A Level Retake Advice: English Literature[1]
Sometimes retaking a subject that has been tried before can be an excellent idea. Although it will be changing soon, at the moment A levels are modular. This means that each A level consists of four components, often testing different skills. In A level English Literature each module will use different texts, some of which a student may ‘get’, others which may be incomprehensible. The skills involved in explaining the themes in The Pardoner’s Tale are very different than those required in exploring the contextual circumstances of The Waste Land.

“I hated English at my old school but at RIC the teachers prepared me for the exams, inspired me and made me love English again. I went from a D to an A. sasha miles, joined ric from simon Langton grammar, canterbury


Half of the modules in English Literature are coursework based and half are exam based, which are also very different types of assessment. For these reasons it is quite easy to score very well in one module and very poorly in another; we have seen mixtures of As and Es. What then is to be done?

There are two options when it comes to retaking. Firstly one can retake a module or modules. One thing to recognise is that it is often necessary to retake modules that have quite ‘good’ grades, because the mark is itself is quite low. Usually only modules that already have an A are not retaken and sometimes these are not off limits. Sometimes the texts themselves have been the problem and in these circumstances we will help you choose new texts which are particularly accessible.

However, it is surprising how often the best result is to retake all four modules from a fresh start, potentially with a different board and entirely new set of texts. One reason for this is that we have selected the particular board that our students sit carefully, as we believe it tests their abilities most fairly. Secondly, sometimes a fresh start is exactly what is needed. A misconception at the start of a course, perhaps in the first terms of year 12, is like a bad foundation; anything built on it is liable to crumble. Rather than thinking of the modules taken and the texts studied as assets in the bank, think instead of the skills learnt as the asset.

It is best to keep an open mind. Come on in and discuss it with us. With have a lot of experience, with all of the different boards.

 “The way we looked at texts in English at RIC was dynamic, we would sit around and discuss, it was much more interactive, just like the university seminars I attend now.” tom teverson, now studying english at exeter university


1 year a level intensiveDavid Thornthwaite, Head of English, studied as an undergraduate at the University of Warwick and later studied for his MA at the University of Kent. He entered the teaching profession after a career in banking. His particular interests within Literary Criticism are Victorian and Edwardian literature, Science Fiction, Literary Biography and Narrative Theory. His favourite texts have a suspicious habit of finding their way onto the curriculum, but he insists that he likes them because they are so accessible.

[1] While the A level we are discussing here is A level English Literature, much of it is applicable to A level English Language and A level English Language and Literature too.

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