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Four ways to get your child ready for the return to GCSE English

This article has been written by teacher and author of  You can’t revise for GCSE 9-1 English! Yes you can Mark Roberts.

After the turbulence of lockdown and distance learning, thankfully, your child’s return to school is now imminent. As a dedicated parent who wants to ensure that your teenager succeeds in a vital subject like English, you’ve no doubt done all you can to encourage, cajole and, sometimes, coerce them into completing the work they’ve been set since mid-March. Given the enforced break from school, returning to the English classroom in September might well seem a daunting prospect for you and your child. But here are my four top tips to help your child make a smoother transition back to the GCSE English course.

1. Help work out how they’ve been getting on

Ask a teenager how they’ve been getting on with their English work and they’ll invariably say “alright”, or “not too bad”. But dig a bit deeper and you usually find that there’s things they found easy and other stuff that they found impossible, or more likely, haven’t actually attempted. One really helpful way to get them to face up to their strengths and weaknesses is to encourage them to apply a confidence score – like red, amber, green – for different themes, texts, poems etc. They might be a green (ready to answer an exam question on it) for the poem ‘My Last Duchess’, but are a definite red (can’t remember a thing) for the theme of loyalty in Macbeth. Helping them to reflect on where things stand across the course will be a really useful exercise ahead of the return in September.

2. Get them to address major knowledge gaps

Once they’ve assessed their areas of concern, now is the time to start plugging those knowledge gaps. Most students tend to start revising for GCSE English by focusing on things they already know quite a bit about. Given recent events, this may well be comforting but my advice is to try and do the opposite. Ask them, for example, to identify the poem that, if it appeared on the exam paper, would freeze their blood. This is the poem to start with. They should begin by doing a “brain dump” (writing down everything they can remember about it on a blank piece of paper). With key exams looming, they’ll start to gain greater self-belief from having tackled the worst case scenario stuff. 

3. Encourage a little and often attitude 

Leaving things to the last minute – known as cramming – is the worst way to revise. They’re less likely to remember key ideas and it’s highly stressful. Instead, as September nears, encourage your child to adopt a little and often approach to English revision. Half an hour each day on a different theme, character, context or poem isn’t too overwhelming but can make a massive difference to their final result. If you haven’t already, get them some flash cards and help by quizzing them daily on key knowledge.

4. Nudge them towards the most important revision activities 

Knowing key quotes and bits of context is really important but it’s vital that your child realises it’s not the be all and end all. The grade they achieve will be decided by how well they are able to express their ideas in writing. For this reason, revision should involve lots of practice writing and re-writing analytical and creative paragraphs, in response to different exam questions. After such a long break from English lessons, they may well find this a challenge, but to do well in the subject they need to start building up their writing stamina now.


About Mark Roberts

Mark is Assistant Principal at a mixed 11-18 comprehensive school in Devon. He writes a blog about teaching English and is also a frequent contributor to TES.

For more practical advice for teens check out You can’t revise for GCSE 9-1 English! Yes you can which helps students discover how to banish ineffective revision by creating an organised step-by-step approach to their English revision.