How to get an A/A* in A-level English Literature
Updated: Sep 14
English Literature is a subject that requires a constantly analytic and critical mindset, there will always be a deeper meaning to what you are reading, even if you don't see it at first. What makes it such an interesting subject is the way different people engage with the same text but can come up with polar opposite ideas and interpretations. The way an author/poet/play-write can evoke emotions and ideas through a page is truly fascinating and if you have the opportunity to choose this A-Level, go for it!
Some of my amazing friends helped me out with this post since I didn't do English Literature, and they received A's and A*s at A-Level!
Read the following tips to help you reach those higher grades!
1) Make sure to watch the movie or fully read the book before your exam. If you do this at the start of your A-Level journey, you could re-read any chapters where you're unsure of what happens or watch the movie again in the summer before y13 to make sure you really know the plot. You have to be very comfortable with every single text you are learning and going through it outside of class in your own time can really help you to become more aware of the text.
2) Make a set of thematic, character and setting notes, flashcards and quotes. Not only does this organise your revision and makes sure that you don't miss out important pieces of content, it prepares you for the chance that a thematic or character question for example might come up. When you create revision cards for your English quotes however, make sure that you do not just analyse the language – you have to think outside of the text itself and see how it relates on a societal and contextual level. Look at the symbols, ideas and references that the author has definitely included (if it is an A level text there will be complexity).
My teacher always told me that the route to an A* essay was to be perceptive in your writing, in other words to demonstrate your understanding of the depth and sensitivity of the text. To help you understand more about the text maybe think to yourself what the purpose of its construction was. What made the author write this monumental piece of text? You could also critical theories to develop and produce interesting and perceptive points.
3) The main bulk of your revision should be practice questions, so that you are not only practicing your essay writing skills but also time management skills as well as exposure to different questions and mark schemes to understand what examiners are looking for when they ask certain types of questions. Get your teacher to mark them in detail and ask to have some time dedicated to sitting down and really breaking apart the essay, looking at strengths and weaknesses but also alternative points that can be used in support of or in contrast of the ones you made.
4) Examiners reports are also vital as they give a detailed look at past mistakes students have made. Reading these can help you avoid making the same ones, but also aid in you how the examiner wants you analyse certain texts and phrases since you never know, a similar question may pop up in your exam, requiring you to apply a similarly critical mindset.
5) The genre of the book matters. Explore the expectations of that genre and question whether the text conforms or subvert those expectations. For example in Othello, the genre is a tragedy. Typical features of a tragedy includes a tragic hero (Othello) who has a downfall (dies) because of his fatal flaw (hamartia) which, for Othello, included hubris, jealousy, naivety) and the tragic villain (Iago). In this respect, Othello conforms to the typical expectations of a tragedy. to explain this further you would then go on to critically analyse quotes to support your points.
6) The structure of your essay is also important. Practice writing succinct introductions and conclusions as well as embedding quotations in your analysis.In English it does not only matter what ideas you write down but how it is conveyed to the examiner. Planning allows the arguments in your essay to have structure which is so important! Without structure you could easily stray away from the question. Spend around 5 minutes or so planning your essay (look at this time especially under exam supervision) – for example for your first paragraph your plan would be your 1st point supplemented with a couple of quotes to spark your ideas when you come to actually writing the essay. If you are unsure of how to write essays, check out my post on How to write A/A* style essays.
7) This follows on from the previous point but ALWAYS ANSWER THE QUESTION. Even though it may seem pretty obvious it is understandable that under exam conditions you just want blurt out all you have remembered about the text, but if this information does not relate properly to the question then you could get really low marks. I would suggest that as soon as you get the essay question spend a minute analysing the question, highlight key words and comprehend what it is really asking you. Even when you write essays for your teachers make sure that you look at the question properly, each point you make in every argument should relate back to the question, you could write an A* essay but if it doesn’t relate specifically back to the question then all of your hard work will not count.
These tips are not here to guarantee you an A/A* in your exams but to help you structure your revision and just general A-level studies from the get go to help you work towards achieving those higher grades!
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Hi, I'm Aba and I started The Student Scope to give other students advice on their academic journey. Have a look around and enjoy!