1. Knowing exactly where the pitfalls lie and how to avoid them. For example, students often mix up Paper 2, Question 2 with Paper 2, Question 4 and on occasion just repeat themselves in this question, or they might fail to identify the WRITERS’ attitudes and perspectives or fail to pick out language and structure devices and forget to evaluate effect.
  2. Managing your time carefully is REALLY important on both Papers 1 and 2 of the AQA GCSE English exams. The bigger questions come later, so you need to consider whether altering the order you tackle the questions in might work well for you.
  3. On Paper 2, there are two texts to read. Some of the questions are ‘single source extract’ questions and some are the ‘whole of BOTH sources’ questions, so why not group those questions together? This means that you tackle the questions in the following order: Question 1, Question 3, Question 5, Question 4, then Question 2 last. If you run out of time, you lose 8 marks; if you do them in order and run out of time, you could potentially lose 40 marks.
  4. Paper 1, Question 3 requires you to comment on STRUCTURE, which is not the same thing as LANGUAGE. Are you confident of the difference and which devices to identify? You need to be, in order to get the marks. Ask your teacher about this.
  5. A good tip for timing is ‘one minute per mark plus a bit extra,’ so your timings on each question should be: 4 marker = 5 minutes; 8 marker = 10 minutes; 12 marker = 15 minutes; 16 marker = 20 minutes; 20 marker = 25 minutes and 40 marker = 45 minutes. KNOW YOUR TIMINGS & STICK TO THEM!
  6. Many of the questions have the word ‘HOW’ in them. ‘HOW’ is an AQA ‘Command Word,’ which means that any question which asks ‘How…’ requires you to consider the writer’s/poet’s/playwright’s methodology and their effects on the reader/audience. If it doesn’t have ‘how’ in the question, then the approach is different. How aware of this are you?
  7. Know your mark scheme: There are four levels (not grades) in the mark scheme and these correspond to Grades 1-9. Level 1 is characterised by the word ‘simple’; Level 2 is characterised by the words ‘some attempt’; Level 3 = ‘clear’, and Level 4 = ‘perceptive analysis,’ and ‘convincing.’ Whereabouts are you? You need to be at the top of Level 2 to secure a Grade 4.
  8. When the examiner says ‘you may begin’ at the start of Paper 2, instead of turning to the inserts to read the passages, instead turn to Q4 of the question booklet and highlight which writers’ attitudes you’ve been asked to pick out, THEN start reading the passages with your highlighter pen in your hand. Pick out a cross-section of quotations revealing the writers’ attitudes and summarise the attitude in the margin in one word. This will save you about 8-10 minutes later in the exam!! It’s my best tip! (Choose about three attitudes from across each text.)
  9. These papers are all about SYSTEMS & PROCESSES. If you know to approach each question, you will get the marks. Have a plan for each question. That’s where my programme comes in.
  10. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! The sooner you start tackling these questions, the better. The thing that ultimately makes ALL the difference is you doing battle with these questions, finding out what you don’t know, making mistakes, trying again with the same question and getting as much feedback from your teacher as often you can. SEND WORK TO YOUR TEACHER and ask for rapid feedback. If they can’t provide that help because they are so overloaded, that’s where I come in. You’ll get your work back from me on the Gold programme within a day or so, and I’ll make you a video which shows me live-marking it and talking through all my thought processes before I arrive at a mark. The students who give me lots to do are the ones who make rapid progress. My best result was a student who achieved Grade 2 in last summer’s exam. After 2.5 months with me he passed his AQA English with a Grade 4 and was able to move to the Post 16 course that he’d always wanted to do and hadn’t been able to with a Grade 2 in English.