A-Level – Study Skills

If you’re about to start studying AS or A2 English Literature or Language, here are some tips to get you started.

AS and A2 build on the skills and knowledge that you developed while studying for your GCSEs, but
you’ll probably find the A-level course more demanding. At A-level, you’ll be starting to think more
about the historical context in which the authors you study were writing – for example, how do Shakespeare’s
plays reflect the worries and opportunities of living in Elizabethan London? You’ll also be thinking more
about the reasons why an author wrote the way they did, looking closely at the way in which they argue a point and
phrase their language. Don’t forget that it’s never enough to describe what an author says – you have to say why they’re
saying it like that!

AS and A2 English are far more about skills than facts, and these skills will probably be
new to you – so be prepared for a steep learning curve at the beginning of your course. To give you a hand, we’ve
talked to teachers and examiners to get their top tips for studying English. Follow any of the links below to get

Ten top tips - exam essays Ten top tips for exam essays

  • Tips for writing exam essays by a Cambridge teacher and examiner.
  • for KS4 studentsfor AS and A2 studentssuitable for printing out
    Ten top tips - revision_tips Ten top tips for revision

  • Tips for revising by a Cambridge teacher and examiner.
  • for KS4 studentsfor AS and A2 studentssuitable for printing out
    How to look clever- without even trying! Need some help to improve your coursework essays? Get advice from a teacher at Cambridge University. – Part 1 – The Quick Guide to Quotations

  • The first resource works through how students should use quotations in their coursework essays.
  • It then gives a number of examples and asks whether the example uses quotations correctly. It covers
    both the punctuation of the quotation and how best to use it to prove a point in an essay.
  • for KS4 studentsfor AS and A2 studentssuitable for printing out
    How to look clever- without even trying! Part 2 – The Quick Guide to Better Essay Writing

  • This guide to better essay writing would be particularly useful for students working on coursework essays.
  • for KS4 studentsfor AS and A2 studentssuitable for printing out
    How to read a poem See how a Cambridge student reads a poem and plans an essay about it.

  • This resource aims to give A-level students a strategy and example for reading a poem.
  • We asked a Cambridge student to read a poem as though they were going to write an essay on it, and
    to write down their thoughts as they went through it. The student then wrote an essay plan.
  • The poem being studied is by Tennyson, ‘Now sleeps the crimson petal’.
  • The resource ends with tips on how to read a poem, and on essay writing.
  • It could be used either by individual students or in groups, with students writing their own commentary on the same poem.
  • for AS and A2 studentssuitable for printing out
    Practical Criticism - Daniel Improve your close reading skills with this in-depth multimedia exploration of a poem.

  • This resource looks at a poem by 17th century writer Samuel Daniel.
  • The activity is designed to help students deal with poetry they find difficult, by encouraging them to recognise which words and phrases they find difficult and why.
  • The activity uses the metaphor of zooming into the poem to remind students that close reading really is about looking at the poetry in detail.
  • As the students move their mice over the screen, a magnifying glass will appear. If students click on this, they will zoom into the poem.
  • The resource concentrates on asking questions about the poem, and in provoking the students to ask their own questions.
  • Students with visual impairments can right-click on the resource to view an enlarged version.
  • For more suggestions on using this resource in the classroom, please see our teacher’s handbook.
  • for AS and A2 studentsan interactive, multimedia resource
    How to write an essay Find out how one academic goes about researching and writing his articles. Can you get some ideas for writing your own essays?

  • The resource is part of a larger essay on Shakespeare’s schooling. The section detailing the academic’s writing and researching process is found towards the end.
  • This resouce was written by a Cambridge Academic and explores the process of researching and writing an article.
  • It could be used to encourage students to think more about their own writing process, and to remind them that it is important to have
    their ideas clear before they begin writing.
  • for AS and A2 studentsan interactive, multimedia resource