Top topics tutored for English GCSE

At MyTutor, we’ve got lots of dedicated English tutors across the UK who love helping teens achieve their best when exams come around. Since we started in 2013, we’ve given more than 250,000 one-to-one lessons, and over 1 million school pupils have used our online resource centre. Over time we’ve been able to get a strong understanding of exactly the topics in each subject that kids tend to need that extra help with.

Here are the top four English GCSE topics our students struggle with most, and some example answers which can double as handy study notes for your child to get the revision-ready.

  1. How do I write a poetry comparison essay?
  2. What is the difference between verse and prose, and why is it important?
  3. Explain how far you think Shakespeare presents Lord Capulet as a good father in Romeo and Juliet.
  4. How can I effectively analyse an unseen poem in exam conditions?

1. How do I write a poetry comparison essay?

The most important part of any English essay is the planning: you need to make sure that you know what you are writing about before you start. With a poetry comparison essay, you will usually be looking for similarities and differences in the poems. For a coursework essay, you can take your time over this, and the same skills can be used to do the same thing efficiently in an exam.

Step 1: READ!! Read the poems, and then read them again, and probably again just to be sure.

Step 2: After reading through both poems thoroughly, you can make notes for each poem according to STRIP factors: Structure, Tone, Rhythm/Rhyme, Imagery and Person. “Person” can refer to both the people reading the poem, and the ‘speaker’ or the voice telling the poem, so you could make notes on each one individually if relevant.

Step 3: The next step is to put all of these ideas into a plan, which compares the use of these STRIP factors. Usually GCSE questions are based on the themes, so you will be focusing on how the STRIP factors are used to create (or challenge!) the theme shared by the two poems. Comparing your notes, you are aiming to find a similarity and a difference in the language – that is, imagery, tone, and person; as well as a similarity and a difference in structure – which includes the ‘structure’ part of STRIP as well as rhythm and rhyme.

Once all that planning is done and dusted, you can write the essay!
Part 1: Introduction: The introduction should be short and clearly explain which poems you will be writing about, and what it is in each poem that you will be discussing.

Part 2: Body: This is where all those similarities and differences go: it will depend on the poems, but usually it is best to alternate similarity and difference. This will mean you have four paragraphs, which could go like this:

Similarity (Language)
Difference (Language)
Similarity (Structure)
Difference (Structure)

Part 3: Conclusion: After these four paragraphs, you can write your conclusion, which should be a few sentences long, and explicitly answer both the question and the introduction.

2. What is the difference between verse and prose, and why is it important?

Prose is what we can call “normal language” – it is what we use in everyday speech. It consists of sentences and paragraphs, and is what most novels and contemporary are written in.

Verse can also be called poetry – it tends to have a regular rhythm, and is divided into “stanzas” rather than paragraphs. Verse can sometimes rhyme.

Many of Shakespeare’s plays are written in a mixture of verse and prose, often for very different effects. For example, his lower-status characters often speak in prose, as well as comedic characters. Shakespeare often reserves verse for lofty subjects such as love, and for his higher-born characters.

3. Explain how far you think Shakespeare presents Lord Capulet as a good father in Romeo and Juliet. Write about how he is presented in this extract (5-15 Act 1 Scene 2) and in the rest of the play.

Example answer:

In ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Lord Capulet, Juliet’s father, is presented as a good father in many ways throughout the play and particularly in this extract. He tells Paris he can only marry Juliet if she says yes as well. “My will to her consent is but a part; / And she agreed, within her scope of choice / Lies my consent and fair according voice.” (12-4 Act 1 Scene 2). This shows that Capulet cares about his daughter’s feelings and opinions. He directly links his consent with hers here and the rhyming couplets used exaggerate this point to the audience. This rhyming couplet also puts emphasis on the words “choice” and voice”. The “voice” he is referring to is his own, rather than Juliet’s, suggesting that Juliet only has a voice through him as her father. This shows that although Lord Capulet is a good father because he cares about her feelings, he does not want Juliet to have her own voice or opinions outside his. This reflects the attitudes to women’s places in marriage and families at the time.

Later on in the play in Act 3 Scene 4 he talks with Paris and decides Juliet will marry Paris without her consent. He believes that she will be easily persuaded by her father “I think she will be ruled / In all respects by me. Nay, more, I doubt it not.” (13-4 Act 3 Scene 4). Although Capulet seems to care for his daughter he does not respect her feelings throughout the play. The use of the word “ruled” shows that Lord Capulet has the final say in the matter, unlike in Act 1 Scene 2 when it seems like her choice is also important.

Lord Capulet believes he is being a good father when he says yes to Paris but the audience sympathises with Juliet who he threatens to kick onto the street if she does not marry Paris. “hang, beg, starve, die in the streets, / For, by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee,” (193-4 Act 3 Scene 5). It is only at the end of the play when Lord Capulet makes peace with the Montagues and agrees to bury the lovers together that he seems to follow Juliet’s wishes. Shakespeare begins the play by presenting him as a good father but complicates this impression through the rest of the play, at the end we are left with the impression is a complex father character who is both good and bad.

4. How can I effectively analyse an unseen poem in exam conditions?

Under high-stress conditions, such as an exam, the most important thing is not to rush in and panic. Read the poem all the way through once or twice without making any annotations. Once you feel that you have a grasp of the poem and it’s subject, read it through stanza by stanza and underline/annotate any poetic techniques which you immediately recognise.

For example, metaphors, similes, enjambment or alliteration. The more that you can spot the better. Next, think about how these techniques create an effect, such as the diction and the sound of the words or perhaps why exactly the poet has chosen to use particular words or images.

Think about how the poem makes you feel and how it achieves this through poetic techniques.The form of the poem is always a good way to start. Look at how the poem is on the page, the number and length of stanzas. Do any of the stanzas run into one another? Is enjambment used?

Secondly, think about what the poem is about, or if there is a message in the poem. In exam conditions, if there is any part of the poem which you do not understand, it is better to move on and focus on what you do understand. If you don’t get it, forget it!

Another helpful technique when analysing an unseen poem is using your own reaction to it as a starting point. For example, does the poem conjure any images in your mind? Does it make you feel happy or sad? You can then use this to spot techniques; which line in particular conjures these feelings? Why and how does it do this?

When writing about a poem in an essay a useful techniques is PEED – Point Example Explain Develop. Make a point about the poem, then follow with an example, such as a line from the poem (make sure this is not too long) and then explain how the quote proves your point, usually with a technique you have spotted.

For a higher mark, you can further develop your point by linking it with the rest of the poem, and how it adds to the poem’s overall effect. Through using PEED you can build the structure of your essay, checking you have explained each point fully. Remember, quality is more important than quantity.

Good luck! You can find your own English tutor to help you through revision to exams with MyTutor today. 

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