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The 'How to Revise for English' Series: 1 - What Are You Being Tested On?

English seems to be the subject that causes students, parents, carers and teachers alike to scratch their heads when asked, 'How do you revise for English?' I know of one school that has produced a revision timetable for its students, and - despite English being a core subject - it has completely missed English Language from it! Sadly, I'm guilty of sitting at parent and carer evenings and suggesting that the best way to revise or help at home with English is to 'make sure that your child is reading'. Well, yeah - duh. Now I'm not pooh poohing this advice because reading is undoubtedly one of THE BEST activities to ensure progress in English, but it isn't a fix-all solution.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be writing a series of blogs to try and demystify this. I'm on a mission to revolutionise English revision and will be sharing key info, top tips, and plenty of revision ideas, so keep your eyes peeled!

First up: what do you actually need to know?

Essentially, the English Language GCSE exams have been designed to assess how well you can read and write a range of texts. To answer the question more specifically, the examiners will be looking for the following:

  • Can you understand the main message of fiction and non-fiction texts?
  • Are you able to understand texts from different times?
  • Can you state information that is obvious in a text?
  • Can you read instructions (this is one that catches out so many people!)?
  • Can you find information from different parts of one text, or from two different texts, and bring them together to talk about a specific idea?
  • Are you able to select quotations and use them within a discussion of the text?
  • Do you understand that a writer has used language, form and structure to create certain effects?
  • Can you understand and relay the effects of a writer’s methods on the reader/audience?
  • As with all subjects, there are specific terms that are uses explicitly to name parts of speech and linguistic and structural devices; can you name them correctly and use these to inform your discussion of a text?
  • If you are reading two texts, are you able to recognise how they are similar and different to one another?
  • Can you analyse how writers use similar or different methods for similar or different purposes?
  • Everyone forms opinions about texts they read: can you use these to form judgements about the text?
  • Are you able to articulately communicate your ideas in writing?
  • Can you organise your time?
  • Are you able to annotate a text?
  • Can you plan before you commit to writing a response to a question?
  • Skills are transferable; if you’ve just spent an hour analysing a ‘good’ piece of writing in terms of its language, structure and effects, are you able to apply this knowledge to your own writing? (Yes - the examiners do expect you to be inspired by what you’ve read!)
  • Does your writing make sense?
  • Are you able to organise information?
  • Do you understand how to spell, punctuate and use grammar, and how well do you apply this knowledge?
  • When you write, do you know how to use different sentence starts, lengths and forms?
  • Can you write a coherent and cohesive text, i.e. one that has linked ideas presented in a logical format?
  • Does your writing suit the purpose, form and audience you have been asked to write for?
  • Can you decide on the most appropriate level of formality for your writing, and do you apply this decision?
  • Can you use linguistic and structural devices in your own writing?
  • Do you use appropriate and interesting vocabulary?
  • Can you manipulate and craft language to create specific effects?

So, not much really…

Although the list is long, it doesn’t need to be daunting: these are skills that the vast majority of you will have been using day in, day out, throughout your school days. Not only will all of your English and literacy lessons for the last twelve years have focused on all of these, the vast majority of your other lessons will have been secretly cementing your knowledge of them!

If there's anything in particular you'd like me to blog about in terms of English revision, email me: and I'll see what I can do!