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  • Karen MB

Exams are cancelled; what to do? Cosy up with a blanket, a cup of something warm and a good book!

Now that GCSE exams have been cancelled for this summer, it is a good time to take a step back and rethink study priorities. Just because there are no exams does not mean learning has also stopped. Classrooms have been moved online -- quite possibly for the rest of the academic year -- and students will still be facing formal evaluations, we are just not entirely sure what those might look like.


So, what should students be doing in the interim? Clearly, schools will want, and no doubt be required, to assess their pupils on the majority of the syllabus for each of their chosen subjects. Therefore it would seem prudent for students to continue to revise material they have already covered and work on areas where they know they have gaps in their knowledge.


For English Language this means really sharpening up those textual analysis skills; ensuring students have good, solid understanding of writers' creative and structural techniques and why they are important; making sure they are very familiar with the different requirements for the various forms of transactional writing they may be asked to produce; focusing on creating engaging and sophisticated creative and descriptive writing and continuing to work on spelling, grammar and punctuation. Such skills will be required for A Level and degree-level study, as well as being essential for the world of work. A good habit to get into is reading newspapers and magazines. Students are often asked to produce this kind of writing for assessment and yet many never read these kinds of texts. Many newspapers provide free content online and if you have a Kindle, it is possible to buy individual copies of subscriber-only papers like The Times for one pound. A real bargain, especially on Sundays.


For English Literature my advice would be: read, read and read again! I often find that the students who come to me for help have barely read through their required texts once; consequently, they do not have a firm understanding of plot, character or themes, let alone context, and are highly unlikely to have a choice set of textual references ready to deploy in their written work. Reading does not require a good internet connection, but it does necessitate having one's own copy of the key texts. This is a justifiable, and in my opinion, essential outlay. Secondhand copies are often available very cheaply from the usual online retailers. With one's own copy it is possible to underline, annotate and bookmark those key sections of the text. It facilitates the reading and re-reading of text which in turn permits a deeper understanding and engagement with syllabus materials. If you do not read the play/poem/novel fully, how on earth are you going to write well about it? And what could be better on a miserable cold and rainy day than snuggling up on the sofa with a hot drink and a blanket and a well-thumbed copy of Macbeth or The Merchant of Venice?

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