As the old saying goes ‘practice makes perfect’ – and that’s certainly true in the case of English Language GCSE!
Past papers are an amazing way of trying out your skills before the exam, to make sure that you feel prepared and that you know what to expect before the exam day arrives.
It’s likely that your teacher will make you do mock exams, which involves doing a past paper under timed conditions similar to the exam. But you can also go through past papers during your own revision.
Past papers allow you to see real examples of texts and questions which have come up in previous years, so they will not be too dissimilar to the ones that are likely to appear in your own exam.
Doing plenty of past papers will also ensure that you become familiar with the format of your exam, so that you’re not unpleasantly surprised on the day.
Since the GCSE specifications changed in 2015, new papers for the English Language GCSE have been released.
What does this mean?
This means that papers from 2015 with a new specification will be a different format to examinations before 2015. This will vary among exam boards, but it will mean that the questions may be slightly differentor marked in a different way.
Previously, there were English language GCSE papers online from as far back as 2000! But the exams have changed vastly since then, so try and use the most recent papers.
We recognise that there are not many papers currently available as the GCSE specifications are still relatively new. Older papers before 2015 with older specifications may still be available online – They remain useful for practising the analysis of unseen textsbut will not be as useful as newer past papers.
This is because their questions may be marked out of a different score, or the format could be slightly different. Try and ask your teacher before practicing older papers, as they will be able to inform you as to how useful they will be.
As well as examination papers from past years, you will also be able to find example examinations online called Specimen papers.
These papers have never been formally used in an examinationbut are examples which have been released by the exam board to be used as a practice paper.
Specimen papers are very useful, as they are often used to produce exemplar answers which can often be found on the website. This means you can see what is expected from your written examination responseand see other candidates’ examples which are graded accordingly.
Past papers vary by each individual exam board. It will be most useful to use the past papers from the exam board which you will be sitting.
If you have completed all past papers from your own exam papers – well done! But before embarking on papers from other exam boards, it might be worth asking your teachers as they may confuse you slightly with different types of questions or different requirements.
Sometimes they can be more of a hindrance than a help. If you are going to consult past papers from another exam board, use them only as practice for textual analysis or writing. Don’t worry about calculating marks, because their mark scheme may be slightly different from yours.
Please find the links below for past papers for each exam board:
If the link for your exam board is not listed here – then go to the website for your exam board and find the English Language GCSE tab!
You can go through past papers in whatever way suits you best.
You may want to practice one particular question from every year, so you could go through each of the non-fiction writing part of each exam for example. This is a more useful method when you are trying to revise a specific element of the exam.
If you are trying to practice unseen texts or textual analysis, try and do the first few past papers without time regulations. This is to reduce stress and get you familiar with the requirements of the exam.
After going through your practice paper, you could go through and compare with the mark scheme in another colour. For example, you could add to your answer in a red pen all of the things you have missed from the mark scheme or things which you forgot from the MRS FORLAP technique.
This will be helpful for you to see which parts you are repeatedly missing out – this will help you to recognise your weaknesses which is helpful for revision. Make sure you always revise your weakest areas first!
Try and get a teacher or a parent/guardian to look through your practice responses. If it is a teacher looking through them, you could ask if they would be able to give you an approximate score and numerical grade so that you can track your progress. Make sure you write these scores down so that you can see how you did in each individual paper!
But don’t worry if you don’t have someone who can give you a numerical grade for your practice papers, just doing them in preparation will be useful!
If you feel confident having gone through individual parts of the exam, then you may be ready to go through the whole exam chronologically.
This is a good time to start giving yourself restrictions. This will be similar to a mock exam – but you can make it as strict as you want to be!
Try and find a quiet place where you can focus, and there you can set a timer to go through the past paper on your own. This will help you get familiar with the time restraints for the exam, make sure that you stick to the recommended timings your teacher has given you.
If you finish the exam early, be sure to write how long it took you on the front of your practice paper. But finishing too early is not to be advised! In order to get the best marks, you need to make use of your time effectively. This includes, planning writing and reviewing.
If you find that you have finished with plenty of time to spare, you may have rushed your exam and lost some marks! Make sure that you try to maximise your time by planning, which will help give your written responses a more coherent and logical structure.
Be sure to also leave a small amount of time before the end of the exam to read through your answer. This will allow you to correct any mistakes or improve your spelling, punctuation and grammar.
If you find yourself rushing or furiously writing towards the end of the exam, this may demonstrate that you have not used your time well, or that you have gone over your time in other areas.
Self-control is important for timed exams, as you need to make sure that you are staying strictly within the time limit so that you don’t miss anything out!
But how can I improve?
If you’re rushing because you have used your time poorly, make sure that you know how much time you have before to plan, write and review your work. For example: if you have 30 minutes to answer a question and know that your teacher has recommended 10 minutes for planning, 25 minutes for writing your answer and 5 minutes to review it, make sure you stick to this!
Write out the three numbers on the top of the page (but be sure to cross them out before you submit your paper) if you need to remind yourself.
Every examination room legally has to contain a clock so that you’re aware of the time during your exam. But it’s also a good idea to make sure that you have your own watch!
If you have your own watch, you can have it on your wrist or put it in front of you on your desk during the exam, so that it is right in front of you rather than trying to check the time from a distance.
If you know that you struggle to tell the time on an analogue clock, it might also be useful to get yourself a watch which tells the time digitally, or maybe even ask your school if they can provide a digital clock!
By constantly having the time in front of you, you can be strict with your timings. If you know that you will have 30 minutes to answer the first question and your exam begins at 9:30, it might even be useful to write 10:00am on your paper – so that you know the exact time when you should move onto the next question!
You may also find yourself running out of time if you’re spending too long reading or writing during your exam.
But don’t panic:
There are many ways to improve your reading and writing speed online. By simply reading and writing more, your body will naturally become accustomed to doing it at a faster speed.
By learning how to skim or scan the text initially upon your first reading, you will be able to gage the general arguments or points within the text quickly, before beginning to ready more closely for analysis.