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IGCSE English Literature: A Complete Guide

IGCSE English Literature: A Complete Guide

10 min Read|April 16 2024
|Written by:

Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa


Diving into IGCSE English Literature is like starting an adventure in the world of books and stories. But, what's this course all about, and why do so many students pick it? Is it because they love reading, or because it helps them think more deeply about stories and what they mean? Why go for IGCSE English Literature, though? It's not only about reading books and talking about them. It's a journey across different stories, ideas, and times in history, making it exciting and valuable for anyone who loves literature.

Is IGCSE English Literature hard?

Tackling IGCSE English Literature can feel daunting for many students. It's a course that demands a blend of analytical skills, deep understanding of complex texts, and the ability to express insights clearly. However, difficulty is subjective and greatly varies among students.

  • Student Feedback: Many find the course challenging due to the depth of analysis required.
  • Teacher Insights: Teachers and tutors often point out that success hinges on consistent effort and a genuine interest in literature.
  • Examination Results: Statistics indicate a broad range of outcomes, highlighting both the challenges and attainability of high grades.


Table showing CIE IGCSE English Literature grades distribution (9-1 grading scale)

Experts agree that while IGCSE English Literature has its demands, it's entirely approachable with the right strategies and support. The key lies in engaging with the material, practising critical thinking, and refining writing skills. It's not just about hard work; it's about smart work and a passion for the subject.

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What is the IGCSE English Literature Syllabus?

The IGCSE English Literature syllabus is a comprehensive programme designed to introduce students to a wide range of literary works, fostering an appreciation for literature across different cultures and time periods. Its structure is crafted to develop critical reading, analytical skills, and the ability to articulate personal responses to literature.

  • Literary Forms: Includes poetry, prose, and drama, offering a balanced mix of genres.
  • Historical Range: Covers texts from the 16th century to modern day, encouraging an understanding of historical context and its influence on literature.
  • Skills Development: Focuses on critical literature analysis, comparison of texts, and the construction of coherent arguments.

CIE IGCSE English Literature Syllabus

The CIE IGCSE English Literature syllabus is designed to introduce students to a diverse range of literary works. It aims to develop their analytical and interpretative skills. Students will engage with texts from different time periods and cultures, enhancing their understanding and appreciation of literature.

Paper 1: Poetry and ProseThis compulsory written paper assesses candidates on poetry and prose texts. Candidates answer two questions: one from Section A (Poetry) and one from Section B (Prose), with all questions carrying equal marks. The examination tests knowledge of the content, understanding of characters, relationships, situations, themes, the writer's intentions and methods, and personal response.
Paper 2: DramaThis optional written paper involves answering two questions on two different drama texts, offering a choice between a passage-based question and an essay question for each text. The focus is on candidates' understanding of the text, analysis of characters and themes, and their ability to express personal responses.
Paper 3: Drama (Open Text)An optional paper where candidates answer one question from a choice of two on a drama text, allowing them to bring a clean copy of the set texts into the examination room. The assessment focuses on the same areas as Paper 2 but with the possibility of bringing in the text for reference.
Paper 4: UnseenThis optional paper requires candidates to write a critical commentary on unseen texts provided in the examination, either poetry or prose. The focus is on interpreting content, analyzing language and structure, and providing a personal response.
Component 5: CourseworkAn optional component where candidates submit a portfolio of two assignments based on the study of complete texts. It allows for internal assessment and external moderation, with an emphasis on personal response, analysis, and critical understanding of literary texts.

Table showing CIE IGCSE English Literature syllabus content

Edexcel IGCSE English Literature Syllabus

The Edexcel IGCSE English Literature syllabus is structured to explore a variety of literary forms including poetry, prose, and drama. It emphasizes critical thinking and analytical skills, allowing students to engage with texts in depth. This syllabus encourages a broad understanding of literature's cultural and historical contexts.

