As a GCSE English tutor, I make a point of regularly asking my students about their revision. “So how’s revision going?” I’ll say and more often than not, their answer involves an awkward smile, a shrug of the shoulders and a tentative whisper “Good.”
Is that a good sign? Well, it’s not necessarily a bad sign.
Having tutored countless pupils, I’ve noticed students either overwork or underwork. Neither is healthy and a balance is hard to find. English is hard. Many would disagree. At its very foundation is comprehension, something most of us have been doing since primary school. And yet I remain obstinate; English is hard
Why, you may ask? Because unlike maths and science it has no objective answers and is never as clear cut. It involves big words like imagery and symbolism and is very ‘wishy-washy’: anything can be a valid answer as long as you are able to support your conclusions.
To make matters worse, there are also two types: GCSE English Language and GCSE English Literature. What’s the difference I hear you ask? Well as an English tutor, I can assure you that the two are very similar but often seem worlds apart.
In layman’s terms, English Language at GCSE is a study of the essentials of language: how a text is structured and paragraphed, why the writer has used a specific word class, sentence form or style of writing to persuade, entertain or inform. On the other hand, English Literature is often a little harder to grasp: its main focus is literary techniques – a fancy way of saying consider how metaphors, similes, personification and so on has been used to shape meanings. Now again, this sounds a little complicated but once you’ve been given a quick run-down of the techniques, students are found to be a little more open to the subject.
Nevertheless, at a glance, neither seems easy – nor are they, not at first anyway. Both require practice, understanding and a little more practice.
So now that’s slightly clearer, let’s talk about how to support revision. Well the simple answer is to reassure them that as long as they’re trying their best, that’s what matters.
Weirdly enough – and I know most don’t like to hear this – there is such a thing as too much revision. Here are my top 3 tips to aid your child in navigating their way through their GCSEs:
1, Ensure your child starts early. They don’t have to do a lot; as little as an hour a day is enough. The earlier you start, the easier it is to engage in. Psychological research shows a short burst of revision over time is more useful in the long run. This is because information can be transferred to your long term memory through rehearsal – this repetition of small chunks means this same information will be available to retrieve within exams.
2. Help them make a realistic revision timetable. Now this one is hard. Many parents have high expectations from their children and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, I would say encourage your child to have high expectations from themselves. Personally, I found my biggest motivator during my GCSEs was myself – I wanted to do well, so I did everything I could to ensure I did. Now it’s hard to motivate a teenager, but you’d be surprised how far praises and a few rewards will go: positive reinforcement works wonders.
3. Finally, make sure they have time to relax, have fun and be a normal teenager. Your child doesn’t have to spend every waking moment revising. Without a doubt, your GCSEs are important but don’t allow them to define you.