With the new GCSE specifications released in 2015, most English Literature GCSE exams have now become closed-book exams.
This means that in your exam, you won’t have full access to your set texts which you have been studying all year and are being examined on. For some questions, you may be given a small extract in your exam to analyse, but you will not have the text in front of you to look for quotes.
This applies to both English literature and Language, even at A-level! This is a great skill to learn as it will definitely come in handy.
When you are revising for English literature, you should make sure you know the texts you are studying in detail and whether your exam is open or closed book. This may vary by exam board (AQA, CCEA, Edexcel, Eduqas, OCR or WJEC).
This is important to know because the rules may differ slightly between exam boards, and even between individual papers! For example, the WJEC A level English literature drama section of the exam is closed book; however, the OCR GCSE English literature unit 4 exam is an open book paper.
Either way, you will need to read the text and different summaries of the story line, so you know the plot in depth.
Quotes are a vital element to your written responses in your English GCSE exams.
By using quotes, you are demonstrating that you have read the text and can carefully select evidence through the form of quotations, which are used to support your argument.
Learning plenty of quotations may seem like a mundane and boring task, but it’s really helpful to ensure you get the best grade in your English exams. The automatic memorisation of quotations helps to free up the working memory of students – this means they can make insightful interpretations and evaluate meaning more easily.
It’s not just about blindly memorising the words … you need to be able to understand the quotes. If you don’t even know what they mean, then it’s pointless trying to remember them! Make sure that you know where each quote comes in the narrative, who says it, and what the surrounding context of the quote is: who is speaking? Is it dialogue between characters or narrative observation? What is is describing? Why is it important to the text?
You will have read through your set texts once before in your class, but it’s always a good idea to try
and go through them again if you have the chance. This will mean that the content of the text is fresher
in your mind nearer to the exam.
If you’re restricted for time, or don’t have the book to hand – why not try and find some online resources?
The wonderful worldwide web has plenty of online revision tools which can help you learn the content of your set texts.
For example, you could watch the film version or stage adaptation of your text (if there is one). These
can help you visualise the way a play may be staged and emphasise any themes the director may have
highlighted for the audience that you might have overlooked when you read the text.
You could also try and find a plot summary of your book online. Many websites or videos will have small summaries which will be able to explain what happens, but you won’t need to read through the whole book again.
A great example of this is SparkNotes – it can be a saviour of your GCSE! Find the website here:
When you’re rereading your set text, make sure you’re jotting down some key things:
The main themes of the text
The main characters – you could always do a mind map of their journey and characteristics
What are the main events that happen in the text?
The introduction and conclusion – both are very important, and sometimes they may even mirror each other for dramatic effect!
Some good quotes which cover some themes/ characters – they could be useful in the exam!
It is also a good idea to review any footnotes included in your edition of the text as they can provide you with important contextual information and/or overviews of the text.
If you’ve re-read your text and know that for your exam you will have a closed book, then you know that you will need to begin memorising!
Even if you will have an open book exam, it’s still a good idea to try and learn have picked out some key quotes that may be useful, as it will make it easier to use them when you’re writing your written response in the exam.
See our article ‘How to memorise quotes’ to find out the best methods for memorisation.
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