Subject content – A-level

This coherent specification has a distinct philosophy which centres on different ways of reading and on the connections which exist between texts. Study of texts within the chosen literary and cultural genres in the examined topic areas is enhanced by the study of critical theory in the non-exam assessment. In this way, students can gain a solid understanding of how texts can be connected and how they can be interpreted in multiple ways so that students can arrive at their own interpretations and become confident autonomous readers. Students are then not only equipped with the knowledge and skills needed for both exams and non-exam assessment, but also experience a rich, challenging and coherent approach to English literature that provides an excellent basis for studying the subject at university.

The specification encourages the exploration of texts in a number of different ways:
  • the study of texts within specific genres
  • the study of texts through engagement with a range of theoretical ideas
  • writing about texts in a number of different ways.

Genre study is at the heart of English Literature B and the four broad genres available for study are tragedy, comedy, crime writing and political and social protest writing. Just as meanings of texts are not fixed, neither are definitions of genre, which frequently change and become blurred. The texts offered, therefore, are not necessarily classic examples of established genres and this is reflected in the modifying words 'aspects of' and 'elements of'. Indeed, the specification takes into account the fact that writers often subvert the genre in which they are writing.

Working with genre involves looking at ways in which authors shape meanings within their texts. It also involves thinking about a wide range of relevant contexts, some of them to do with the production of the text at the time of its writing, some (where possible) to do with how the text has been received over time and, most of all in this specification, contexts to do with how the text can be interpreted by readers now. Looking at texts as generic works involves connecting individual texts with others, as the whole idea of genre is a connective one. And finally, because genres and their qualities are not fixed, this means that interpretation is not fixed, and that multiple interpretations are possible.

The flexibility offered by the choice of genres and texts, and the interconnectivity of these, ensures that you have the freedom to create a coherent course of study for your students.

This specification reflects the belief that the assessment objectives (AOs) work best together, producing a rounded and holistic view of English literature. Thus all five AOs are assessed in each question. See Assessment objectives section.

When used in AS and A-level English Literature questions, the term ‘significance’ has a very specific use and gives access to AOs 2, 3, 4 and 5. Its use here derives from semiotics and involves understanding the idea of 'signification'. In the way literary study is configured in this specification, significance involves weighing up all the potential contributions to how a text can be analysed: through the way the text is constructed and written; through text specific contexts that can be relevantly applied; through connecting the text(s) to other texts; and then finding potential meanings and interpretations.

This specification promotes as wide a choice of texts for you and your students as possible within a clear and helpful framework. The requirement in the subject criteria for students to study a minimum of eight texts from particular genres and periods has been organised as follows:

Component Section No. of texts Genre requirement Text requirement
Literary genres A One One drama Shakespeare
C Two

One drama

One from any genre

One must be written pre-1900
Texts and genres A     Unseen text
B One

One prose

One poetry

One from any genre

Prose must be written post-2000

One text must be written pre-1900

C Two
Theory and independence   Two One poetry and one prose