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How to structure a GCSE English Literature essay
26th July 2021
Learning how to improve your structure when writing essays can make a big difference to your grade. Your GCSE English essay structure will not only help your examiner read and understand your essay with ease, it can also help your flow of writing when taking the exam.
We’ve listed out our top writing tips to help you with the structure of essay writing in English Literature.
And if you need a bit more help, we’ve got you covered: sign up for a free trial of Your Favourite Teacher to access 16 English Language and 14 English Literature courses.
1. Understand the assessment objectives
Before you even get into the exam hall, it is crucial to understand what is expected of you for each English Lit essay. You might have already come across the AO’s (Assessment Objectives). These are universal across all exam boards, and they are used by examiners to mark your essay.
Below are all the Assessment Objectives that your essay will be marked against. It is important to note that you will not be expected to have an equal amount of each AO in your essay, however evidence of each must be present to avoid losing marks.
2. Spend 10-15 minutes highlighting, annotating and planning
Read the question carefully.
Now that you know what you’ll have to include in your essay, you can tackle the question and begin essay planning. The first thing you should do when faced with the question is to read it a few times to ensure you’ve fully understood it.
Highlight and annotate
A top tip is to highlight the important words in the question. You can then start to annotate your paper. You might have an extract or poem, and even if you know what quotes or points you will make, it is best to read it through and annotate. You’ll likely find that more ideas float into your head whilst doing so, and it will help you when you write out your plan.
Plan your essay structure and ideas
It might be tempting to jump straight into writing your essay. Whilst you may have a clear idea of what you’ll write, it is always a better idea to write out a plan. This will ensure your essay flows and has a clear structure, and will also prevent your mind from going blank halfway through your exam.
Every student has a different way of writing a plan; you might like to create tables, whilst others prefer mind maps. But every plan should have the following:
A brief outline of your introduction
3 main points/arguments
Quotes to back up your arguments (and a note of the technique the writer is using)
Relevant contextual points for each point
A brief outline of your conclusion
This might look like a lot, but a detailed plan will actually save you time in the exam. Imagine how much longer you would spend searching for quotes or trying to come up with ideas! You should spend around 10-15 minutes in total reading the question, highlighting, annotating and planning.
3. Start with the introd uction
Now that you know how to plan, what content should you actually write in each section of your essay? The best place to start with any essay is an introduction. This is a short summative paragraph that will let your examiner know what you will be writing about, also known as a thesis statement.
The first thing you’ll need to do is address the question. Think about your overriding point or argument, or the bigger picture of your essay. This doesn’t have to be an elaborate, complex idea, but as long as your examiner has a clear understanding of your overall argument, then you’re good to go!
Top tip : Why not weave some context into your introduction? If you can think of a relevant point to back up your overall argument, it will really show off your understanding of the text.
4. Write the main body
While every essay will look different, you should generally aim to include three main points in the main body. You can structure this however you please, but keep in mind that you should use body paragraphs correctly.
Each paragraph should explain how the writer makes his or her point. For example, “Shakespeare uses metaphors to depict Macbeth’s deterioration into an obsessive tyrant”. Then, you should give evidence to support your point in the form of a quote.
After giving your evidence, you are free to analyse the quote. For top marks, you’ll really want to pick apart the quote, but your analysis should always be relevant to the point you have made. You might also explore alternative interpretations to really elevate your point, as it shows you have a wider understanding of the text.
By now, you will have included AO1, AO2 and AO4. Context (AO3) should be weaved in wherever relevant to your argument. However, wherever you decide to add context, always ensure it is relevant to your point. It is better to include fewer contextual points that actually back up your argument, than trying to add too much random context.
Top tip : If you struggle with structuring the main body of your essay, use the PETAL paragraphs:
5. Finish with the conclusion
The conclusion is the least important part of your essay, but you still need to always include one. It is a great way to summarise your points and explain your overall stance on the question. If you don’t have time to make it the best that you can, don’t worry.
The best way to do this is by writing a summative sentence for each of your main points. It is great if you can weave in some context too, but again, make sure it is relevant to what you’re writing.
You should also include a concluding sentence that might explore a wider social question or a wider point. To put it simply, you should try and make a point about the writer’s overarching intention, and perhaps how it might have impacted society.
To put these tips into practice, download our GCSE English Literature essay plan worksheet.
Study For GCSE English Literature with Your Favourite Teacher
Now that you’re a pro at structuring your English Literature essays, you can learn and revise your novels, poems and plays!
At Your Favourite Teacher, we have 14 English Literature courses that cover everything you’ll need to know to ace your GCSE English Literature essay. Each course is made up of multiple lessons that cover everything from context to character analysis and key themes. And each lesson comes with videos, quizzes, worksheets and more to make sure you’re fully prepared.
Summary: How to Structure a GCSE English Literature Essay
- Understand the assessment objectives
- Spend 10-15 minutes highlighting, annotating and planning
- Start with the introduction
- Write the main body
- Finish with the conclusion
What are you waiting for? Sign up for a free trial to start learning today.