Component 1Poetry and Modern ProseCompulsory• The poetry collection from Part 3 of the Pearson Edexcel International GCSE English Anthology. • One modern prose text from the list of set texts. • Develop skills to analyse unseen poetry. • Develop skills to analyse how language, form, structure and contextual factors can be used to create meanings and effects. • Develop skills to maintain a critical style and informed personal response. • Develop comparison skills.
Component 2Modern Drama and Literary Heritage TextsOption A• One modern drama text from the list of set texts. • One literary heritage text from the list of set texts. • Develop skills to analyse how language, form, structure and contextual factors can be used to create meaning and effect. • Develop skills to maintain a critical style and informed personal response.
Component 3Modern Drama and Literary Heritage TextsOption B• One modern drama text from the list of set texts. • One literary heritage text from the list of set texts.• Develop skills to analyse how language, form, structure and contextual factors are used to create meaning and effect. • Develop skills to maintain a critical style and informed personal response.

Table showing Edexcel IGCSE English Literature syllabus content

With its emphasis on analytical skills and personal engagement with texts, the IGCSE English Literature syllabus is not just about studying literature; it's about cultivating a lifelong appreciation for storytelling and its impact on the human experience.

What is the IGCSE English Literature exam structure?

The IGCSE English Literature exam structure is tailored to assess students' comprehension, analytical skills, and ability to engage with a variety of texts. It is designed to challenge students in a way that is reflective of the syllabus's broad objectives.

  • Components: Typically includes both written papers and coursework, offering a comprehensive evaluation of students' abilities.
  • Assessment Areas: Focuses on students' interpretation and analysis of poetry, prose, and drama texts, their understanding of literary devices, and their ability to compare texts.
  • Duration and Format: Exams usually consist of a few hours of written assessment, with questions ranging from short structured responses to longer essay-type questions.

CIE IGCSE Literature in English Exam Format

The CIE IGCSE English Literature exam format includes papers on prose, poetry, and drama, requiring students to analyze texts and write comparative and critical essays. It assesses comprehension, interpretation, and literary analysis skills through structured questions and essay writing.

All candidates take Paper 1 Poetry and Prose, and EITHER Paper 2 Drama, OR Paper 3 Drama (Open Text) and Paper 4 Unseen, OR Paper 3 Drama (Open Text) and Component 5 Coursework.

PaperPaper 1Paper 2Paper 3Paper 4Component 5
CategoryCompulsaryOption AOption B or COption BOption C
NamePoetry and ProseDramaDrama (Open Text)UnseenCoursework
Time1 hr 30 min1 hr 30 min45 min1 hr 15 min-
Total Marks5050252525
AssessmentTwo questions on two texts: one poetry and one proseTwo questions on two textsOne question on one textOne question requiring critical commentaryPortfolio of two assignments, each on a different text
% of the IGCSE50%50%25%25%25%

Table showing CIE IGCSE English Literature exam structure

Edexcel IGCSE English Literature Exam Format

The Edexcel IGCSE English Literature exam format assesses students through papers focusing on poetry, prose, and drama. It includes unseen texts analysis, and requires detailed responses to set literary texts, evaluating students' comprehension, interpretation, and literary criticism skills.

Edexcel English Literature comprises one mandatory component and a choice of an additional examined component or coursework option. It is a linear qualification and all papers must be taken at the end of the course of study.

ComponentComponent 1Component 2Component 3
CategoryCompulsoryOption AOption B
NamePoetry and Modern Prose (examination)Modern Drama and Literary Heritage Texts (examination)Modern Drama and Literary Heritage Texts (coursework)
Time2 hr1 hr 30 min-
Total Marks906060
TypeExternally assessedExternally assessedInternally assessed
AssessmentThis component focuses on poetry and modern prose, requiring analysis of unseen poetry, comparison of anthology poetry, and essay questions on modern prose set texts.This component involves studying one modern drama text and one literary heritage text, with open-book essay questions in the examination.Coursework involves two assignments based on the modern drama and literary heritage texts studied, focusing on critical style, informed personal response, and analysis of language, form, and structure.
% of the IGCSE60%40%40%

Table showing Edexcel IGCSE English Literature exam structure

Educational experts emphasise the importance of understanding the exam structure early in the course, as it guides effective study strategies and preparation. Mastery of the exam format, coupled with a deep engagement with the literature studied, significantly enhances the likelihood of achieving top grades. The structure is designed not just to test knowledge, but to encourage a deep, analytical, and personal engagement with literature.

