Top Tips for Success in English IGCSE - passionforlanguage

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Aug 6 2016
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Top Tips for Success in English IGCSE

We all find exams daunting but Passion for Language has put to together a list of handy tips to help you tackle English IGCSE. All of our teachers have been there and they know the stress of having several texts and pages and pages of notes, but this advice will help you stay calm, focused and ultimately succeed.

English Language IGCSE:

  1. Write with an appropriate register and tone.
    To score highly it is very important to keep your audience in mind, for example if you are writing a letter to your headmaster or an article for a newspaper the tone must be formal, whereas if you are writing a journal entry, the tone can be less so.
  2. Revise persuasive language and techniques e.g. rhetorical questions, emotive language and alliteration. Read newspaper/magazine articles- look for strong examples, keep a file with copies of these and apply what you’ve learned in forthcoming essays and practice papers.
  3. language-wordsMake sure to structure your written response with clear paragraphs and opening sentences for each one. This will help to keep your points clear and easy to navigate for the examiner.
  4. Always keep spelling, punctuation and grammar in mind when rereading your sentences. Know the difference between commas and full stops: commas to separate clauses and full stops to structure your syntax. Without these you won’t get higher than a B grade. Do not confuse the two.
  5. As long as you are not last minute cramming, during your study of IGCSE English to gain an A* you should learn how to confidently apply the more complex grammatical structures that the average student hasn’t thought to learn. The examiner will instantly notice a higher level of style with complex compounds sentences, use of semi colons/colon.
  6. If you are struggling with maintaining grade B, avoid overly complex sentence structure to keep meaning clear. It is better to keep your writing concise and to the point, rather than waffling without reason.
  7. Make sure to work with the text itself! In the language paper, make sure to synthesise your answers with points of the text. Ask yourself while working on practice papers, ‘how did I apply the text to my response’?
  8. Recyclable A* Language bank – keep one of these, housing all of your complex words which can be applied in a variety of question papers.
  9. For the struggling student, make sure to avoid overly simple language. Think of alternatives to words such as “a lot”, “good”, “nice”, “so” to show that your language is not limited.
  10. Highlight and annotate the text, but don’t OVER HIGHLIGHT. many students do this and then confuse themselves into not knowing which main points to focus on. Highlight keywords in the questions too, to make sure that you focus your answer on what is asked of you.

English Literature IGCSE:

Macbeth – a common Shakespearean play studied for English IGCSE

  1. For the unseen literature and poetry paper revise linguistic techniques e.g. alliteration, onomatopoeia, enjambment. Make sure you know not only the names of these, but also the EFFECTS of these different techniques.
  2. When writing on drama or fiction, DON’T just retell story, make sure you analyse events in the text, rather than merely recount what happened. This is a common mistake and will not gain you many marks.
  3. Draw on concrete examples from the text e.g. quote from text: avoid general remarks without evidence from the text. Quotations must be kept short; try to be as precise as possible and select exactly the word, phrase or sentence that supports your point.
  4. It is important to be confident with understanding the social, historical and cultural context of texts you write on in the exam in order to demonstrate awareness of the key themes and attitudes explored in the piece of literature.
  5. Always keep PEE in mind: POINT, EVIDENCE, EXPLAIN. The majority of students complete the P,E but do not Explain the significance of the point that they are making.
  6. Remember page numbers for useful quotes and important events in the novel so you have of useful examples to draw from during the exam in order to maximise your essay writing time.
  7. PLAN, plan, plan: students at igcse level often don’t realise the importance this stage. Just take 5-10 minutes of your exam to note down structure, conclusion and to brainstorm any high mark vocabulary. Planning your answer, before you put your pen to paper, is the best way to ensure that you fulfill all the requirements needed to gain a top mark.
  8. Bear in mind correct use of tense. When recounting events from a literary text, always use the present tense e.g. you should write “When Scout speaks to Atticus in the 3rd chapter” NOT “When Scout spoke to Atticus in the third chapter….” This is a very common mistake .
  9. It is vital when answering a passage-based question, that you make sure you keep your answer focused on the content of the passage rather than your knowledge of the text as a whole.
  10. Finally, check your work!

Extra handy tips and advice:

  1. The first error that countless students make, regardless of their ability, is not READING the question. After having completed endless numbers of past papers, students often let themselves down by formulating an answer to the question they hope for or to one they’ve seen in countless past papers, rather than the one they see before them. BUT, rest assured every year examiners will throw in something new! Take the time to read the question and then apply the knowledge you have accumulated from your studies and you’re sure to score well!
  2. Planning may seem tedious or feel like you’re wasting precious time in a time constricted exam, but when it comes to longer answers or essay questions, taking the time to PLAN may be the most important 5-10 minutes of your exam. Planning your answer, before you put your pen to paper, is the best way to ensure that you fulfill all the requirements needed to gain a top mark.
  3. Don’t always choose the obvious question. When presented with a choice of essay questions, students often jump for the clear “easy” path. However, what you may deem “easy” to begin with, may in fact show itself to be more complex than first presumed. Take the time to read through the options carefully; a few extra minutes spent at start of the exam may save you from switching questions halfway through and causing yourself much added stress!
  4. Remain calm. This may seem easier said than done, but keeping your cool can dramatically improve your performance in the exam hall. Try to put everything into perspective; an exam is not a matter of life and death.
  5. Revise smart Although rewriting your notes from class over and over may seem the natural starting point when it comes to revision, it is definitely not the most effective or time efficient way to prepare for an exam. You are far better advised to look over past papers, and concentrate on the areas of the syllabus you are struggling with. Practice questions are the way to go, whether you’re dealing with short answer questions or essays.
  6. Don’t panic if you find yourself stuck on a question. Most students will find themselves faced with at least one question which completely stumps them. Have the confidence to calmly turn the page and move on. There is no shame in moving on and coming back to the question you found difficult with a new and refreshed perspective.


If you’d like extra help facing your IGCSE‘s call Passion for Language on +852 9231 5537 or drop us an email at to arrange classes, not just for English but our expert teachers can help in all other subjects too.