More information: GCSE English Literature 2021 changes

Friday 18 Sep 2020

We know that you have questions about the changes to 2021 exams for GCSE English Literature and we’d like to provide you with more information about the format and structure of the papers.

First of all, we can confirm that the style of the questions you are used to are not going to change.

We have simply restructured the question papers to reduce the content students have to cover in the exam.

How is Paper 1 going to work?

You now have a choice of two of the following three options:

  • Anthology of poetry
  • Modern text
  • 19th century novel

We’ll be asking you which two options your students are taking when you make your entries (by 21 February). You can pick different options for different students – there’s no need to choose a single option for everyone, unless you want to.

We considered presenting all three options on one paper, but this could be confusing for students and challenging for our markers – because there are three sections and a range of texts within each option. To overcome this challenge, and make the marking more manageable, we will be appointing examiners to mark each option separately.

We can now let you know that each option will be given as a separate question paper, with separate answer booklets in the exam. Students will only be issued with the two options they have been entered for.

Students will be given 50 minutes to complete each question paper in turn. After 50 minutes the first completed question paper will be collected, and the second question paper will be given (under exam conditions). This process ensures the answer booklets and any additional material are efficiently sent to the right examiner.

What about Paper 2?

We have grouped the compulsory components together on this paper. In section A, students answer one question on their choice of Shakespeare play. In section B, students answer two questions on two thematically-linked unseen poems.

The paper will now be 1 hour 45 minutes in duration. The questions will be familiar to students – only the format of the overall papers has changed.

We understand this is a change to students’ normal experience of taking GCSE English Literature exams, but we believe that the benefits of students not having to navigate a vast paper, supporting them to manage their time and appointing specialist markers to each option makes this adjustment worthwhile.

We hope you welcome this additional information. A summary of the changes and a video from our Head of English, Pauline McPartlan, will follow soon.

In the meantime, please contact us at english-gcse@aqa.org.uk should you have any questions about the changes.