Perfect A-Level English

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Perfect A-Level English

It should be one of the most enjoyable subjects on the planet - after all, A-Level English is all about exploring literature and forming your own opinion. Sadly, it's easy to let English exams get on top of you and drain the fun out of the subject. Enjoying English is actually the key to succeeding in it and there's no reason why you shouldn't. Although exam boards and set texts change, A-Level English exams are always testing similar skills. It's up to you to look at each exam question carefully to see what it's asking you for.

Here are the four major skill areas of A-Level English and how to ace them:

1) Most exam questions involve textual analysis

This is a major part of A-Level English. When you look at a text, the first thing you need to work out is what the writer wants to achieve. Do they have a message? What is the intended reaction for readers or audience?

Once you've decided on that, you need to explain how the writer tries to achieve their objectives. You're job is to focus on:

  • language - any interesting linguistic techniques or word choices?

  • structure - how does the writer order ideas or events? If you're looking at a poem, how are the verses organised and what is its rhyme scheme?

  • form - what kind of writing are you dealing with? Is it prose, a poem or a play, and what kind of genre within that? Does this form create certain expectations for the audience or reader?

You shouldn't always be afraid to say the obvious. As long as you can link back every point to what you think the writer is trying to convey, it can be interesting and relevant.

2) Some English exams focus on comparing texts

The big temptation here is to just mention the aspects of language, structure and form that are similar or different. This is the dodgy student’s approach to comparison work.

If you don't have yourself down as one of the dodgy ones, though, take a comparison of the writers' intentions as your starting point. When you realise the similarities and differences between what the writers are trying to achieve, you will be able to explain the techniques they're using too.

3) You need to think about interpretations

Usually a text has several possible meanings. This might be for two main reasons:

  • The writer deliberately conveys mixed or confusing messages.

  • Different audiences or readers have different views depending on their opinions about the text's themes, or their opinions about literature and life in general. You can get people who call themselves feminist critics, for instance.

If you're studying a set text, you’ll have time to do some research into what different critics have said. Also remember that "interpretation" includes your interpretation too! A-Level English is focused on forming your own opinions, so don't be bound by what other people say. You can discuss their views and explain why yours are better.

4) Context is important too

This is all about the background to a text. It might include:

  • Finding out about the author. Where do they come from and what was their life like? How might this have impacted on the choices they make for their writing?

  • Historical context. What was going on when the text was written? How has this influenced its themes?

  • Literary or dramatic context. What were other authors, poets or playwrights producing at the same time as this text? Is the writer following a conventional pattern or trying to escape from it?

As you can tell, these are just more tools for understanding where a text is coming from. Again, it’s worth doing some research. Wider reading also helps. The more you read, the more you will be able to put any text you are given in an English exam into context. In fact, many A-Level English exam questions are very specific about asking you to do this.

English tutoring

When it comes to reading widely, researching critics and exploring context, students often find that working with an English tutor gives them a real boost. An English tutor will guide and inspire you as you explore your subject. If you are looking for an experienced English tutor make a search today on our website to find a local tutor near to your home. Good Luck!