Changes for 2021

Following Ofqual’s announcement about changes to assessment in summer 2021, here's what you need to know for GCSE English Literature.

Please note these changes only apply to assessments taken in summer 2021.

Exam structure for 2021

We have re-structured our exam papers for 2021 to allow options.

All students will be assessed on a play by Shakespeare.

Schools and colleges can then choose two of the remaining three areas of content:

  • poetry anthology
  • 19th-century novel
  • fiction/drama from the British Isles from 1914.

Paper 1

Students will enter for two papers from the three options below.

Paper 1A

Students answer one question on their poetry anthology cluster of choice.

30 marks (AO1, AO2, AO3)

Duration: 50 minutes

Paper 1B

Students answer one question on their 19th-century novel of choice.

30 marks (AO1, AO2, AO3)

Duration: 50 minutes

Paper 1C

Students answer one essay question from a choice of two on their modern prose/drama text of choice.

30 marks (AO1, AO2, AO3)

Duration: 50 minutes

Total duration: 2 x 50 minutes

Total marks: 60

Paper 2 (compulsory)

Section A – Compulsory

Students answer one question on their Shakespeare play of choice.

30 marks (AO1, AO2, AO3) + 4 marks (AO4)

Section B – Compulsory

Students answer two compulsory questions on unseen poetry.

Part 1

  • Students answer one question on one unseen poem.
  • 24 marks (AO1, AO2) + 4 marks (AO4).

Part 2

  • Students answer one question comparing the first unseen poem with a second unseen poem.
  • 8 marks (AO2).

Total duration: 1 hour 45 minutes

Total marks: 70

Changes to exam structure

Paper 1

  • Paper 1 contains the optional components (poetry anthology, 19th-century novel and modern prose/drama).
  • Students complete two of the optional question papers in two 50 minute sessions (with a break in-between under exam conditions).
  • Each option will be provided as a separate question paper booklet with a separate answer booklet.
  • You may choose for all students to do the same option or decide that different students can do different options.
  • Please indicate which options students are taking at point of entry.

Paper 2

  • The compulsory components of the course (Shakespeare and unseen poetry) now form Paper 2.
  • Students will have 1 hour 45 minutes to complete Paper 2.
  • All marks for AO4 spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG) have been moved to Paper 2. There will be 4 marks available for this in Section A: Shakespeare and 4 marks available in Section B: Unseen poetry.


The overall weightings of each paper have changed slightly.

Paper 1 now counts for approximately 46% of the qualification and Paper 2 counts for 54%.

What stays the same

  • The style and format of the questions have not changed. Questions will be consistent with a standard exam series and familiar to students.
  • Shakespeare and the unseen poetry remain compulsory components of the course.
  • The choice of texts available for each component remains the same.
  • The number of marks available for each question remains the same. The only exception is that the marks for AO4 (SPaG) have been moved entirely to Paper 2.
  • The mark scheme and marking criteria remain the same.

Help and support

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