Tag Archive: English GCSE

  1. Why Do We Still Study Shakespeare?

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    It’s a question that many pupils and parents alike have asked over the years… Why do we still study Shakespeare?

    On the face of it, you can see why: the language is unfamiliar and difficult to understand; and – anyway – How can Shakespeare still be relevant over 400 years since the Bard’s death?

    The thing is… Shakespeare’s works are timeless. 

    And here’s why…

    Extraordinary storylines and themes

    Think about some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, such as Romeo and Juliet. A classic and tragic love story; or Macbeth – a good man consumed by ambition, ultimately leading to his downfall, and a story of good conquering evil. 

    Shakespeare’s plays have formed a template for countless books, movies and television dramas that have been produced over the years.

    Shakespeare’s works have strong themes that run through each play. Again, these themes are still relevant today – love, death, ambition, power, fate, just to name a few.

    So, Shakespeare’s plays are timeless and universal. This also makes them completely relatable to a contemporary audience. Ultimately, these are stories about life and human nature. This is why adaptations, such as Baz Luhrmann’s blockbuster Romeo and Juliet, starring Leonardo Di Caprio, and set in a futuristic Los Angeles but using the original Shakespearean language, have been so successful.

    Another example is Macbeth on the Estate, set on a modern council estate in Ladywood, Birmingham with Macbeth and Duncan cast as drug dealers. 

    Shakespeare’s themes and ideas are not confined to the 16th century. They are every bit as relevant in 2023, and beyond.

    Powerful characters

    We all love stories. Not everyone likes reading but everybody loves a story. Fact.

    Whether it’s cartoons, books, films, Netflix dramas, or reality TV shows, it’s what happens to people – the characters – that really holds our interest.

    Shakespeare’s characters are some of the most powerful to be created in the history of storytelling.

    The characters that Shakespeare created are so full of depth. Shakespeare had an incredible way of exploring his characters and portraying their emotions.

    Shakespeare created heroes and villains; complex and flawed characters; and individuals we love and those we love to hate.

    From murderers and traitors to lovers and dreamers, Shakespeare’s characters are full of everything imaginable and more. And there really is something for everyone.

    Stack of William Shakespeare Books that GCSE students use. Asking the question 'Why do we still study Shakespeare?'

    Why do we still study Shakespeare? Stunning quotes and wordplay

    Shakespeare’s influence on the language we speak is undeniable. Think of all the sayings that have become part of everyday life: ‘cruel to be kind’, ‘hoodwinked’, ‘in a pickle’ – they all come from the Bard. In fact, it’s likely that we cite Shakespeare virtually every day without even realising it.

    Then look at some of the most famous quotes from Shakespeare’s characters.

    Is there a better way to sum up life than: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.”?

    And is there a more effective way of showing how, ultimately, we are all the same – regardless of our colour, creed, or religion than these lines from The Merchant of Venice? “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”

    And, just how insightful is this from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

    “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

    Shakespeare was wise, worldly, and wonderful.

    And that’s why we still study Shakespeare!
    If you are struggling with the Shakespeare component of GCSE English Literature – or any other part of the course – a private tutor could be the perfect solution! Get in touch to find out more.

  2. Everything you need to know about the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ GCSE Exam Question

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    With February being the month of romance, it seems appropriate to take a close look at one of the most romantic stories of all time – Shakespeare’s classic tale of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. So, while there’s romance in the air, let’s spread the love with some top tips for how to answer the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ GCSE exam question.

    This tragic play, depicting the lives and deaths of two star-crossed lovers, is one of the most loved works in literary history.

    And, of course, there’s also the little matter of the fact that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a text on the GCSE English Literature exam.

    The ‘Romeo and Juliet’ exam question: What to expect?

    First and foremost, let’s deal with the basics. What can you expect on the exam? Regardless of whether you are studying the AQA or the Eduqas syllabus, the demands of the questions are very similar. There will be a short extract from the play printed on the paper. The question will then ask to focus on a particular character or theme in the given extract. 