Choosing the Right Exam Board

Selecting the right exam board for IGCSE English Literature is a pivotal decision that can influence your approach to study and examination strategies. With CIE (Cambridge International Examinations) and Edexcel being the main boards offering this qualification, understanding their differences is crucial.

  • CIE: Known for its broad range of literature, including international texts, which encourages a global perspective on literature.
  • Edexcel: Focuses on a mix score of classic and modern texts, with a slightly more structured approach to assessment criteria.
Number of students who took Edexcel IGCSE English Literature exams in the past 5 years

Graph showing number of students who took Edexcel IGCSE English Literature exams in the past 5 years

While CIE offers a more diverse range of texts, Edexcel might be preferred for its clear, structured approach. Both boards are internationally recognized, ensuring that your qualification will be valued no matter where your educational journey takes you. Ultimately, the decision should be based on which board's syllabus and examination style best suit your strengths and interests.

How can I do well in IGCSE English Literature?

Excelling in IGCSE English Literature requires a strategic approach to studying, an appreciation for the nuances of literary texts, and an ability to articulate insightful analyses. Here are some key strategies to help you achieve top grades:

  • Regular Reading: Engage deeply with each text on your syllabus, exploring themes, characters, and literary techniques.
  • Practise Essays: Hone your writing skills by practising essays and answering questions under timed conditions to improve your analytical writing and time management.
  • Annotations: Make detailed annotations on your texts to highlight important passages, themes, phrases, and literary devices.
  • Tutoring: Consider engaging with an IGCSE tutor who can provide personalised feedback, additional resources, and targeted exam strategies.

Tutoring, in particular, can offer tailored guidance and insights that might not be as readily available in a classroom setting. Success in IGCSE English Literature comes from a combination of passion for the subject, disciplined study habits, and the utilisation of available resources to deepen your understanding and analytical skills.

How to Write an IGCSE English Literature Essay

Crafting an insightful IGCSE English Literature essay requires a strategic approach. Here's a streamlined guide by expert English tutors:

1. Understand the Question: Carefully read the prompt to grasp exactly what is being asked, identifying key terms and directives.

2. Plan Your Essay: Outline your thesis and main points, selecting relevant examples and quotations from the literature.

3. Introduction: Start with an engaging sentence to introduce the literary work(s) and your thesis statement.

4. Body Paragraphs: Each should start with a topic sentence that introduces its main idea, followed by evidence and analysis related to your thesis.

5. Conclusion: Summarise your main points and restate your thesis, reflecting on the implications of your analysis.

6. Review and Edit: Ensure your essay is clear, coherent, and free from grammatical errors, with arguments logically structured.

This methodical approach will help you to produce a well-organized and analytical IGCSE English Literature essay.

What are the best IGCSEs to take with English Literature?

Choosing complementary IGCSE subjects alongside English Literature can enhance your learning experience and broaden your academic and career prospects. Here’s what experts recommend:

  • IGCSE English Language: Strengthens your understanding of language, which is essential for analysing literature effectively.
  • IGCSE History: Offers insights into historical contexts of literary works, enriching your interpretations.
  • IGCSE Foreign Languages: Improves your comprehension of different cultures, a skill valuable for understanding diverse texts.
  • IGCSE Art and Design: Encourages creative thinking and appreciation of aesthetics, themes also common in literature.
Grades distribution of CIE IGCSE English Literature for 2022 and 2023

Grades distribution of CIE IGCSE English Literature for 2022 and 2023

These subjects are not only synergistic with English Literature in terms of skill development but also offer a well-rounded educational profile that universities and employers find attractive. Choosing subjects that complement English Literature can deepen your analytical skills, enhance your cultural understanding, and provide a richer perspective on the texts you study.

