English Language: Exam Prep Writing toolkit

Exam Insights: English Language reading advice

Our regular blog author, Jill Carter, has prepared some revision tips and advice for your students – pass it on!

You have two English Language exams so get clear about what each of these requires.  Look for patterns so you can prepare more effectively for both. For both exams, you will need to be able to read critically.  You will need to be able to analyse fiction and non-fiction texts.  Don’t forget, there are many similarities.

Writing Toolkit

You can and should use some of the techniques listed above in your own writing. In each of the exam papers you will be expected to do a piece of writing of your own – this will either be creative / imaginative writing or discursive / argumentative writing. As well as using the devices above, think about the following ways of improving your own writing:

Varying sentence structure

  • Move subordinate clauses to the beginning of a sentence
  • Open with a connective
  • Open with an adjective or an adverb
  • Open with an ‘ing’ verb (known as the present continuous tense)
  • Include additional information using commas or a pair of dashes
  • Develop noun phrases

Punctuation and spelling

Common errors:

  • Upper case for proper nouns
  • Upper case for the word ‘I’
  • Comma splice (comma used instead of a full stop, semi-colon or dash)
  • Commas for extra information
  • Their/they’re/there

Semi-colons and dashes

Semi-colons and dashes are often under-used but add finesse:

He ran as fast as he possibly could; he was late.

He ran as fast as he possibly could – he was late.


Effective techniques to open or close a piece of writing

  • One word or very short sentence: I should have known better.
  • Some form of repetition: Snow, snow and more snow; I had never known snow to fall in such quantities.
  • A rhetorical question: Could I possibly have predicted what happened that day?
  • A balanced sentence made up of two parts which are fairly equal in terms of length, importance and grammatical structure: To fall is one thing: to fall in love is another.
  • Alliteration: London – what a leaden location for filming on a February morning.
  • An unusual detail – Frost had settled on the trees, the stubble in the fields and the windscreen of the sleek, black Ferrari.


  • Gap analyse mock papers and practice tasks you have done, noting how to improve your answer, e.g.

  • Practise pieces of writing and show them to others who can comment on how effectively you are conveying ideas.
  • There are a lot of websites offering all kinds of solutions to ‘revision’. Make sure that you don’t spend valuable time web-hopping – identify a few good ones (your teacher has probably already given you a list) and then stick to working on their suggestions rather than searching for a ‘holy grail’ which doesn’t exist.  At the end of the day, you actually need to do some work!