Conquering the English Exam: Effective Strategies for Success

Contrary to the misconception, to get a 9 in English language GCSE doesn’t require just a vivid imagination, but rather the ability to employ strategies and tips that ensure success.
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Conquering the English Exam: Effective Strategies for Success

Contrary to the misconception, to get a 9 in English language GCSE doesn’t require just a vivid imagination, but rather the ability to employ strategies and tips that ensure success, which as English GCSE tutors, that is something we can help you to develop. During this blog, as an online English GCSE tutor, I hope I can effectively relay these strategies so that you can also see success in your exam!


Understanding the structure of the exam determines your performance in the exam. Depending on your exam board, there should be around five questions with 1 hour 45 minutes – 2 hours to spend on the entire paper. Four of the questions are influenced by the extract provided in the exam, illustrating the importance of comprehension as they are the bulk of marks awarded. Therefore, if those questions are broadly an area of weakness, then practising comprehension and familiarising yourself with a variety of extracts alongside your online English tutor for GCSE is the only way to pass your English language GCSE exam.


Moreover, effective time management is crucial for success in these exams too. The consensus is time should be managed by one minute per mark, but you can also tailor time allocation based on confidence levels within the different questions. For example, instead of spending four minutes on question one, spending two or three gives you extra time for other questions that you might need more. Once you establish your rhythm and have your personalised times for each question, you can start your exams by noting the designated time to move on to the next question. Familiarising yourself with how much time you need in the exam, as well as using a question-answering structure, guarantees your inevitable success in the GCSE English Exam and our GCSE English tutor can help you to achieve this.


Start by reading the entirety of the extract provided by the exam board to allow yourself to contextualise the events and message before diving into the questions. These are my tips on how to pass English in AQA Paper 1, but these tips apply broadly to the English GCSE Exam, and to subsequently succeed in exam performance:



As stated before, this is based on comprehension and understanding and applies to Paper 2 as well. This is quite an easy task in asking you to name four pieces of information coming from the first five lines of the extract. The most important strategy for this one is to not overcomplicate it. Below I’m going to attach an extract and the correct answers to show how to correctly answer it:


Imagine the question is ‘List four things you learned about Valjean’, and see how easy it is to obtain the marks for this question.


  1. Jean Valjean was still by Cosette’s bedside
  2. Jean Valjean had never loved anything
  3. Jean Valjean had never been father, lover, husband, friend
  4. Jean Valjean has been to prison


I have managed to get all four marks simply by copying sentences from the extract, so the most important tip for this question is to NOT overcomplicate it!



In Paper 1 Question 2 and Paper 2 Question 3, this question requires you to be able to identify language devices and evaluate/explain them. Naturally, knowing a good number of language devices is important (similes, metaphors, hyperbole, imagery, etc..) in order to answer this question. It is important to also understand the effect of the language device – why is the writer deliberately exaggerating? Why is the writer comparing the character to this other thing? What are the implications of this other thing? For example:


  • Sahara was as quiet as a mouse – the writer deliberately compares Sahara to a mouse (which is known to be very quiet) and makes this reference easily understood by the audience. This implies that Sahara is as quiet as can be – this will develop your explanation.


If you are aspiring for a 9 in English Literature GCSE, knowing more sophisticated forms of language devices will set you out from other applicants. This can include:

  • Euphemisms
  • Motifs
  • Pathetic fallacy
  • Analysis of verbs – imperative verbs, etc..
  • Triples
  • Semantic field
  • Colloquial language


Similar to the other question, do not overcomplicate this question. Once you find a good amount of devices, move on!



The tips and effective strategies for this question are similar to question two, but this question encompasses the broader extract. In the same way, being able to explain the effect of the structural device and linking it to the broader message of the extract will easily allow you to gain marks. Again, if you are aspiring for a 9, the structural techniques you choose can either be more sophisticated or develop your explanation. Things to consider:

  • What type of narration? 1st/2nd/3rd – are they an omniscient/unreliable narrator
  • Think about the broad structure – is it chronological, is it cyclical?
  • Think about tonal shifts & identify where the climax of the extract begins
  • Flashback / Flash-forward / Foreshadowing
  • Repeated motifs



This question asks you to evaluate a view put forward with analysis and evidence from the extract. There are a few important tips I recommend:


  1. Make a judgement and STICK TO IT!
      • The terms you should use to describe the extent to which you agree to the view – do you agree to a substantial extent? Significant extent? Moderate extent? Limited extent? Negligible extent? Etc..
      • It is good to acknowledge the opposing view but also make sure to rebuttal and discredit that view


  1. Use the bullet point prompts provided – those are areas that the examiners recommend that you mention in your answer.
  2. You can reuse the language and structural analysis that you used in questions 2 and 3 for this question – it’s, for this reason, I recommend that you answer the paper chronologically




There are several tips I have for this question, and all of these will allow you to EASILY achieve high marks when you do your exam!

  • Begin by writing down all of the punctuation that you know and ticking them off as you go through writing – SPAG constitutes a significant amount of marks in this question, so it is important to achieve as many as you can
  • Learn simple synonyms for words to elevate your vocabulary. One specific route is synonyms for colours and emotions, i.e. instead of saying ‘red’ saying ‘crimson’, or instead of saying ‘angry’ saying ‘irate’
  • Be conscious that you need to fluctuate the structure of your essay – have a one-sentence line, a longer paragraph, a shorter paragraph and onwards



English Language Paper 2



This question tests your ability to summarise your understanding of two separate texts and draw connections between the two. These are important factors you should consider when attempting this question:

  1. Make sure to read the contextual information inside the boxes – this will ease your comprehension of the extract
  2. Consider the context the extracts are set. The extracts are usually from different periods, thus influencing the tone and register and thus can be something you pick out.
  3. Do not overcomplicate this question – what you gather and what is implied from the extract is what you can write about



Some of the tips for Paper 1 Question Four apply to this question, but seeing as this is also a comparison question, there are ways for you to signpost that you are comparing the two texts. The box below illustrates this:




In the same vein


In a similar fashion



      On the other hand





In contrast

In conclusion, these strategies offer a comprehensive approach to success in the English Exam. Whether aiming to pass or achieve a grade 9, applying these tips and tricks paves the way for your desired outcome. Remember to answer questions chronologically, using each as a stepping stone and if stuck, proceed and revisit. Incorporating these insights assures that you can and will conquer and pass your English Exam!

We offer 1 on 1 tutoring online, including GCSE tuition online and we also provide A level English tutors online if you need further support with your A level exams.


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