How to Maximise Your Marks in A-Level English Literature

by Maud Millar on October 17, 2018


Having to write multiple essays worth 25 marks each under timed conditions can be a daunting prospect, but it can be achieved. Looking at the exam paper, you might be asking yourself questions like: Where do I start? What do I include? How do I finish? These are all valid concerns, and with a thorough and insightful approach to preparing for the exam questions, you’ll find yourself comfortable and confident in your ability to write several successful essays. Here’s some tips on how to go about doing just that:


Know the Assessment Objectives


Each essay you write is marked against the same five assessment objectives (AOs), so it would be a good idea to read them, understand them, memorise them and learn how to address them in your answers. Each AO, which can be found listed on the AQA website, is weighted differently so are worth a different number of marks within each essay. This can actually offer a good indication of how much time and how many words you should spend on meeting each objective in your answer. After writing a practice essay, you could highlight the sentences in different colours according to each AO to see if your answer aligns with the respective weightings AQA give to the AOs.


Know the Texts Really, Really Well


You are a student of English Literature, therefore you must demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the literature you have spent a year or more studying. Simply knowing the plot and the names of each character is not enough to persuade the examiner of your understanding of the text. You need to recall from memory the forms and structural features used to create the text, as well as a series of multi-purpose quotes that contain language features which can help show off your impressive analytical skills. Contextual information about the writer, the time the text was written and the time the text was set is also just as important as all the previous aspects which make up any text.



Know the Aspects and/or Elements of the Genres you are Studying


The AQA English Literature B specification requires you to study different genres of writing. These genres, such as comedy or social and political protest writing, each contain ‘aspects’ or ‘elements’ that can be found in texts as a way to identify which genre they belong to.


A list of these aspects/elements for each genre can be found on the AQA website, and it is advisable that you spend time understanding what each one means as this is what your exam questions, and therefore answers, will be based on. You could go through each list of aspects/elements and match them with different examples in the texts you are studying as a way of preparing to write about the genres in the exams.


Know How to Plan and Write an Essay Quickly but Succinctly


You want to spend the maximum amount of time in your exams writing high-quality, well-considered content, rather than worrying about paragraphing and punctuation. Before the exam season begins, spend time writing – not typing – essay answers in timed conditions, so that you know what you can achieve within the time limits you will be given.



Planning is crucial for ensuring you are maximising the time efficiently. Create a plan for your essay by listing all the main points you wish to discuss, then number them in order of preference to identify your essay layout, and briefly mention each point in your introduction to let the examiner know what you will be covering in your essay. Don’t forget to give a brief overview of these same points again in your conclusion.


Show Perception and Assuredness


In each mark scheme available on the AQA website for the exams, it states very clearly that essay answers which fall into the top band of marks (Band 5) demonstrate perception and assuredness in their content. Perception is insight: it is having such a wealth of knowledge that you can consider all options and put forward the best ones as your points. Assuredness is confidence: arguing your points with well-chosen evidence and clever analysis that shows you to be worthy of a top band grade.


Achieving both perception and assuredness in your writing comes from first meeting the previous four recommendations I have made for gaining maximum marks in your exams. If you can bring together all of your knowledge of the texts and genres, your practice in essay writing and ability to meet each Assessment Objective, you are setting yourself up to win. Good luck!


By Anita Chagar

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