AQA GCSE english Exam


GCSE English is divided into two papers.

The first paper is ‘Shakespeare and the 19th century novel.’ It is a written exam of one hour and forty-five minutes, accounting for 40% of the GCSE. For Section A: Shakespeare, students will answer one question on their play of choice. They will be required to write in detail about an extract from the play and then to write about the play as a whole. For Section B: The 19th-century novel, students will answer one question on their novel of choice. They will be required to write in detail about an extract from the novel and then to write about the novel as a whole.

The second paper is ‘Modern texts and poetry.’ It is a written exam of two hours and fifteen minutes, accounting for 60% of the GCSE. There are three sections making up this paper. For Section A: Modern texts, students will answer one essay question from a choice of two on their studied modern prose or drama text. For Section B: Poetry, students will answer one comparative question on one named poem printed on the paper and one other poem from their chosen anthology cluster. For Section C: Unseen poetry, students will answer one question on one unseen poem and one question comparing this poem with a second unseen poem.

There are four assessment objectives, which are specified for students. Please find our full breakdown of GCSE English below, with requisite assessment details and objectives.

Paper 1: Shakespeare and the 19th century novel

Section A: Shakespeare

Students will study one play from the list of six set texts. Students should study the whole text. Choose one of:
• Macbeth
• Romeo and Juliet
• The Tempest
• The Merchant of Venice
• Much Ado About Nothing
• Julius Caesar.

Section B: The 19th-century novel

Students will study one novel from the list of seven set texts. Students should study the whole text. Choose one of:

Robert Louis Stevenson – The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens – Great Expectations
Charlotte Brontë – Jane Eyre
Mary Shelley – Frankenstein
Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle -The Sign of Four

Paper 2: Modern texts and poetry

Section A: Modern texts

Students will study one from a choice of 12 set texts, which include post-1914 prose fiction and drama. Students should study the whole text. Choose one of:

JB Priestley – An Inspector Calls
Willy Russell – Blood Brothers
Alan Bennett – The History Boys
Dennis Kelly – DNA
Simon Stephens – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (play script)
Shelagh Delaney – A Taste of Honey

William Golding – Lord of the Flies
AQA Anthology – Telling Tales
George Orwell – Animal Farm
Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let Me Go
Meera Syal – Anita and Me
Stephen Kelman – Pigeon English

Section B: Poetry

Students will study one cluster of poems taken from the AQA poetry anthology, Poems Past and Present. There is a choice of two clusters, each containing 15 poems. The poems in each cluster are thematically linked and were written between 1789 and the present day. The titles of the two clusters are:
• Love and relationships
• Power and conflict.

Students should study all 15 poems in their chosen cluster and be prepared to write about any of them in the examination.

Section C: Unseen Poetry

In preparing for the unseen poetry section of the examination students should experience a wide range of poetry in order to develop their ability to closely analyse unseen poems. They should be able to analyse and compare key features such as their content, theme, structure and use of language.

Assessment details

Assessment Objectives

The exams will measure how students have achieved the following assessment objectives:

  • AO1 Read, understand and respond to texts.
    Students should be able to: maintain a critical style and develop an informed personal response, use textual references, including quotations, to support and illustrate interpretations.
  • AO2 Analyse the language, form and structure used by a writer to create meanings and effects, using relevant subject terminology where appropriate.
  • AO3 Show understanding of the relationships between texts and the contexts in which they were written.
  • AO4 Use a range of vocabulary and sentence structures for clarity, purpose and effect, with accurate spelling and punctuation.