How to Pass English Literature at A-Level

How to Pass English Literature at A-Level

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Doing English at GCSE may have been hard, but at A-Level it is even worse, and by this point in your studies, you may have already realised this, but do not fear!

In this article, you will find a helpful guide on how to pass English Literature at A-Level by blotting out all those distractions and optimising your best strategy towards your final English A-Level exams and how to pass them.

In this guide, we will discuss:

  1. The Importance of Revising for English Literature
  2. How to Revise English Literature A Level

The Importance of Revising for English Literature

In its simple form, revision requires you to look back at a lesson or notes you have already taken – and revisit them in new ways. Everyone has different ways of revising, whether it being post-it notes, mind maps, quiz games, or even closing your eyes and trying to write down as much stuff as you have memorised in one go. So, let’s take it one step at a time.

In terms of revising English Literature at A-Level, by this point in your studies, you should be set towards wanting to go to university, either to study English at a degree level, or perhaps something unrelated to it. Nonetheless, you will need to be aware of what path you wish to take and ensure you get as much revision as possible, which can be easier said than done. Take time away from your phone, put it on silent mode, wear headphones if music helps you concentrate, or sit in a quiet room and give your brain time to soak in the information you are reading. Sometimes it is helpful to do study sessions with your peers, and how you can work together towards creating a revision plan.

How to revise English Literature A-Level

You will probably find that each topic may require a different revision strategy. Maths and Science, for example, are about formulas and equations. For English, it is about using keywords, quotes and, most importantly, creating a consistent argument that follows the exam question, which most likely will involve the following terms:

  • Outline – highlight something specific within the question, but not in detail.
  • Describe – go into detail about something, e.g., relationships between characters, how characters interact, the author’s intent, etc.
  • Explain – break down the concept of the topic.
  • Analyse – examine all key features of a particular area of the story or in its entirety.
  • Discuss – this will take several steps, so you should approach this question from multiple angles.

Specifically, you may find literature to be easier than language, as the focus is on what is going on in the text, whether it is a novel or poetry. Regardless, you should familiarise yourself with the course reading list and then structure a revision timetable in your free periods or outside college hours, to focus on a particular text. For example, suppose you struggle with poetry, then you should set a longer timespan to analyse poems you are currently reading, as well as looking online for potential knowledge on what the poet is conveying in their works.

highlighters and post it notes

Here are some of our top English A Level revision tips:

1)    Practice questions

Although your tutor may have also handed out practice questions in class, they are a handy way for you to learn how to structure an argument under exam conditions and will not hurt to do in your spare time for an hour. An example from a paper in June 2022 showed that Shakespeare [i] was a key topic, so in preparation, you should look at plays that have not appeared in previous exams and may be likely to appear when it is your turn. Alternatively, your teacher may refer you to any exam changes closer to the official date it shall take place.

  • Ensure you read the question over and over in your head, focusing on keywords used in that question. What characters are mentioned? What is the question asking you to do?
  • Word counts are imperative and will help to keep your argument to the point. Practicing questions will also help you to track how long it will take you to write x number of words within the exam’s time frame.
  • Most importantly, do not overwhelm yourself with practice questions. Perhaps do one a couple of times a week but give yourself space to revise other topics as well because, with revision, it is imperative to find a balance and manage time during your study periods.[ii]

2)    Time to PEEL

PEEL is the technique through which you should structure your argument in your assignment, and your tutor may already have gone through this with you. If not, this table will remind you how best to approach this.

Point Evidence Explain Link
This should be in your opening paragraph and will clarify to the reader what you will be discussing.

This is the easiest place to balance your argument and make it engaging for the reader.
You will always need evidence to back up your argument; there is no point in claiming without supporting it with evidence.

This will most likely involve a quote from the text about something specific the author has mentioned.
With both your point and evidence now clear and compelling, you need to explain why your argument matters to the reader and how it will shape their understanding of the text.

Finally, enforce the reason why you are right.
This is where you will need to link back to the original question, as well as bridging the gap between one point to another, whether this may involve a counterargument.

Check that each point you’ve made links together concisely.

3)    Revision tools

As previously mentioned, everyone will have a different way towards revising. Revising is a technique to master, but hopefully, we can underline which tool will suit you best.

  • Notes: These can come in various forms, whether it be bullet points, sticky post-its, or even scraps of paper. However, you may need to be concise with your notes, and therefore they will need to be organised, such as on cards. Ensure you have a heading for each with numerous main points, names and quotes on them. Short and to the point.
  • Mind maps: You can make these pretty or simplistic, colourful or bland, so be creative with them, so long as they keep you engaged. Have your selected topic at the centre, and with each strand containing a specific point about that topic.
  • Highlighters: These are a quick way of checking what areas are essential in your revision, such as highlighting keywords and quotes to use in your argument. You can also colour code your work, such as having quotes in yellow and keywords in green.
  • Slideshows: Not all revision has to take place on a piece of paper. After all, the internet is a lot quicker and less cost-effective. Plus, there are multiple websites online where you can access slideshows on English topics. Once you are comfortable with how this works, you can structure one and find which approach works best for you.

If you need more help with your English skills, take one of our online English courses to promote skill improvement.

Are you prepared to pass your English Literature A-Level?

Reading on how to revise can be a lot to take in alongside your actual studies, but it is all simple and easy to follow if you take a step back, breathe (go for a quick walk if you need to your head) and then begin to adapt these mindsets into your learning.

End of the day, it is a matter of finding which approach works for you. Even if there is a text on your syllabus that you are not fond of, you still need to dissect it to death and find every possible angle the examiner may attempt to catch you out on. And above all, do not lose sight of where you want to go next. Remind yourself why you chose to do A-Levels in the first place, why you specifically wanted to do English Literature, and rediscover your passion for it. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you feel a lot more confident towards passing English Literature at A-Level with the tips laid out before you, but do not worry if not, so long as you prioritise your time effectively.




Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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