Essay technique in GCSE English Language and Literature

Teachers talk a great deal about the importance of exam “technique”. However, this wording is meaningless to students and parents without further explanation. I wish to offer up my understanding of what it means to have sound technique in an English essay. Most mark schemes are also fairly difficult for students and parents to navigate so I will explain some of these ideas in plainer English.

Although I cannot offer any specific data, it seems that most students who are looking for help with English language and literature GCSE have substantial technical flaws. These flaws often, unfortunately, have almost nothing to do with their understanding of English and their competency with the language. There are thus many students who could increase their grade by one or two boundaries merely by focusing on improving their technique.

Essay writing is not a natural ability (though certain people may have more flair); it is something that can be taught and learned. Schools with students who achieve top marks in exams are usually better coached in the technical aspects of essay writing. This is the reality of the current education system. Next week, I will talk about the seven aspects of essay writing which are usually problematic, so please revisit our blog.
Jonathan Strange


How to you help your child achieve

Studying is a skill in itself. How to study is a very important skill that very few schools teach. Apart from things like note taking and colour coding, setting small achievable targets is the best way to create that route to your end target.

Setting goals for studying, when done consistently will pay massive dividends. Start this process early with your child so it becomes second nature.

Use this simple 5 step method to help your child achieve throughout their academic journey:

Step 1- Dedicate

Have a dedicated space within your home.

Clear all clutter and distractions from the area. Set it up with all the relevant items needed (writing/rough paper, pencils, highlighters, dictionary etc.). Make the area pleasant so there is no angst about working there.

Step 2- Keep it real

 Plan (be realistic!). Become best friends with your schedule.

Work out whether you are a lark or an owl and put together your schedule accordingly. If you work better first thing in the morning, then set your routine for that time. Studying when you are at your best will allow you to power through the mundane and boring stuff that you will otherwise put off, and later regret doing so.

Step 3- Consistency is key

Focus, focus, focus!

Break down to individual components (topics or areas of learning and sub-area within that).

Set each piece of work to last no more that 45 minutes, then take a break and resume. Constantly look at your tasks and whether you are meeting your targets. Evaluate and readjust if you need to.

I know I always underestimate how long I need so I double the time I think I need.

Step 4- What, why, how?

Allow time for creativity.

Make sure you allow down time. Relaxation is an important part of the cognitive function. It gives the brain a chance to process and assimilate information. It also means you are recharged to go again.

Ticking off completed items as a visual chart will prove to give great satisfaction and will also help motivate. Use a rewards system to help motivation, whether it is that second chocolate or a new top.

Step 5- Rinse and repeat

Evaluate – Be honest.

Learn from your past mistakes (the best way to do this is to keep a journal as part of the end of day routine).

What do I want/need to achieve? How will I do it? What are the component parts that make up how I do this? How long do I need for each component?

If you need to go over something that you were not completely sure about, reallocate some time to it, but this time look at where you fell down rather than the whole item again- break it down into smaller parts to isolate what the problem is.

Cramming is not Learning

Working through test paper after test paper is not learning.

If you had asked me at the age of 9 or 10 what goals I had set, I would have probably told you that you were crazy, but as an adult, I can now appreciate how important it is to set goals.

Why should you set goals?

The easiest explanation is the analogy of the boat drifting at sea, letting the currents take it where they may. There is no planned route.

When do you set goals?

It is never too late to set goals. It does not matter if they are changed or even not met. The important thing is there is an end goal in mind so that you are working towards a target. This helps create focus and direction.

How do you set goals?

There is no one right way to set goals, but I would suggest you think about isolating particular areas or topics and then thinking about where you want to end up. For example, if it is maths, think about what you currently know and what knowledge level you want to achieve. Then look at the time frame in which you want to do this.

In my experience, the most successful method is the whole-parts-whole method:

Look at it as a whole, break down into bite size pieces and then piece the whole thing together at the end.

For example the CEM 11 Plus Exam:

Think of it as the exam, break down each topic area and the components within that. Then once the learning and revision have taken place, at that point practice the exam. In my opinion, there is no point in doing test after test if the subject knowledge is not cemented in.

Based on that can you answer the following questions?

  • Where do you (or your child) need to get to/what do you want to achieve?
  • Where are you currently on a scale of 1 to 10?
  • What steps do you need to take to achieve 10? (This will probably consist of several different things).
  • What are the component parts that will help you get there?
  • How much time do you have to achieve this?
  • Is it manageable in this time frame?

