
It’s easy to get confused between long-winded, rambling sentences and comprehensive, well-constructed phrases. Choose the latter. You don’t want to give your examiner a headache by combining a lot of thoughts. You need to show great clarity now. A paragraph should follow the previous one, just as an idea should lead to the next. Use commas liberally. Allow them to breathe as they read. Consider reading it out loud to yourself (in your head). It is probable that if you run out of (head) breath, you’ve also run out of sense.
A-Level English Revision Tip 2: Answer That Question.
You think you’re expected to perform better in exams now that you’re at the top of the school tree. The good news is that your brain is bigger and juicier than ever before. There are no exceptions. Concentrate on the specifics of the question to achieve excellent results. Do you see that pen? Use it to underline the question. Now underline the extract on the paper. Develop your own code so you can plan rapidly and without fear. Connect ideas to paragraph 1 with a circle, paragraph 2 with a square, and so on. Planning is essential to writing a concise and clear essay. Make sure you practice. Take it seriously.
A-Level English Revision Tip 3: P.S.
If in doubt, ask yourself, ‘What is this author trying to say?’ ‘And how are they saying it’. At school one of my English teachers made me write ‘Yes… But…’ on my pencil case. Essays really should be able to be broken down that simply. ‘Yes I agree with the title in this way… but not in this way’.
A-Level English Revision Tip 4: Words.
It’s time to impress them with your vocabulary. Write down every new word you learn. Using technical words for literary devices will elevate your writing. Would you be able to define partisan, autologous, and caesura and say how to use them?
A-Level English Revision Tip 5: Read.
You should read your texts three or four times before the exam. Organize your schedule accordingly. Additionally, you should read the criticism. In addition to strengthening your arguments, it will also serve as a benchmark for your writing. So read wisely, write wisely.
A-Level English Revision Tip 6: Study Guides.
Those infamous York Notes are no longer the only source of information available. The Sparknotes site offers a facility, No Fear Shakespeare, to translate Shakespearean verse into modern English. You can also check out YouTube and the Poetry Archive.
A-Level English Revision Tip 7: Make Notes.
You should always start making notes early. Note important themes and characters. Alternatively, you can type out your own handwritten notes. Your A4 parts can be transformed into flashcards; turn your flashcards into buzzwords. Synthesise. Distil. Synthesise. Distil. Patterns and connections will appear naturally as you go through the text. You will need this information when they ask how the extract relates to the whole. This is essential for drama and modern texts, as well as for examining a poet’s entire body of work.
A-Level English Revision Tip 8: Assessment Objectives
Become familiar with those AOs. Recognize the historical context of the writing. Learn about the author. Explore their other works. Take a look at their contemporaries’ works. Easy marks.
A-Level English Revision Tip 9: Shakespeare.
Is it being performed at a theatre near you? Are there TV or film adaptations I can watch? Are there any actors you are friends with who can offer their thoughts? These plays were written for the stage. It is true of all drama. It is your duty to see them as three-dimensional pieces, which were conceived to be spoken aloud and played live in front of an audience. In what ways does the playwright affect the audience at any particular time?
A-Level English Revision Tip 10: Poetry.
Learn the key themes, symbols, and motifs of your poems thoroughly, and annotate them heavily. Poets often describe their feelings or moods in their words. How does the poet describe this? How do we experience this as readers or listeners? When a poem seems jumbled or hard to follow, there is probably a reason for it. Why did the poet style her poem in this way? Read more of the poet’s work. Learn their oeuvre.
A-Level English Revision Tip 11: Get an English Tutor
If you would like some one-on-one tuition book your A-Level English tutor with Spires Online Tutors or The Profs Tutors. You don’t get long in an exam to write those essays, and you won’t’ be able to say everything you’ve read, learnt, and thought about. The best thing you can do is prepare well, and then answer the question. After writing out a iron-clad plan…