GCSE English Literature Explained

GCSE English literature was reformed by the Department for Education in 2015. This brought numerous changes to both teachings as well as the final examinations. These plans were announced in 2013 and evidence of these changes was seen in exams held in 2017.


GSCE English is considered a core academic qualification and is held in high regard, regardless of where you are in the UK. A qualification in GCSE English will typically be vital when applying to different universities.


GSCE literature is one of the two main topics covered in GSCE English along with language.


What Will Students Study as part of GSCE English Literature?


Students will study a wide range of different pieces of literature as part of their qualification. This includes:


  • Prose
  • Poetry
  • Drama text
  • Shakespeare plays


The exact content will differ depending on the school and which ones that they decide to teach. The texts chosen and studied throughout the GSCE are used for the final assessment. The tests are set by the exam board and will be referred to as set tests. Each of the three exam boards will provide a list of texts that they offer as part of the qualification. Schools can then decide which texts they want to teach.


There are several required texts for the qualification including type. For instance, students will always be required to study modern prose or a drama as well as a 19th century novel, shakespeare play, and a piece of poetry.


Examples for modern prose could include:


  • Animal Farm
  • Never Let Me Go
  • DNA


Shakespear might include:


  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Macbeth
  • Much Ado About Nothing


Texts can be different depending on the class and set that a child is in. Alternatively, schools may choose to keep the texts the same across all different English Literature sets. Texts will typically be chosen to ensure that there is no ‘easy’ or ‘hard’ option. Instead, exam boards will devise a list with texts that are comparable in terms of difficulty levels.


Exam Boards


Currently, there are three different exam boards that provide papers for English literature. This include:


  • Pearson Edexcel
  • OCR
  • AQA


It’s worth noting that there is no higher paper for English literature. As such, all students will sit the same papers and they will be graded baseds on the results. It’s possible that the content for the different exam boards will differ slightly. However, structure and topics will remain constant.


What Are The English Literature Topics:


The topics covered for GCSE English Literature include:


  • Shakespeare plays
  • Modern texts
  • Poetry
  • Modern drama


How Is GCSE English Literature Assessed?



There are two formal assessments of GCSE English. Both assessments are closed books and any stimulus materials required will be provided to pupils as part of the assesment. These assessments are a compulsory part of the curriculum. The assessments are:


  • Shakespeare and the 19th Century Novel
  • Modern texts and poetry


The first paper assesses the pupil’s knowledge and understanding of Shakespeare plays as well as the 19th century novel.


The assessment is 1 hour 45 minutes and is worth 64 marks or 40% of the total GCSE.


There are two sections.


In section A, students will be required to answer one question on a Shakespeare play of their choice. They will need to write in detail about an extract from the play as well as a piece about the play as a whole.


In Section B, students will answer a question on a 19th century novel. Again, they will need to write in detail about an extract as well as the play as a whole.


The second assessment is longer and lasts 2 hours 15 minutes. It is worth 96 marks or 60% of the GCSE. This includes:


  • Modern prose or drama texts
  • Poetry
  • Unseen poetry


In section A, students will need to answer essay questions on one of the two prose that they have studied.


In section B students will need to answer a comparative question on a named piece of poetry and another chosen piece from their anthology


In section C students will answer a question on a poem they have not seen before and then compare it to a second unseen poem.


Provided above is the exam structure for AQA. Things are slightly different for OCR and Pearson Edexcel.


For instance, OCR splits two exams equally in terms of marks and the percentage they account for of the total GCSE. Both papers have 80 marks in total covering Modern & Literary Heritage Texts as well as Poetry and Shakespeare. The exams last two hours.


Pearson Edexcel has a paper on Shakespeare and post-1914 literature as well as poetry since 1789 and the 19th-century novel. Again, these papers are split evenly though they are different in lengths. The first paper is half an hour shorter than the second and lasts 1 hour 45 minutes.


What Are The Assessment Objectives For GCSE English Literature?


There are numerous assessment objectives for GSCE English literature. These objectives are utilised by exam boards. It ensures that the correct balance of skills is being obsessed. There are a total of four assessment objectives that are used for GCSE English literature. Students are required to:


Use a range of different vocabulary as well as sentence structure. This should be used to show effect, purpose, and clarity. Accurate spelling must also be used throughout the assessment or essay.


Provide evidence of understanding between the context in which different texts were written including setting and historical period.


Analyse and assess the language, structure, and form that has been used by a writer with specific reference to effects and meanings. Students should also be able to use the correct terminology where this is deemed to be appropriate.


Respond to texts after reading them and understand the point of the content. Students need to maintain a critical style and develop a personal response. This should be accomplished using references as well as quotations. Students should be able to convey a point and then use evidence to ensure that their point is illustrated. Evidence of this should be present throughout the completed assessment.



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