Best IGCSE English Literature Resources

Securing success in IGCSE English Literature requires leveraging a range of quality resources. These materials not only deepen your understanding of literary texts but also equip you with the skills to excel in exams.

Incorporating endorsed textbooks into your study routine ensures you cover all syllabus content accurately. Combining these with a variety of online guides, study notes, and personalised tutoring creates a comprehensive and effective preparation strategy, highly recommended by educational experts.

Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them

In the realm of IGCSE English Literature, it's not uncommon to encounter a metaphorical "error occurred" moment when interpreting a complex piece of literature. This can happen when initial analyses don't quite capture the depth or intended meaning of a text, prompting further exploration and discussion to uncover richer insights and understandings. Students often run into a few tough spots when studying IGCSE English Literature. However, there are ways to make these easier.

  • Understanding Tough Books and Poems: Sometimes it's hard to get what authors or poets mean. Reading more and talking about these texts with friends, teachers, or tutors can help you get better at figuring them out.
  • Finishing On Time During Tests: It can be tricky to write all your thoughts down before time runs out. Practising writing essays within a set time at home can make you quicker and more confident.
  • Remembering Quotes: Keeping track of important lines from texts can be overwhelming. Creating flashcards or a quote bank that you review regularly can help you remember them better.
  • Feeling Overwhelmed by the Syllabus: The amount to study can seem like a lot. Breaking down the syllabus into smaller, more manageable parts and setting up a study schedule can make it feel more doable.

Here's what an expert IGCSE English tutor said:

"For IGCSE English Literature, it's good to read books and plays that are often part of the exam. Stories like "Romeo and Juliet" and "Macbeth" by Shakespeare are good choices because they come up a lot. Reading a wide range of stories, poems, and plays will help you do well in your exams."

By tackling these common issues head-on, students can improve their understanding and performance in IGCSE English Literature.

What A-Levels can you take after IGCSE English Literature?

Completing IGCSE English Literature opens up a myriad of opportunities for further study at the A-Level. This subject lays a solid foundation for several A-Level courses, given its emphasis on critical thinking, analytical skills, and effective communication.

  • A-Level English Literature: A direct progression from IGCSE, delving deeper into literary analysis and criticism.
  • A-Level English Language: Explores the nuances of language use, suited for students interested in linguistics and communication.
  • A-Level History: Benefits from the analytical and evaluative skills developed in English Literature.
  • A-Level Drama and Theatre Studies: Ideal for those interested in exploring texts in performance contexts.
  • A-Level Psychology: English Literature's focus on themes and motivations complements the study of human behaviour.

These A-Levels not only complement the skills developed through IGCSE English Literature but also offer pathways into a range of university courses and careers. Choosing the right A-Levels depends on your interests, career goals, and the strengths you've developed during your IGCSE studies.

Explore how our online IB tutors and A-Level tutors can guide you through your academic journey after your IGCSEs, helping you to choose the right subjects and excel in your studies.

Opportunities with IGCSE English Literature

IGCSE English Literature offers a plethora of opportunities, paving the way for further education and a variety of career options. You can expect to develop critical thinking, analytical skills, and a deep appreciation for diverse cultures and perspectives, attributes that are highly prized in both academic and professional settings.

Gender distribution across IGCSE English Literature

Pie chart showing gender distribution across Edexcel IGCSE English Literature in UK

Majors in Higher Education:

  • English Literature: Deepens understanding of literary texts and theories.
  • Creative Writing: Enhances skills in developing new ideas for writing fiction, poetry, and other forms of creative expression.
  • Journalism: Prepares for careers in reporting, editing, and media production.
  • Law: Provides a strong foundation for understanding legal documents and arguments.
  • Education: Equips for teaching English and literature at various educational levels.

