All ambitious students work hard. However, hard work alone is unlikely to get the grades you feel that work deserves!

According to Peter Thompson, one of our most experienced English tutors, the key skill is NOT to work harder but to work SMARTER.  In this article, we explain what is meant by working “smarter” when it comes to English GCSE.  This is the first of three articles focused on GCSE English.

Read Peter’s advice for English Language GCSE.  For course information, click here.

Read Peter’s advice for English Literature GCSE.  For course information, click here.


1 Research

Early on in your revision, print off past papers and examiners’ reports from your examination website and check:

  • the genre of texts being examined
  • the structure of the paper
  • question types, wording and mark allocations – try to identify the key words in each question and how best to demonstrate your understanding to the examiner
  • the comments of examiners and, in particular, how the examiners reward successful candidates and key mistakes to avoid!

2 Planning

Once you are clear about what the different types of question are looking for and mark allocations, formulate your time management for each question accordingly.

3 Practice, practice, practice!

In addition to exemplar materials and past papers from your examination board website, ask your teacher for practice questions and:

  • practice doing question plans for the different types of question before attempting a full answer
  • ask your teacher to mark, and give feedback on, your work to help you identify where you are missing points or skills needing further work
  • make sure you practice doing questions within the time you have allocated for that particular type of question – time management is crucial and is a key skill for all exams, not just English.


The most common feedback from examiners is that students need to plan more, proof read thoroughly and write less to achieve the highest marks. So, in the exam NEVER confuse quantity with quality.