Practice and Procedure Pays Off!

Rebecca Geoghegan is a secondary English teacher and former whole school Literacy Lead with 15 years experience of teaching KS3, GCSE and A Level.


There are no short cuts to getting good grades in GCSE English Language, but the development of two key areas can support students in feeling confident when they walk into that exam in June.

1)  Practice

It seems obvious.  And yet, whilst students will have completed numerous practice papers in preparation and received copious comments, I would suggest that much of the teaching, learning and feedback is related to their skills.  While there is no denying that the demonstration of the relevant skills are what their grade is based upon, without ‘exam expertise’ they will fail to adequately demonstrate those skills.  Simply put – this GCSE is as much about exam prowess as it is about a skills set – do they know how to ‘be’ in an exam?

Here are a few key questions to consider when preparing students for the exam.

  • Revision – what should they have been revising? How should they have been revising?
  • Equipment – do they know what to take into the exam e.g. highlighters; ruler etc.
  • Timings – do they know the timings for each question in each section of the exam? How much time should they spend reading the texts for section A? How will they keep track of the time? What happens if they run out of time on a question? How long should their plan take for section B? Should they spend time checking their work?  What happens if they finish early?

Through practice, feedback and discussion, these questions should be developed into ‘procedures’.

2)  Procedure

Once students have developed their knowledge of ‘what they are like in an exam’, they can then begin to create their approach to the exam.  They should start to know their ‘weaknesses’, for example, running out of time for question 4, and as a result should be encouraged and be given the opportunity to cultivate their own exam procedures.

The following are some suggested areas that might be considered:

  • Reading time

How much time for reading in paper 1 and paper2? How is this reading time used e.g. are they annotating?  Highlighting?  What are they looking for?  How do they approach a word or phrase they don’t understand?

  • Section A – reading

How are the different questions approached?  In the time give and for the marks available, how much should they be writing? How should that writing be structured?  Is there a ‘formula’ for the question that could support the structure of an answer?

  • Section B – writing

How do they plan?  What is the most effective way for them to plan?  How long should the plan take?  How long to check?  How do they ‘check’ their writing?  Do they have a ‘check checklist’?  Do they have a writing structure for the type of writing?

In developing procedures some may suggest that student responses become uniform and lack the required creativity for the top grades, this is why it is vital for higher ability students to spend time personalising any procedures that you have shared with them.

There is nothing new here, but what is new is that exam proficiency is taking centre stage.  With coursework a thing of the past, students now rely upon their exam performance, and to ensure it is ‘optimal’ we must spend equal time developing ENGLISH skills AND EXAM skills.  The only  – and most effective – way to do this is to provide students will multiply opportunities over time to practice both sets of skills.


Go to for more advice and suggested resources to help students achieve their exam potential.