GCSE English: The Myth Buster #1

GCSE English is never meant to be easy but the government, in their wisdom, have made the exam boards here in the UK make some changes this year. Two of these are discussed below.

#1. The 9-1 Marking Scheme

Since the arrival of the linear exam, where no coursework and no marked speaking and listening is taken in to account [SL still is done but with no points], what you as a student are left with is a total examination mark, but now, instead of one exam, there shall be two. Exam boards differ but generally, they all follow similar guidelines.

The old way of doing things was A* through to G and a U if you came for two hours and wrote your name [you know what I mean]. A grade C has always been the benchmark for the next step, for going on to AS or something else or not even bothering. “I need a C” has been the stressed statement from students all my teaching career. On average, I have helped 84% get that C but I despair for the other 16% who did not get it. You see, they worked hard and got the grade they deserved.

Now, we have the 9-1 system and no one seems to know what a C grade is any more. Newsflash folks! No such thing as a C grade any more. No point in clinging on to the C grade for it will not return. Now, you have to concentrate on simply scoring the highest number you can overall, which leads me to the next point; no texts allowed in the exams.

#2 No Texts Are Allowed Now In The Exam Mum, Honest!

I wonder what your reaction was when son or daughter came home, or when teacher said this…

No need to fret.

See this below and really take a hard look at it several times. It is important.


I am having heated discussions with friends and acquaintances who have GCSE year sons and daughters who are moaning at me [as if I am the reason it has happened] saying why is it that students are not allowed to take their poems into the exam any more, or why can’t they take their Shakespeare text in? Or why cannot the school provide students with clean, unmarked copies of the poems any more? How is my son going to remember an entire Shakespeare play at his age? How is my daughter expected to know 15 poems completely, in her head, so she can quote from them? The stress is too much. This is the point when the arms and hands are waved wildly out of  control like Kermit the Frog losing it with Miss Piggy.

But there is no need to stress at all! Ask why the parent screams that. Possibly because they got all the help they needed. Ask why the student screams it. All sorts of answers are available, some good and some not, but there is no need to stress at all.

Here is why.

If you look very closely in the picture above it uses the word “and” right in the middle of each one. It first says that dependent on which it is; Shakespeare or the 19th Century Novel, there will be an “extract.” No need for a book for that is there? You answer the question based on what you see in front of you. Then, you answer using the rest of the knowledge you have of the play or the text. Some folk are screaming blue murder about this. It’s too hard for my daughter. It’s too much stress.

No it is not. Not if they learn how to do this properly!

Now, ask yourself this question and answer it honestly, but who goes into an exam about Romeo and Juliet, or Macbeth, expecting an extract comprehension and does not know what happens in the rest of the play so they can write that little bit more into their answer? You have to either have not studied [sickness for example] or had some reason why you have not got your head round the book. The other person is the one that in class has “swung the lead” and not really tried and then, when told by their teacher that there are no texts included to help them, they panic, which leads me onto the next point.

#3 To Panic, Or Not To Panic…

There is absolutely no need to panic about any of these two exams. Let me show you why with a randomly found bit of text from Macbeth.


This is the bit where Lady Macbeth gets the letter from her husband who when she saw him last, was Thane of Glamis. She reads, before this, that King Duncan has made him Thane of Cawdor [more title and lands] and that three weird women were involved [witchcraft element] in the foretelling of it. She then says farewell to a servant and thinks this on her own, on stage. Thoughts are silent on stage, so a soliloquy is used, whereby she shares her thoughts out loud.

“Come ye spirits,” she says and then later adds, “Unsex me here.” She is asking that all her female nature be taken away by the spirits [evil elements of the spirit world] and that everything that makes her sensitive be gone, for she wants her husband to now become King after she [see later in text] kills the King when he visits later in the play.

She is hatching “a cunning plan” as Baldrick would say in Blackadder.