    The AQA exam will then ask you to write about the same character or theme in the whole play. For example:

    Starting with this conversation, explore how Shakespeare presents the relationship between Romeo and Juliet. 

    Write about:

    • how Shakespeare presents their relationship in this conversation
    • how Shakespeare presents the relationship between Romeo and Juliet in the play as a whole.

    The Eduqas exam will also ask you to focus on a character or theme in the extract, but the second – separate – the question could ask you to write about another aspect of the whole play. For example:

    Read the extract on the opposite page. Then answer the following question: 

    Look at how Juliet and the Nurse speak and behave here. How do you think an audience might respond to this part of the play? Refer closely to details from the extract to support your answer. For which of the male characters in Romeo and Juliet do you have the most sympathy? Write about how Shakespeare creates sympathy for your chosen character.

    So, how do you approach the task?

    Focus on what the question is asking you to do

    It sounds obvious, but one of the biggest mistakes students make is not focusing on what the question is asking them to do closely enough. Many simply write down the main things that they can remember about the play; choose a few quotes to back up the points they have made; and make the occasional comment about Shakespeare’s language.

    Of course, some of all that will be relevant but certainly not all of it. 

    You need to make sure your answer remains totally focused on the demands of the question, from the outset.

    Romeo and Juliet

    Take this example:

    Starting with this conversation, explore how Shakespeare presents aggressive male behaviour in Romeo and Juliet.  

    Write about:

    • how Shakespeare presents aggressive male behaviour in this conversation
    • how Shakespeare presents aggressive male behaviour in the play as a whole.

    You need to come up with a statement – an argument – that sums up the main points you are going to make in your answer, such as:

    In the extract and throughout the play as a whole Shakespeare presents male aggression through every male character – with the exception of Benvolio. This aggression is one of the main reasons why things go wrong during the play of Romeo and Juliet.’

    Exam Paper

    Using Quotes

    One thing you can be sure of is that you will be expected to use quotes from across the play in your answer. Have a few saved up about characters and themes. However, there’s a lot to remember so it’s best to keep them short and sweet; easy to remember; and to select ones that say a lot about the story.

    ‘The Prologue’ – right at the start of the play – is as good a place as any to look: “ancient grudge” shows that the problems between the Montague and Capulet families are deep-rooted and long-standing. Similarly, both “star-crossed lovers” and “death-marked love” show that Romeo and Juliet’s relationship was doomed to end in tragedy from the beginning.

    If your son or daughter is struggling with the Shakespeare question, hopefully, this blog will have helped a little bit…

    But one of our English tutors would be able to help them even more – with ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and all aspects of GCSE English Language and English Literature. Get in touch for a chat to find out more.

  3. GCSE Grades Explained: A guide for parents and students

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    In England GCSEs are now graded using a numerical system running from 9-1, rather than A* to G – a system that had been in place since GCSE Grades replaced the old ‘O’ Levels in the late 80s. This has caused – for parents and students alike – a fair amount of confusion. Many ask questions, such as: What do these numbers mean? What is a Grade 9 equivalent to? What is a pass at GCSE?

    But, have no fear… TutorRight are here to answer all these questions and more with our handy guide ‘GCSE Grades Explained: A guide for parents and students’.

    So, without further ado, let’s get explaining…

    When and why were GCSE grades changed?

    Before we get started, it makes sense first to explain when and why the GCSE grades were changed.

    The new numerical grading was introduced as part of a wider curriculum overhaul carried out by the Conservative government in 2014 by the then-Education Secretary, Michael Gove. It was perceived that too much emphasis had been placed on GCSE coursework. The reformed examination system sought to make the GCSEs more challenging and to make almost all subjects assessed by final exams taken after two years of study. This replaced the old model of assessment which favoured regular assessments through a series of modules.

    It was argued that the new numerical scale recognised “more clearly the achievements of high-attaining students.” This is because the additional grades created allow for greater differentiation. Essentially, students can now gain ‘higher’ levels of each grade, instead of simply a standard grade. All exams now contain more extended writing, essay-style questions. It was also explained that the move to numbered grades would make it clear to employers that students had taken the more challenging GCSE.

