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English Literature Essay

How to Write an A-Level English Literature Essay

5 min Read|February 06 2024
|Written by:

Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa


The ability to write well may just be the most important skill tested within A-Level English literature. Of course, this skill is tested through your essay writing, with all of the final exams being longer essay questions. While students will have had experience with GCSE Literature essay writing, A-Level students are expected to produce much more writing which consistently reads at a higher degree.

But, with just under 40,000 students sitting English Literature each year, this is a skill that many people around the UK need to develop. If you’re looking to score top marks in your English Literature A-Level exams, then this is the guide for you. We’ll be covering the three most important elements of constructing a great essay, detailing exactly how you can streamline your writing and shoot for top marks.

Let’s get right into it.

Going Beyond PEE for the Perfect A-Level English Literature Essay Structure

It’s almost impossible to get through GCSE English without your English teacher telling you some variation of PEE (Point, Evidence, Explain) or PEA (Point, Evidence, Analysis). While this strategy does work for GCSE, an A-Level English Literature essay answer needs to have much more detail.

If you’re one for structures, then here is a general essay format that you should follow:

  • Point - In your first line, you should always mention the main idea you’re going to be exploring in the whole paragraph, giving as much detail as possible.
  • Evidence - You can’t access high marks in A-Level English Literature without pulling quotes from the text and explaining what’s going on in them. Start with the basics, then get more complex as the paragraph progresses.
  • Device - Devices are when you identify a specific technique in the evidence you’ve pulled out, then go on to explain exactly why this device matters or changes the meaning of the evidence.
  • Analysis - Honing in on close analysis, you should focus on the evidence you've collected on a word or phrase level, breaking down the individual meaning and demonstrating how it further proves the point you made in your first sentence.
  • Link to Context - Finalise your point by touching on context, demonstrating how what you’ve argued in your paragraph aligns with or contradicts a wider historical, social, political, or literary trend or idea.

The PEDAL system allows you to go beyond PEE, hitting the additional elements that you gain marks for at A-Level. More specifically, this structure ensures that you discuss AO2 (closes analysis) by pulling out a device and explaining what it does, while then also explaining the quote itself. Equally, this ensures that you finish off each paragraph with a contextual link, either to history, the author's life, or another text from your wider reading that has similar ideas.

Getting away from PEE and expanding to cover more in each paragraph is a wonderful way to structure your ideas. Be sure to hit each one of these elements so you can maximise your marks.

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Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

There’s a reason that English teachers won’t stop going on about planning at GCSE and A-Level - planning is one of the easiest ways to save time and construct a cohesive argument. At A-Level, alongside individual ideas, your whole essay is marked on the strength of the argument that you’ve constructed. If you have three body paragraphs that argue three different things, your argument looks weak, leading to much worse marks overall.

Due to this, the best thing you can do in the first five minutes of your exam is plan out each paragraph that you’re going to write. Using the PEDAL structure, you’ll know exactly what you need to find, thinking quickly of your main points, the evidence that supports them, and then processing on to the close analysis sections of Device and Analysis. Context is one of the easiest parts of writing an essay, as large parts of history can be applied to texts within a period.

Once you read the question and start thinking, the few minutes that you spend roughly planning your answer will ensure that the whole essay is cohesive, carrying through a general argument that builds over time. The phrase “Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail” does initially seem a little harsh, but the fact is that planning will save you time in the long run while also boosting your marks.

Always plan your answers before beginning.

For those students who are struggling in this subject should consider A-Level tutoring since it is a vital resource that complements exam preparation strategies by providing individualized attention and specialized instruction. It equips students with deeper insights into challenging concepts, tailored study techniques, and critical examination tactics.

Construct an Argument with Your Own Point of View

What sets the top A-Level English Literature students apart is the fact that their essays will contain a certain point of view. Within English Literature A-Level, students will learn that nothing is black or white - everything is nuanced.

The very best English Literature essays will thrive in that grey area, constructing detailed arguments that have more than one angle. The best way to easily build this into your English essays is to use a three-paragraph body structure.

  • Paragraph One - Should focus on the opposite of what you actually think. This will argue for the contrary of your opinion, detailing an idea that’s commonly believed or associated with the texts.
  • Paragraph Two - Will acknowledge the first paragraph, but signal how the texts could be understood in a different light. You will then use this paragraph to detail your real argument.
  • Paragraph Three - You’ll use this third paragraph to build upon the second, increasing how convincing your argument is and smoothly transitioning into a hard-hitting conclusion.

Pair this with an introduction and conclusion, and you’ll be well on your way to writing a top-tier A-Level English Literature essay!

Final Thoughts

Essay writing is far from easy. If you’re looking to develop your writing skills and create perfect essays every time, then working with an online English Literature A-Level tutor is one of the most effective ways of doing so.

Our tutors will guide you through the essay writing process, supporting you every step of the way as you develop your writing skills and overall confidence. As with everything, essay writing is a skill that comes with practice, with a tutor helping to speed up the process.

Best of luck in 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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