5 Easy steps to prepare for GCSE English Language exams

Getting ready for GCSE English Language Exams

It can be a daunting task to work out how to ensure your child is on track for passing their GCSE English Language exams. As an English tutor, I encourage my students to work on five main areas.  It’s important to start focusing on these five steps, at least from Year 9, so that these skills can be developed over time, and not crammed in at the end.

Step 1: Motivation – seeing the purpose of GCSE English Language

Let’s take a look at motivation. We’re all the same when it comes down to motivation; if we don’t know ‘what’s in it for me’ or why we’re doing something, well, we’re just not going to do it! We know this to be the case as adults…so how on earth do you motivate your child?

It’s about helping them see the wider picture and reminding them about it throughout their studies. Students learn better when they know why they’re learning something. 

When my students lack motivation, I ask them what they want to do when they grow up. Let’s say, they respond, engineer or working for the police. Help them see how the correct and effective use of the English language is an essential stepping stone to reaching that goal. How can you be an engineer or a police officer, without being able to accurately read and report information correctly? Help them see the wider context of their studies and how it relates to their own wishes. Over time, it might just sink in… 

However, it doesn’t end there, GCSE English Language is not just about the written word; it’s about developing speaking and presentation skills too.  Although this doesn’t count toward the GCSE grade, public speaking is a vital skill to have at school, college, work and in social situations. A skill that will boost their confidence and ensure they can have the best opportunities in life.

Get them thinking about how, by applying themselves now, this will help them meet their goals later on. I know, you’re thinking, it’s not that easy! Well, let’s take a look at some practical steps you can take.

Step 2: Reading habit – the key to preparing for GCSE English Language

Reading regularly in the age of mobile phones, social media and X-box, seems to be one of the greatest challenges young learners face. Reading regularly ensures they develop familiarity with how English is written and how writers use language to convey messages. They also start to pick up how words are spelt, as well as, increase their vocabulary and comprehension, essential skills for GCSE English Language and beyond.

Now, with that said, you may be thinking, that’s obvious! Of course my child needs to read more. But that’s not the problem, is it? It’s how to actually get them to pick that book up and start reading. If your child is resistant to the idea, then it’s crucial to help them develop an interest in reading. See my post 10 Painless ways to get your teen reading regularly.

Step 3: Vocabulary – the essential building blocks for GCSE English Language

It’s important to help your child build their vocabulary as early as possible. The aim is to use their new words and phrases in their own writing so that they develop familiarity and confidence in using more advanced language. 

The GCSE examiners will be on the lookout for, ‘a range of vocabulary and sentence structures for clarity, purpose and effect, with accurate spelling and punctuation,’ AQA Exam board.

The best way to help build their vocabulary is to develop a vocabulary building strategy. See my post on 3 steps to build your child’s vocabulary for GCSE English Language.

If you start this in Year 8 or 9, over the weeks, months and years they should, by the time they sit their GCSE exam, have quite an impressive vocabulary that they are confident to show off to the examiner.

Step 4: Improve spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG)

According to the AQA Exam board, spelling, punctuation and grammar are not only assessed in GCSE English Language and Literature but also in History, Religious Studies and Geography. 2 link below.

It’s clearly important across a number of GCSE subjects but of course, it goes beyond the exams. Whether you’re writing an email or even a post on social media you need to get your spelling right. For some students, spelling improves naturally but for a lot, especially those who don’t like to read, poor SpaG can become problematic.

Helping your child improve their SPaG is hugely beneficial. Even if your child is quite weak in literacy they can improve their chances by getting marks for their SPaG. SpaG is worth 20% of the writing tasks for Paper 1 and 2 of the GCSE English Language exam. 

Revision guides and workbooks can be really useful for this. I recommend CGP KS3 revision guide and workbook and CGP GCSE revision guide and workbook. You can work through the study guide and then complete the tasks in the corresponding workbook with your child. Luckily, answers are in the back!

Step 5: Organisation – bringing it all together for GCSE English exam success

This is an area I find quite a few students struggle with. Poor organisation can cost them grades and cause unnecessary stress. What do I mean by organisation? The ability to organise time, tasks, books and papers. Preparing for the GCSE exams requires students to develop a certain level of organisation. 

Students who struggle with this can find themselves getting behind and also becoming stressed and overwhelmed. In order to help in this area, you can ensure you develop a system of organisation with your child.

Creating a system for writing down homework is another area to focus on. Some students struggle to remember what homework was set at school or where they wrote it down. If you have a tutor, make sure you use separate books for their tuition. Although tutors don’t help with homework, they can help your child with their overall organisation.

Following these five steps will ensure your child is prepared to sit their GCSE English Language exam with confidence.

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