‘A Christmas Carol’ GCSE English Exam Question Made Easy!


“Deck the halls with boughs of holly – Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la

 ‘Tis the season to be jolly. Fa-la-la-la-la…”

If you study GCSE English Literature, this is also the season (or term) to be revising Charles Dickens’ classic yuletide tale, ‘A Christmas Carol’.

The novella has a heart-warming ending with Scrooge miraculously metamorphosising from the archetypal tight-fisted miser into a generous, laughter-filled lover of all things festive.

The Christmas Spirit abounds in the story’s closing pages but, sadly, for our intrepid GCSE students there is often no similar conclusion: no mince pies around the open fire and no presents under the tree… just… er… a mock exam!

Bah Humbug, indeed.

But have no fear, the TutorRight team are here – not quite to save Christmas, but to make those pesky ‘A Christmas Carol’ GCSE English Exam Questions seem much easier.

Understanding what to expect from the exam question

There should be no surprises when you open the exam paper. The good news is that there won’t be any nasty surprises with the ‘A Christmas Carol’ question. Although there are very slight differences between the exam boards (Eduqas or AQA). The general principles and format of the questions are very similar.

You will have a printed extract from the novel in the GCSE English Exam Question. You will then be asked to focus on a particular aspect (usually a character or theme) in the extract. Then you will need to write about the same focus across the whole novel.

Here are a couple of examples:

Eduqas GCSE English Exam Question: 

‘At the beginning of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge says, ‘‘I wish to be left alone’’. Write about some of the events in the novel which cause Scrooge to change his mind and how they are presented. 

In your response you should: 

  • refer to the extract and the novel as a whole
  • show your understanding of characters and events in the novel
  • refer to the contexts of the novel’

AQA GCSE English Exam Question:

‘Starting with this extract, explore how Dickens presents ideas about joy and happiness in A Christmas Carol. 

Write about:

  • how Dickens presents joy and happiness in this extract
  • how Dickens presents ideas about joy and happiness in the novel as a whole.’

Top Tip 1: Scrooge, Scrooge, Scrooge

As the main character in the story, it kind of goes without saying, if you have focused your revision heavily on Scrooge, you won’t go far wrong. As you can see from the example questions above, you may or not be asked specifically about the character of Scrooge. 

But even if you aren’t, you’ll still end up spending a lot of time writing about Scrooge – and you need to do this. This is because what he does – and how he reacts to what he sees others do – is so pivotal to the whole story and Dickens’ message overall.

Top Tip 2: Answer the exam question in a sentence

Now don’t get us wrong here – we’re not saying you can write a one sentence answer and that will be enough! But, where a lot of students go wrong is that they don’t write an answer that is completely focused on what the question is asking them to do.

Unfortunately, when examiners mark students’ responses they might be forgiven for thinking that they question set was: ‘Tell me what you can remember about ‘A Christmas Carol’.  Some students seem to randomly chuck in anything they can remember!

The thing is… some of it will be relevant but a lot of it won’t be. It’s remarkably easy to write quite a lot but not answer the question at all.

Trying to answer the question in a sentence before you start helps you to avoid this. It should help to keep you focused, and it can be your opening sentence too!

It can be simple:

For example: ‘how Dickens presents ideas about joy and happiness in the novel as a whole.’

A one sentence answer might be something like:

‘At the start of the novel, Scrooge thinks joy and happiness are all down to money but as he sees the way the Cratchits and others with very little celebrate Christmas, he realises that money is not the most important thing.’

Top Tip 3: Characters, themes… and context

Focusing on the characters and themes in the novel is essential. It’s also important to write about the context. This means the background to the novel and why Charles Dickens wanted to write the story.

With ‘A Christmas Carol’ this is straightforward. Dickens had experience of poverty himself as a child. He had empathy for the poor and was angry about the situation they found themselves in at the time. He felt that society needed to change. 

Throughout your answer, keep referring to why Dickens wrote the story – not just what or how he wrote it.

Follow these top tips to keep well on track with any ‘A Christmas Carol’ exam answer.

Get in touch if you’d like a tutor from TutorRight to give you more detailed help and guidance around GCSE English.

And in the words of Bob Cratchit, we are left with with just one more thing to say:

“A Merry Christmas to us all…”

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