Career Paths:

  • Editor: Refining manuscripts for publication.
  • Content Writer: Producing engaging content for digital and print media.
  • Literary Agent: Representing authors and negotiating publishing contracts.
  • Teacher: Educating students in English and literature or doing tutoring.
  • Lawyer: Utilising strong analytical and persuasive skills in legal practice.

Skills Development:

  • Critical Analysis: Enhances the ability to interpret and critique literary works.
  • Communication: Improves written and verbal articulation of complex ideas.
  • Empathy: Fosters a better understanding of different human experiences and cultures.
  • Research: Strengthens skills in gathering, evaluating, and synthesising information.

Pursuing IGCSE English Literature not only opens the door to prestigious university courses but also cultivates a versatile skill set that is highly valued across many sectors, including publishing, education, media, and law. This broad range of opportunities highlights the significance of English Literature in fostering a successful and adaptable career path.

Conclusion on IGCSE English Literature

IGCSE English Literature is more than just reading books; it's a key part of your education that helps you think better and understand others' feelings and ideas. This course covers stories, poems, and plays from different times and places, making you ready for many paths in the future. Whether you want to keep studying, go to university, or start working, the skills you get from this subject are really useful everywhere. This subject also teaches you to look at the world from different views, to feel what others feel, and to share your thoughts clearly. It's not just about learning from books; it's about understanding life and people better. For students, their families, and teachers, knowing how important English Literature is can help make the most of it for school and beyond.


What books should I read for IGCSE English?

For IGCSE English, it's beneficial to read a diverse range of books to cover different genres and periods. Classic literature like Shakespeare's plays, poetry by poets like Seamus Heaney or Carol Ann Duffy, and novels such as "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee or "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding are often part of the syllabus. Additionally, exploring modern texts and diverse voices will enrich your understanding and appreciation of English literature, preparing you well for the exams.

How long does the IGCSE English Literature course last?

The IGCSE English Literature course typically lasts two years, a common duration for IGCSE subjects designed to provide students with a deep and comprehensive understanding of English literature, including analysis of various texts and development of critical thinking skills. This time frame allows for thorough exploration of the syllabus, which encompasses a wide range of literary works from different cultures and time periods. The course encourages students to engage with and appreciate literature's diversity, fostering a broader understanding of both the texts themselves and the contexts in which they were written.

Can I retake the IGCSE English Literature exam?

Yes, you can retake IGCSE exams if you're not happy with your results. You need to resit all the exams in the same session to get a new grade. Remember, retaking an exam requires paying a fee again and being well-prepared, as a better result isn't guaranteed.

Are there oral components in the IGCSE English Lit exam?

No, the IGCSE English Literature exam typically does not include an oral component. It focuses on written assessments, evaluating students' abilities to analyse, interpret, and write about literary texts. However, the format can vary between different examination boards, so it's always best to check the specific requirements of your exam board.

How is coursework assessed in IGCSE English Literature?

In IGCSE English Literature, coursework is assessed through essays and written assignments that analyse different literary texts. Students are evaluated on their ability to interpret themes, characters, and stylistic elements of prose, poetry, and drama. The assessment criteria typically focus on the depth of understanding, critical thinking, and clarity of expression. Students must demonstrate a comprehensive grasp of the literature studied, offering insightful analysis and personal responses, supported by evidence from the texts.

Can I study IGCSE English Literature online?

Yes, you can study IGCSE English Literature online. Many educational platforms and online schools offer IGCSE courses, including English Literature. These online courses provide comprehensive study materials, interactive lessons, and support from qualified teachers, making it convenient for students to prepare for their exams remotely.

Are there any recommended poets for IGCSE English Literature?

The IGCSE English Literature syllabus includes a variety of poets from different eras and cultures, offering a rich exploration of themes, styles, and historical contexts. While specific poets may vary based on the exam board and syllabus edition, students might encounter works by William Shakespeare, Carol Ann Duffy, and Seamus Heaney, among others. These poets are known for their significant contributions to English literature and provide valuable insights into human experiences and societal reflections through their poetry.

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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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