Now, your question in the exam would be a twofold one. The first part would say something like Show how this extract shares Lady Macbeth’s feelings at this moment in the play and then it might say and with reference to the rest of the play, show how those desires are played out.

Clearly, this is a question that gives you ample opportunity to write in those glorious PEED chains but as you do, all you have to do is add that later in the play, these emotions and feelings turn sour because as much as she wants her femininity taken away from her, that can never totally be done and so, she feels the guilt, sleepwalks, says “Out damned spot” and finally goes insane at what she has pushed her husband into doing [by now he has killed the King, not her]. So the quotes from the rest of the play can be learnt but do not necessarily need to be used in the other parts of the play bit of the question. The only parts you need direct quotes are the one quote I would say to memorise from each major character and those in the extract given at the beginning, which of course, you will or should, be able to annotate.

What about the poems? I can hear the screams now. 15 of them? Well here is the answer, from a student son of a friend who I asked last night how his school is handling this. His Dad sent me the SMS.


Once again, does the word “conversant” mean know them rabbit fashion? [for those in the wider world that means perfectly] No it does not! It means know about them, be able to talk [write] about them, be able to share that in My Last Duchess, there are similar themes to this one as well etc.

What it does say however, is that there will be some poetry provided for you all. So, like the English Lang exam, as well as the Lit example above, you shall be quoting directly from a source material in front of you, adding what you know about the rest into the answer throughout the answer.

Now, do you know your section of poems? My students do and could write about them without seeing them. By exam day they will be able to use short quotes they have learnt from them and the only way to do that is to voice record them and then play them back. Your Ipod music for the next 6 weeks or so, is therefore not Rap or Hip Hop, but Poetry! Believe me, it will do you good.

#4 Good Luck!

I never say this to my students. Instead, I say that “luck is for those who are not prepared.” Think about that last sentence for a few moments.

Revise. Learn. Remember and do it well. Then do the exam. If, at the end of the exam season, you can say “I did my level best there” then we as teachers can never criticise and you should not either.

Be the best. Do your best. Let the markers have all the stress!



Writing To Persuade – Section B

I asked a student to complete a Section B task from a past paper, in preparation for his coming exams. It was a writing to persuade piece where he had to try to encourage other college members to go green, or greener than they already are. Names have been changed to be protective so he does not get into bother.

He had to write the text for an article. I was rather impressed! I particularly love the sarcasm/humour of the first paragraph.

Make Ashford Hall Green Again

In recent years, climate change has irreversibly increased by 30%. Is there anything you could do to prevent this? Well, you could recycle this leaflet now, or you could read it all through first and then recycle it. They both sound like great ideas, but I suggest you read it all the way through first and then decide.

Did you know?

In the past 10 years, we have put 75% of all our recyclable materials into landfill; these materials could be reused as something different. For example, this leaflet is made from other recycled leaflets, recycled by people just like you to help us help the world.

30% of everything put into recycling bins are non recyclable.

Every day, thousands of plastic bags, lightbulbs and electronics are put into recycling bins, ruining the recycling process and delaying it, taking hundreds of man hours to sort through all of this non recyclable waste whereas it could take just 2 seconds for you to take a look and realise that “that Tesco’s bag doesn’t belong there!” or “This broken speaker won’t recycle” and to put it into the general waste bins.

How it works

Recycling has many different processes, one of which is the process of recycling plastic drinking bottles: after being collected and separated by colour and material via infrared beams, the bottles are then shredded and melted, before finally being flaked into small plastic pellets to be melted down again into more plastic bottles for later use.

How can I help?

Our goal is to help reduce climate change one school at a time! You could help us with this by asking your college to insert recycling bins throughout the halls.

You could help as an individual by checking through your rubbish before you put it in the bins, reuse bottles, or paper and try to fix your broken electronics instead of attempting to recycle them without thinking.

You could also help us by funding our website. For more details, please go to: http://www.ashfordhallgreeninitiative.co.uk/fundus