Look out for our next blog post which will provide a 5 step method on how to help your child achieve throughout their academic journey.

If you would like further information, then feel free to email me and I will gladly respond.

Rupa Harji

Grammar Schools of the Future

Selective schools have been a prominent feature of our system for a long period of time. Many would be correct in considering them to be particularly competitive, as the demand for places is huge. Depending on the area, children need to achieve on average between 75% and 80% to be in with a chance of gaining a place.  7  out of 8 parents would fail the Eleven Plus Exam. I suspect that with the added time pressure in the exam, the pass rate amongst parents would be even lower.

It is no secret that Teresa May, our current Prime Minister is lauding the grammar schools. She herself is a product of that very system. Therefore, it is worth considering the possible changes that could eventually take place in UK Education. These changes will probably happen over a relatively large period of time or be shelved by the next government. Interestingly enough, there have been discussions between some key ministers and the Grammar School Head’s Association (GSHA), which have shed some light on the future of selective education.

From the discussions, it appears that there is particular enthusiasm for, as The Times have dubbed it, “Super-selective grammars“. In a nutshell, the “brightest 10%” of the general population will be selected for places at these grammar schools and selective testing will be integrated into our school system. Of course, these are merely preliminary discussions, however, they illustrate how we have increasingly turned to the East for educational inspiration (standardised selective testing is the norm in the Orient).

Jonathan Strange

‘How do I choose the right 11-plus tutor?’

Finding the right 11 plus tutor can be tricky, especially with new tutors and centres popping up on a daily basis. Be sure to find a tutor that suits your needs and whose teaching style works well with your child and keeps them motivated and engaged.

The best and most reliable source is word of mouth. Make sure that your tutor not only helps your child to pass the exam for your chosen school but also helps prepare them for when they are there. If they get in and struggle to keep up with the fast pace it could be damaging to their self-esteem. Talking to other parents in and around the local area is a good place to start to find the right tutor for your child.

Remember to make sure all staff are DBS checked. It’s also worth noting whether they are members of The Tutors’ Association (TTA)

Prajay Harji

Pupils in tears after sitting ‘incredibly difficult’ SATS paper


I’ve been preparing some students for the KS2 English exams and I can take solace from the fact that I have used some KS3 material so they won’t be as intimidated by the difficulty… However, I’m fairly convinced that destroying a child’s confidence early on by making papers so difficult, won’t result in a greater confidence in the subject, nor improve standards in the long term.

It is true that it is important to stretch children, but having read with children with low levels of literacy before, in my experience it certainly does not encourage children to keep reading everyday when illiteracy is crudely highlighted by an exam.

When I took these KS2 exams, I barely knew what they were about and took them with a light heart. Now, I think it’s become necessary for kids to have pressure, when it shouldn’t really be a concern. Yet sometimes there is excess pressure put on children. It really isn’t good for them in the long run. Some children just aren’t ready for that weight of expectation.

Jonathan Strange – An RTG Tutor

Do you know your child’s social media habits?


A CBBC Newsround survey of 1200 children suggests that less that 1 in 4 children aged between 10 and 12 do not have a social media account.

The age limit for using social media is 13 years and over. Of the children who have social media accounts, almost a quarter of them are said to have experienced online bullying.

With more than three-quarters of children in the UK using social media, the question that needs to be asked is, how aware are parents of the pitfalls of social media?

According to the same poll, ‘among 16 to 18 year olds, two in five had used social media to spread gossip and a quarter had used it to say something “unkind” or “rude” to someone else online with more than half of these having seen online bullying’.

RTG’s New line of Reasoning Books

Check out RTG’s new line of Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning books, including CEM style books for 3D spacial reasoning and Cloze questions.

A comprehensive guide on how to answer each question type, from explaining the very basic elements that make up any question, to full test papers.

Track your child’s progress using our progress charts.

blog books

Now available on Amazon.

Looking Forward

With the new academic year well under way, and parents evening looming ever closer, now would be a good time for parents to take stock of what additional help may be required for their child.

It may be something as simple as taking children shopping and letting them count out the change (though this may not be a good idea on a busy Saturday morning!), or predicting how many red cars you pass on the way there.