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This is the third of four blogs to support you with last minute exam practice for the OCR GCSE (9-1) English Literature exams – more of a recap of key skills and tips to remember when you’re in the exam hall. It follows on from the two earlier ones which focused on:
The focus for this one is:
to be closely followed by:
Self-selection of material from the studied texts is a key skill for the GCSE English Literature qualification. While it is one that can be practised and prepared for in the classroom, it reinforces the importance of students feeling confident and familiar with their studied texts, so that when it comes to the exam they can readily bring to mind a ‘mental back catalogue’ of relevant key moments, incidents, poems etc.
Let’s first take a look at the Paper 2 Poetry task by way of example. The second part of the task will ask candidates to select a poem of their choice, from their studied cluster, to explore. The part b) question will pick up on the theme discussed in part a) of the poetry task. For example - Explore in detail one other poem from your anthology that presents hostile emotions.
The focus of the question here will relate to ideas that are central to the cluster studied. It is really worth reminding students that there will be a range of poems from the cluster that they can choose from, and they shouldn’t think that the examiner has one or two in mind that they are expecting candidates to write about. But how should your students go about making their choice? A simple method is as follows:
In both of the GCSE English Literature exams, Section B gives a choice of questions and candidates will answer one of the two options: a question based on an extract from their 19th century novel (Paper 1) or Shakespeare play (Paper 2) which will be printed in the exam paper, or an essay-style question on a theme, character, relationship etc.
The extract question will ask candidates to explore the given issue in the extract and elsewhere in the text, while the second option will ask candidates to explore at least two moments from the text to support your ideas. So whichever option is taken it will be necessary for candidates to consider at least two different moments in the text in some detail.
There is no particular advantage for students in which choice they make from the two options. The extract question does however give them some text in the exam room to focus on, and this may be helpful in terms of AO2 writer’s use of language for effect. If, however, the particular extract is one that a student might feel less confident in discussing it could be a good idea to select the essay question.
So it is really important that students have some ‘go to’ episodes from their studied text that they know well and are able to discuss in some detail. We’ll discuss some ideas for how such episodes can be selected and recalled.
To support your students in developing their familiarity with and appreciation of different moments, you could use the ideas below:
As they will have to write about at least two different episodes from the text they’ve studied it’s obviously important that students have a good knowledge of what happens where. Here’s a suggested approach based on a Shakespeare play that can be adapted for different texts.
Fill in a grid like this. The examples here are from Much Ado About Nothing, one of the set Shakespeare plays.
Hopefully there’s some ideas here that you could adapt or incorporate into your teaching of the texts throughout the course, so that students can re-visit their activity notes and make good use of them for effective exam preparation.
Look out for the fourth and final blog in this series coming very soon – the focus will be on developing a personal, critical voice.
We’d love to know what you think of the blogs and whether you’d welcome more of the same sort of thing in future. Please feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Twitter @OCR_English.
Kate Newton, OCR English Subject Advisor
Kate has worked at OCR for 4 years and is a member of the English subject team with particular responsibility for GCSE English Literature and AS/A Level English Language and Literature (EMC).
She previously worked for a number of national public sector education organisations, including the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) and the General Teaching Council (GTC), primarily on new policy initiatives. Prior to that, after graduating with a BA Joint Hons in English and Education from Cardiff University, Kate started her professional career with a competitor Awarding Body (mentioning no names!). She loves to cook and eat out as well as exercise regularly, which includes running around after her two young children.