How to prepare for your GCSE English retakes


Before you even start revising for your English retake, remember, you are good at English. If you are a native speaker or have spent most of your life speaking English, the chances are you have the skills to excel in your GCSE exam - it’s just how you go about channelling them in order to get the grades you deserve.

Through watching TV, listening to the radio, interacting on social media or simply through having conversations, you are sure to develop your spoken and written English skills. Every day you will listen to, speak and interact with thousands of words - every argument you partake in, YouTube video you watch or advert you see means you are continually learning to decode language and evaluate its meaning.

Every hour of every day - maybe more than any other generation - you are producing rich, complex language and adapting your tone for suitable audiences and purposes, switching between humour, slang, formality, comforting, criticising, and defending.

Do I have to retake GCSE English? Why should I?

Whilst results certainly aren’t everything, GCSE English is a vital qualification and achieving a good grade (4 or above) is not only a necessity in order to progress through your academic career but is imperative for your future employment prospects. Therefore, retaking your GCSE English is not only recommended but in most cases, mandatory. You'll need to retake the exam until you either pass or turn 18.

Whilst this may sound daunting - don’t panic: with the right help, you’ll sail through the exam and get the grades you deserve. Here’s the ultimate guide to preparing for your GCSE English retakes.

Why is it so hard to pass GCSE English?

The GCSE English language exam is certainly tricky and there is no shame in not passing it the first time around. The reason the GCSE was changed from the old model with A-C grading and controlled assessments was to make it more challenging, and in theory, this should raise the bar for the standard of English across the UK.

If you have feelings of anxiety surrounding your GCSE English retake exam, just remember - there are hundreds and thousands of other people around the country from all walks of life in the same position as you.

Now that the GCSE is based completely on the final exams, there is a lot of pressure, and it’s normal to feel worried or nervous ahead of your exams. On the plus side, one exam at the end makes the test fairer and a more genuine test of your abilities. However, it means that you are only tested on your performance on that one day. Exam nerves, coupled with any other issues like tiredness or illness, for example, could have an impact. Likewise, the source materials in that particular test may have been ones you found particularly challenging or uninspiring.

Nerves, the traffic, the weather and a host of other issues mean that the difference between pass and fail can rest on a knife-edge. With a high-stakes final exam, taking multiple attempts to pass is nothing to be ashamed of!

(Woah Oh) You’re halfway there!

Whilst it might seem like you have a long way to go - you’ve actually made pretty decent headway and you are already in a better position than last time you took the exam.

Understandably, you will be feeling disappointed that your results were not what you’d hoped for first time around, and I am not going to tell you that you should be feeling any other way. You might even feel like you are at rock bottom with an insurmountable climb ahead of you.

In fact, you are already halfway up the mountain. Compared to where you were last time you started studying for this exam, you have a whole year’s worth of studying, lessons, practice and revision under your belt. On top of that, you have even had a go at sitting the real exam! For many people, turning up on the day, sitting in that exam room and facing the exam paper is already a huge achievement. This is not the end of the fight: this is merely the end of round 1. All that experience has only made you far more prepared second time around!

What do I need to do to pass GCSE English?

The English GCSE is hard, but it is also designed to be passed. Some students will be aiming for a 7, 8 or 9 grade, and to reach this standard, you must write and analyse texts with real sophistication and nuance. However, for many other students, the goal is to achieve a pass grade of 4 or hopefully higher.

Whatever your goal may be, there are certain steps you should take to ensure you are fully prepared to tackle the exam with confidence, equipped with the knowledge and skill you need to really succeed.

1. Plan

Planning is a vital part of the revision process, whether you’re doing your exams for the first time or retaking them. Make yourself a revision timetable, ensuring you give yourself enough time to cover each area that you struggle with in great detail. This will not only help you manage your time but will also enable you to see that you are making progress which will give you a nice little boost of confidence in the process.

2. Prepare

This one may sound silly, but revising is the most important part of the exam retake process, and you’ll often find you can learn and retain the information far more easily the second time round. Make yourself in-depth revision notes, whether they be in the form of bullet points, spider diagrams, voice notes or any other way that you find helps you learn best, and then test yourself until you are getting everything right.

3. Get help when you need it

It has never been more vital that you seek out the help that you need to ensure you are fully prepared for your GCSE English exam. If you’re finding one or more areas particularly challenging, then pay a quick visit to your teacher and ask if they will sit with you and help you to better understand what you’re studying. Alternatively, you could ask a friend who did well in the exam originally to help you, as they will have been through the process recently and may be able to offer you some invaluable advice.  

The current system is not perfect and does not please everyone, but then again, neither would any alternative. It is the game you have to play and that is not going to change any time soon. Fortunately, the things you have to do to beat this game are not a secret.

Elise Pearce

As our Head of Content, Elise’s role involves everything from email campaigns to web content; if you spot a typo, you know who to blame. A lover of all things creative, she studied History of Art at St. Andrews enjoys running and painting in her spare time. At home, when she's not busy chasing after her two Labradoodles, Flossy and Rupert, you'll catch her doing handstands on her yoga mat.

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