Sitting your first exam? 3 things I wish I knew...
Your first exam is a milestone. Do it right.
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Do as many practice papers as possible
When reviewing for English language it is essential you do as many practice papers as possible. To feel as calm and confident as possible when dealing with unseen passages you need to be familiar with the kind of questions the examiner is likely to ask. Doing this will ensure you will have a clearer understanding of question style and how much time you (individually) need to leave for each question.
Test your critical reading skills
You can test your critical reading skills on anything. Set yourself the challenge of reading one newspaper article a day, on any topic of your choice (preferably one you enjoy!). Once read over, test yourself on it in the style of an exam – can you summarize what the article is saying? Can you identify the key points and arguments? Are there any inconsistencies?
You can do a similar exercise for poetry. Buy yourself a small anthology of poems, turn to a random page, and try and analyze in the style of an exam!
Do practice essay plans
For longer answer questions, rather than exhausting yourself writing out full answers to questions, train yourself to write succinct essay plans that outline what you are going to say. Practice this skill under timed conditions (I recommend 5 minutes for an essay plan). The more plans you do, the better you will be at planning under pressure!
Remember that in an exam there are three stages to every question that you answer: Planning, Writing and Checking. The worst thing you can do is get into the exam room and give the examiner a train of thought response!
Leave time to read the question thoroughly, plan every answer (as you’ve practiced in your revision!) and check over what you’ve written. The best way to check is to read out loud your response (in your head!); this way you’ll be far more likely to spot any of your errors.
Take time to read over the passages
One final point on planning: with both the non-fiction and fiction sections it is crucially important to ensure you take time to read over the passages. Avoid the temptation to panic read – especially if you’re a slow reader – as this will mean you miss out on key bits of information. As you’re reading be perceptive. Pretty much every student can identify the obvious in any passage, but remember there is a reason why the examiner has chosen that particular text! Look for the subtleties or inconsistencies, as these are what will get you the top grades.
Use the right vocabulary
In your revision it is worth spending time learning the key terminology and literary devices that the examiners are looking for. You can get lists of these online but some of the key terms to ensure you know are:
Quality, not quantity
In English of all subjects students tend to go crazy on the amount they like to write in the exam. Your GCSE’s are not a competition to see how much you can write. If someone asks for extra paper in the exam – don’t stress! Always remember, it is much better (and harder) to write a succinct answer than a sprawling mess!
Don’t be cliché
This is one of the most important rules for English GCSE. With each examiner having to mark hundreds or even thousands of papers on the exact same topic – nothing becomes more annoying than a cliché. This applies for both the fiction and non-fiction section. In the non-fiction sections, avoid stock phrases and vague answers such as ‘makes the passage flow well’, or ‘the imagery is powerful’.
Vary your writing
The sign of a more competent English student is someone who demonstrates control over his or her writing. Rather than sticking to set formulas and phrases that have clearly been taught in class, show the examiner you’re capable by mixing up your answers. Start your narrative with a shocking statement; start your speech with a rhetorical question; your article with a quotation. Vary your paragraph and sentence lengths, use different punctuation and...
Make yourself different!
Make yourself stand out from the crowd. A brilliant way to do this is to abide by the following rule: ‘Say something expected about something unexpected, or something unexpected about something expected.’