GCSE English Language Explained

GCSE English Language Explained

The GSCE English exam is one of the most important papers that a student can sit. It is highly regarded by many universities across the United Kingdom and is often a fundamental requirement for many courses. The exam has two parts:

  • The English Language exam
  • The English literature exam

The language part of the examination focuses more on reading and writing skills. On the other hand, the literature paper requires examinees to illustrate their knowledge and understanding of poetry, prose, and drama.

This article focuses on the English Language exam. Here is all you need to know about it and how you can improve your chances of passing the exam.


The Exam Board

The GCSE English language and Literature syllabus was reformed in 2015, and the first examinations under the new system were held in 2017.

The changes impacted the study materials, how the learning occurs, and how the examinations are graded.

Today, the GCSE English exams are offered by three different boards:

  • AQA
  • Pearson Edexcel
  • OCR


Although each board takes a slightly different approach to examining students, the course structure and grading system are relatively similar.

This examination does not require any foundation papers, and there is no higher paper for it either. All students sit the same exam and are graded accordingly.


What Do Students Study for the English Language Exam?

Passing the English Language exam requires that you demonstrate your mastery of reading and writing. You can expect to study the following topics intensely:


  • Use of standard English
  • Creative reading
  • Fictional texts
  • Literary non-fiction texts
  • Non-fiction texts
  • Descriptive/narrative writing
  • Creative writing
  • Extended writing
  • Responding to questions & feedback
  • Presenting


What is the Exam Structure?

Under the new system, the exam has two papers. This was a deliberate effort by the examining boards to allow students more time to arrange their thoughts and respond to examination questions.

The structure of each paper depends on the board you choose. AQA, for instance, has a paper dedicated to creative writing and another about comprehension and perspectives.

The language exam also has a third paper known as the Spoken Language Endorsement. It requires students to showcase their speaking skills.

However, this third paper does not contribute to the final Language grade. Nevertheless, students still get separate grades according to their performance. The three pass grades for the Spoken Language Endorsement are a pass, merit, and a distinction.


How Do the Different Boards Conduct the Examination?

AQA Board

The AQA board requires students to sit two different papers for the GSCE Language exam. The first paper tests their creative reading and writing.

The paper is worth 80 marks, which makes up 50% of the total grade. Students have 1 hour 45 minutes to complete the paper.

The second paper requires students to express their perspectives and viewpoints on different issues, and it also takes 1 hour and 45 minutes. Additionally, it is worth 80 marks, which makes up the rest of the exam.


OCR Board

Like the AQA board, the OCR board also conducts the exam in two phases. The first explores different non-fictitious texts.

Students have two hours to sit the exam, and it has a total of 80 marks available. This comprises 50% of the total grade.

The second paper is based on literary texts, and it also takes two hours. Like the non-fictitious texts exams, this paper is also worth 80 marks and makes up the other half of the grade. The paper also takes two hours.


The Pearson Edexcel Board

Of the three examining boards, the Pearson Edexcel Board is the most distinctive one. The Language examination consists of two papers.

The first is one fiction and imaginative writing. It is worth 64 marks, which makes up 40% of the final grade. Students are expected to complete the paper in 1 hour and 45 minutes.

The second paper tests the students’ non-fiction and transactional writing. It has 96 marks available, which comprises 60% of the total grade. Students have 2 hours and 5 minutes to write this exam.

These papers typically have two sections with two different and unseen texts. Both sections demand that students use their analytical skills. The first section tests students’ comprehension skills, while the second examines their writing capabilities.


What is the GSCE English Language Grading System?

Under the previous system, the GSCE English Exams were graded using letters A to G and an exceptional U, which stood for Ungraded. The U was the lowest grade that a student could attain.

The new system uses numbers 1-9 to accord grades. If you score a 9, 8, or 7, it is the equivalent of an A and an A under the previous system.

A 6, 5, or 4 generally points to a B or C grade. A 5 is the same as the previous strong pass, while 4 is the old standard pass.

A 3, 2, or 1 is equivalent to a D, E, F, or G grade under the old system.


How to Pass the GSCE English Language Exam?

There is no denying that passing the GSCE English language exam can be challenging. This is because students have to do well in two different papers, which can be somewhat difficult. Students have to exert themselves to master the skills needed to score a good grade.

Although a personal effort is a great determinant of how a student will perform in their language exam, working closely with an experienced tutor certainly makes things easier. This is why students should choose their schools and preparation centres carefully.

Students also generally do well when they have a strong support system as they prepare and sit for their exams. This means that family and friends should lend the student as much support as they need during the exam period.

Another factor that plays a role in a student’s performance is the GSCE English Examination Board they choose. Each board emphasizes a specific area of study. Therefore, students should select a board that generally favours their strong area in the English language.

Although the GCSE English Exam is not easy to pass, it is exceedingly important to a person’s academic and professional life. This is why you should make every effort to ensure that you do well in the exam.

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