    The new reformed GCSEs were introduced gradually between 2017 and 2019, beginning with English and Maths. By 2020, all GCSEs had adopted the new number graded system.

    GCSE Grades

    What are the new grades?

    The highest grade is now 9, with 1 being the lowest. The U grade, meaning “ungraded”, remains the same.

    The number scale is not directly equivalent to the old letter one. However, the two scales do meet in certain places:

    • the bottom of the new grade 7 is equivalent with the bottom of the old grade A;
    • the bottom of the new grade 4 is equivalent with the bottom of the old grade C;
    • the bottom of new grade 1 is equivalent with the bottom of the old grade G;
    • three of the new number grades – 9, 8 and 7 – correspond to the two previous top old grades of A* and A.

    What do pupils need to pass their exams?

    A grade 4 is a standard pass and a 5 is a ‘strong’ pass. Technically, a student who gets all grade 4s has passed all their exams. However, school league tables are based on the percentage of pupils who achieve a grade 5 or above in English and Maths. Also, bear in mind that many sixth forms and colleges will ask for 5s in certain subjects as an entry requirement – although this varies, and most schools and colleges are quite flexible.

    What is a GCSE Point Score?

    You may have also heard about something called a ‘GCSE Point Score’. Again, like league tables, these are more of a concern for school leaders than individual students, as they are measurements the government uses to judge schools by. However, just so you know, your GCSE Point Score is basically your average grade over all your GCSEs. So, if you took 10 GCSEs and achieved a Grade 8, 5 Grade 7s; 2 Grade 6s, and 2 Grade 5s, your average point score would be 6.5. With a Grade 5 being a ‘strong’ pass, any point score above 5 would be considered strong.

    Finally – in old money – a Grade 7 is the equivalent of a Grade A. A Grade 6 is just above an old Grade B. Grade 5 is between a B and a C; and Grade 4 is equivalent to a Grade C.

    Get in touch if you’d like a tutor to help your child reach their GCSE potential.

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

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    “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…”

  5. How to write Fiction like a Pro and improve your English GCSE Grade

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    Descriptive writing is a permanent fixture on all GCSE syllabuses and is an important part of the KS2 and KS3 curriculums too. Many students find it one of the most daunting aspects of any English course. Creative writing isn’t something that comes naturally to a lot of people. Because of this, any tips and tricks that you can learn along the way will always be helpful.

    So, how do you write fiction like a pro and improve your English GCSE grade?

    Avoid the common English GCSE Pitfalls and Mistakes

    The first step towards success in writing fiction is to be aware of what the common mistakes that students make are. By far the biggest pitfall is to try to put too much in. We are taught, right from primary school, that a good story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. Of course, this is broadly true. However, trying to write a whole story in the two or three sides of A4 you might cover in a GCSE exam answer is unrealistic. 

    One of the biggest mistakes is that students try to cover too much time in their descriptive writing. Some of the best descriptions will focus on minutes of action, rather than hours, days, or even weeks. 

    It is generally better to focus on a short space of time but to describe that moment in more descriptive detail than to try and cover a longer period of time.

    Less is More

    Following on from this is the old adage: ‘less is more.’ Furthermore, although it’s a bit of a cliché, it’s also worth remembering the saying ‘quality over quantity’ as well. Exam questions often give guidelines for word counts for descriptive pieces, such as 450-500 words. Perhaps the optimum length for an English GCSE descriptive writing response is around the three pages of A4 mark.

    However, this really comes with an important caveat – word counts are only guidelines, they are not actual requirements. No GCSE mark scheme expects students to have written a certain amount. Similarly, no GCSE mark schemes instruct examiners to penalise students that don’t meet those guideline word counts.

    Some students see all the blank pages in their answer booklet and think they need to fill as many as possible. Wrong. In fact, in doing so, students invariably penalise themselves. 

