How to get good grades in English Language GCSE
22nd November 2011
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Peter Whisson of Tuition Canterbury has sent me this article to publish on his behalf;

How to get good grades in ...

English Language, GCSE

How about learning new words in English in the same way as learning new vocabulary in a foreign language?  

This at first may seem a strange suggestion to students for whom English is the language they naturally think and work in, and which is therefore developing in them all the time.  Besides, the GCSE exam does not explicitly test knowledge of vocabulary, apart from technical terms used in language discussion - words like genre, diction, metaphor etc. Passages for reading comprehension taken from newspapers or websites are chosen for their topicality and rarely contain uncommon words.

So what is the point of methodically building and widening one’s vocabulary for GCSE English? And how should one go about it?  Turn the pages of a dictionary at random and stick in pins?  

Sticking pins in a dictionary is not a good idea – but using the dictionary to look up words selected from a passage of ‘quality reading’ – any interesting book or article written for the serious general reader – can be productive and enjoyable.

Take for example these words, sodden, gambolled, unspeakable, reiterated, timorously (all from a few pages of George Orwell). None of them is a rare word with a difficult meaning – but of course each is less commonly used than equivalents like wet, ran, terrible, repeated, nervously.  Each word then is ideal to use in an English examination answer where the object is to showcase a command of language and capture the examiner’s interest.

I am not suggesting that any particular set or sets of words must be learned and introduced into an exam. Vocabulary-building is not a last-minute revision technique; it should be a long- term, little by little, endeavour.  A few words a week for six or eight months will create a bank of 200 or 300, from which perhaps only 10 or 12 words might be naturally and usefully employed in an exam. But those 10 or 12 will make such a positive difference to the overall impression – and that’s what raises the grade.

And let’s remember, it’s not all just for the sake of exams.  Words are interesting in themselves and the choice of them adds greatly to the pleasures of reading, conversation and the arts.


Peter Whisson runs Tuition Canterbury, an Education Centre providing English, Maths and Science tuition.

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