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How to Revise English Literature A-Level

How to Revise English Literature A-Level

4 min Read|February 07 2024
|Written by:

Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa


In 2021, over 38,000 students decided to English Literature A-level in the United Kingdom, making this one of the most popular subjects that are continually selected each year. The high uptake of English Lit means that every year thousands of students are faced with the daunting task of revising for English Literature A-Level.

But, as a huge subject with many different books, themes, topics, and often around 6 hours of examinations, many students don’t know where to begin with their revision. In this article, we’ll guide you through how to revise English Literature, demonstrating exactly how you can ace your upcoming exams.

entries for GCSE as and A-Level summer 2021 exam series


We’ll be covering:

  • Understanding Themes
  • Powered-up Rereading
  • Memorizing the Best Quotes
  • Essay Writing Prep

Let’s get right into it!

Understanding Themes

A core part of the English Literature A-Level is answering extended essay questions on your texts. While it’ll be difficult to know exactly what theme, topic, or idea you’ll have to write about, you can narrow it down by understanding the main themes of the text itself.

For example, if you’re studying a Shakespeare text like Othello, then you can take a moment to think about the plot and work out what the main themes are. For this text, you’ll come up with something like:

  • Love and Hate
  • Jealousy
  • Evil
  • Prejudice (class, race, sex)

Often, you’ll end up with between 5-10 themes for each of your texts. Equally, as these A-level English Literature texts are studied by thousands of people each year, there are always great resources if you were to simply Google ‘Themes in Othello’, which can point you in the right direction.

Once you have these themes jotted down, you can then actively farm ideas and quotes for each theme, helping you to rapidly construct an argument if one of these themes were to come up. Always start with theme research when trying to revise for English Literature A-level.

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Powered-up Rereading

If you’ve selected English Literature as an A-level, you’ll probably won’t be surprised to hear that there is a lot of reading involved. However, once you’ve got the general plot of the book down, your rereadings shouldn’t focus on only reading the plot. Instead, you should be using these reading sessions to harvest quotes from the books.

By working through the main themes that you’ve come up with, you’ll be able to find quotes as you go through, writing them down as evidence for each possible question that can come up.

A great tip is to use electronic versions of your core texts. By using the Control F function on your computer, you’re able to search through the entire book for keywords. This is incredibly useful when trying to look for a certain quote, or even to hone in on the different uses of a word.

Always collect as many quotes as you can, starting with lots and then boiling it down as you go on.

Memorizing the Best Quotes

The majority of English Literature A-Level teachers will tell you that you need to memorize as many as thirty quotes per theme. While having a range of quotes in your mind to pull upon is wonderful, that’s just not realistic for the vast majority of pupils. Especially with your other A-Level subjects to revise for, people get stressed about how to memorize all those quotes.

Considering that AO2 on almost all A-Level English exam boards is about close analysis, there’s no getting around the fact that you do need to memorize some quotes. However, we recommend that you try and look for quotes that come up in multiple theme categories. From your reading, if you found a quote that was a good choice for different themes, then that is always one of the first quotes you should try and memorize.

Be strategic about memorization by focusing on any lines that fit into a range of topics. What’s more, due to the polysemous nature of the English language, you can draw multiple interpretations from the same quote. With this, you can actively bend the meaning of a quote to fit whatever you’re trying to argue.

While there’s no getting around the fact that you need to memorize in English Lit A-level, you can always decrease the quantity by being smart about the quotes that you choose.

Essay Writing Prep

English Literature A-Level is one of the most writing-heavy A-level subjects. Not only are you expected to produce a great deal of writing (typically three essays per exam), but you’re also under strict timed conditions.

With only an hour per essay, you need to learn how to produce writing incredibly quickly, not having to take breaks to think about what you’ll write next. A large part of this comes from practising and knowing your content. Even if you know absolutely everything there is to know about your core texts, if you can’t write quickly and clearly, then you’re in trouble.

To get better at essay writing, be sure to do this as much as possible. Top students will be writing at least one essay a day before their exams, helping them to consolidate their textual knowledge while also practising the essay writing skill.

By writing essays as commonly as possible, you’ll be able to refine your skills, boosting your mark over time. If possible, get your practice essays looked over by a teacher that will be able to give you some pointers for next time. Continually refine your essays and the speed with which you write, and you’ll be on track to an A* in English Literature in no time.

Final Thoughts

One of the best ways of revising for English Literature A-Level is to work with an online A-Level English tutor. With years of tutoring experience and top grades themselves, one of TutorChase’s tutors will be able to guide you towards reaching your full potential.

Check out our page of top tutors today to see exactly who could help you obtain the grade you’re looking for.

Best of luck with your A-Level English Literature exams!

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Professional tutor and Cambridge University researcher

Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa

Written by: Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa

Oxford University - PhD Mathematics

Rahil spent ten years working as private tutor, teaching students for GCSEs, A-Levels, and university admissions. During his PhD he published papers on modelling infectious disease epidemics and was a tutor to undergraduate and masters students for mathematics courses.

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