GCSE FAQs - What is English Literature

June 16, 2017

GCSE FAQs: What is English Literature?

We look into what exactly English Literature is

Until Year 8 at least, you’ll have studied English as one cohesive subject. However, come Key Stage 4 – now often Year 9 onwards – you’ll study two English subjects, English Language and English Literature.

 

So, just what is English Literature?

The GCSE English Literature syllabus is designed to enable students to read, interpret and evaluate texts through the study of literature in English. Students develop an understanding of literal meaning, relevant contexts and of the deeper themes or attitudes that may be expressed through various texts and genres.

Through their studies, students learn to recognise and appreciate the ways in which writers use English to achieve a range of effects (i.e. how they make their readers think and feel in specific ways using language and structure), and will be able to present an informed, personal response to the material they have studied.

The GCSE English Literature syllabus also encourages the exploration of wider and universal issues, promoting learners' better understanding of themselves and of the world around them.

What texts and genres can I expect?

Regardless of the exam board your school teaches English Literature via, you can expect with reasonable certainty to study some or all of the following:

  1. Prose – drama (stages plays, including one by William Shakespeare; novels (famous literary texts such as Orwell’s Animal Farm, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, with some more contemporary texts for good measure), and possibly some short stories;
  2. Poetry (both studied and likely some unseen poems, too, the studied poetry usually falling into thematic categories such as conflict, love, and place).

How will I be assessed?

Having flirted with coursework a la English Language in recent years, English Literature is now returning to exam-based assessment only. This could mean you sit one exam worth 100% of your final grade, or two exams that split your grade 50:50 between them.

 

However, some exam boards retain a coursework element, meaning your grade could consist of your exam performance (roughly 60%) and your coursework mark (usually 40% for a substantial essay).

 

What skills will I need to develop?

The core skills you’ll need to hone include:

1)      Reading for meaning, both explicit (what’s obvious and happening before the reader’s eyes) and implicit (what’s implied through dialogue, the writer’s tone, context, etc.)

2)      Using textual evidence – quoting directly from the text to support points/inferences and/or giving specific examples from the text, key moments, events, etc.

3)      Analysing writers’ styles/techniques: How does the writer use structure and language for a specific purpose?

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