Thursday, February 14, 2019

Top student revision tips

In this blog post, we've invited former A level English Language student, Olivia to give some advice to students about how she revised and what her top tips are for students doing the course. Thanks to Olivia for writing this and for all the great ideas here.

Hi, I’m Olivia! Two years ago I sat the A Level English Language exams. I’m now at university and make and share English Language revision resources for ambitious students as @astarlevels on TES and Twitter.

With that in mind, in this post I’m sharing my revision tips for aiming high in A Level English Language. I’ve split it into four sections: learning theory, preparing for writing essays/ articles, tackling data and general revision tips.

Learning theory
The first step in preparing for the exam is to get familiar with the AO2 you’ll need. Go through your notes from the past two years and fish out all the bits that look interesting or important.

Work smart before you work hard. You don’t need to learn everything. Select the best bits from each theory or case study, maybe two or three sentences that focus on the main findings or key ideas. Forget about learning the exact number of participants, endless details of the procedure or how the results were analysed. Stick to what they did and what they found. These are the parts that will help you answer the question.

Once you’ve lifted this information from your notes, you need to think about it. This is the crucial bit: make sure you have something useful about every piece of AO2 you plan to use. Ask yourself these sorts of questions that will encourage you to evaluate the essay title you have been set:
  • What does it show about the broader topic?
  • Why does it matter?
  • What could the real life implication be?

It can also be useful to see how different studies and ideas link up and agree or disagree with each other. This is good preparation for evaluating ideas in the exam. Look at this example on language and gender:

  • Zimmerman and West found men do the majority of interrupting in mixed conversation suggesting men want to dominate conversation.
  • But Geoffrey Beattie suggested one man could have a disproportionate effect. His own research found the ratio of interrupting to be more or less equal.
  • Deborah Cameron suggested that our need to find differences between language used by men and women causes us to exaggerate certain perceptions and ignore others. This creates a distorted picture. 

Then, just like that, you have the foundation of three paragraphs that can clearly evaluate an idea about language and gender. It’s worth remembering that you will have looked at lots of different studies and that while there are common studies and ideas in the various textbooks, it’s what you do with ideas, research and theory that really matters.

Writing essays/ articles

One big piece of advice is don’t let the day of the exam be the first time you write an essay or an article! You’ll feel a lot more confident if you know you’ve already tackled everything in the exam at least once.

Practise planning or writing essay answers to a question asking you to evaluate an idea about accent/ gender/ social group/ etc. This will help you link up the studies and theories, and you’ll also get an idea of the lines of argument and structure you might be able to apply to the real exam question.

A simple bit of prep for writing an article on paper 2, is to think up some kind of headline that you can use. “Language and gender: its every man for himself” could really be the headline for any article on language and gender. Having something like this in mind for all the topics, before the exam, stops you panicking on the day desperately searching for something vaguely funny to open with.

Analysing data

To tackle the paper 1 questions, you need to be confident in identifying and analysing language, including patterns of vocabulary and grammar. To practise, there are lots of activities online that show you how to spot clauses and sentence types, as well as nouns, verbs and adjectives. It’s also worth looking on mark schemes to see what specific bits of grammar are classed as high level by the exam board. Analysing these in your answer is a quick way to climb the marks.

It can be tricky to come up with interpretations of the grammar. A tactic I devised to overcome this is to use synonyms as your AO3. Take the phrase “protestors poured onto the street” for example, here’s what you’d do with it:
  • Label interesting feature ‘poured’ = dynamic verb
  • Synonym for poured = gush, cascade, huge amounts moving quickly
  • Pull it together = the dynamic verb “poured” suggests the President is unpopular because huge numbers of people were surging through the streets to show their protest against him.

General tips

And finally, here is some general advice for revising for any A level…

  • Try not to talk about how much revision you’re doing with your friends. There’s no need to compare and this usually results in more stress.
  • Keep checking back to the specification, mark schemes and examiners reports – these are written by the exam board and are a good way to understand what they’re looking for.
  • Set realistic and worthwhile goals. No one can (or needs to) write six essays and memorise a textbook in a day. Also, creating a colour coded revision timetable isn’t the most beneficial use of time.

So, I think that’s everything for my student to student advice. I hope some of it will be useful in making your revision more efficient and effective.

Remember that you can find tried and tested resources to help you revise A Level English Language here.

Thank you so much to Dan for inviting me to write this and good luck to everyone sitting exams in June!


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