    Why? Well, it’s simple really. Descriptive Writing is typically ‘Section B’ of an English GCSE exam. Although there is no requirement to do so, this means that the vast majority of students will attempt this section last. There’s nothing wrong with doing this. Indeed, on balance, it is probably complete the paper in this way.

    Spelling, Punctuation, Grammar

    But it’s worth remembering this: Section B – the descriptive writing section – is the only part of the paper when a student’s spelling, punctuation and grammar is specifically assessed. When are you most likely to make mistakes? At the end of an exam. 

    What often happens is that students who are desperately trying to fill all the pages only succeed in one thing – making more mistakes. And the more mistakes you make, the harder it becomes for an examiner to award a high mark.

    So, less really is more. If you only manage a paragraph or two for your descriptive writing piece, it’s never going to be enough. However, one and half sides of well-written description will nearly always be better than three or four sides of mistake-laden work. If the only thing an examiner can criticise is the fact a piece is a bit brief, it won’t be too costly.

    Setting, Character, Action

    If you want to write fiction like a pro, it’s worth thinking about what makes great descriptive writing. In general, it can be broken into three simple categories: setting, character, and action. No complete story will engage purely because of its setting alone – but a detailed description of a setting to build atmosphere and to set the scene can be vital. 

    Ultimately, it’s what happens to the characters in those settings that interests readers more than anything. Again, in a complete whole story, there needs to be some action at some point. However, for the purposes of a GCSE descriptive writing response, it’s best to focus on the description of character and setting, rather than the action.

    For more top tips on how to write fiction like a pro and improve your English grade, an English tutor can give you the individual support you need.

  6. How can I revise GCSE English Language?

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    There’s a common misconception (especially among Year 11 students) that you can’t revise GCSE English Language…

    But we’re here to smash the myth!

    It’s true, it is more obvious what you must revise for English Literature. These are the novels, plays and poems that you have studied. So, you can revise plot, characters, themes… you can learn quotes. That’s simple enough, right?

    But how can you revise for English Language? The exams include unseen fiction and non-fiction extracts that you’ve never seen before. How can you revise something you’ve never seen before? For the Writing section, you don’t know what type of text you will need to write, or what the topic will be – Impossible to revise for, surely?

    Wrong.

    So, how do you revise GCSE English Language?

    Knowledge, Process, Practice

    The key to success for GCSEs (in any subject) is a three-step process: knowledge, process, and practice.

    Knowledge is your skills and understanding of topics. For English, that means your understanding of how writers use language; how they use language features and techniques to achieve effects on the reader: similes, metaphors, personification, etcetera.

    So, that’s the first thing that you can revise. Do you know all the techniques? Can you identify them in a text and explain the effect of them on the reader?

    How do you apply your knowledge?

    But knowing stuff only gets you so far; it’s what you do with that knowledge that counts. How you apply your knowledge is the process. And what you really have to do with your knowledge for GCSE English Language is to answer exam questions.

    So, a major part of revising English Language is to develop your understanding of what each question is asking you to do. You need to be confident about which skills you need to show for each question and what the assessment objectives are. It’s important to know what the examiners looking for. For example, information retrieval, language, structure, comparison, etcetera.

    The good thing about exams (if there is a good thing!) is that there should be no surprises when you open the exam paper. Choose any question from a paper, and if you were to put the exams for the last 5 years side by side, you’d notice that the questions are virtually the same – almost word for word. Only the extracts themselves are different.

    Focus on:

    What the question is about?

    What are you being assessed on?

    How many marks are available and how long should you spend on the question.

    Practice makes perfect

    Finally, after knowledge and process comes practice. Okay, so practice might not make you perfect in English. But it is the only way you are going to reach your potential. This means that practice questions should be a big part of any revision schedule for English. 

    Revision needs to be active rather than passive. Endlessly reading through revision notes (even if they are the best revision notes in the world) will be next to useless. You need to be doing something with the notes – and the best thing to do is to practise exam questions.

    If you think a private tutor could help, get in touch with the TutorRight team for more information.

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