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GCSE English Literature Assessment Objectives

Updated: Apr 11, 2021

Source: Department for Education (PDF)

Regardless of the exam board you are studying with there is some knowledge, understanding, skills and assessment objectives common to English Literature curriculum. If you know these national curriculum requirements, then you’ll understand the framework within which all exam boards create the detail of their specifications. This will help your progression from key stage 3 and the possibilities for progression to A-level.

GCSE English literature aims and learning outcomes

Whilst studying GCSE English literature you will develop knowledge and skills in reading, writing and critical thinking. You are encouraged to explore a range of literature and read widely to both develop culturally and acquire knowledge of the best examples of thought and written – in preparation for studying literature at a higher level.

GCSE specifications in English literature should enable you to:

  • read a wide range of classic literature fluently and with good understanding, and make connections across their reading

  • read in depth, critically and evaluatively, so that you are able to discuss and explain your understanding and ideas

  • develop the habit of reading widely and often

  • appreciate the depth and power of the English literary heritage

  • write accurately, effectively and analytically about your reading, using Standard English

  • acquire and use a wide vocabulary, including the grammatical terminology and other literary and linguistic terms you’ll need to criticise and analyse what you read.

As well reading the (whole) texts that you are encouraged to, the examination will include questions on texts that students have not read previously (‘unseen’ texts).

Scope of GCSE English Literature

You’ll be required to study a range of high quality, intellectually challenging, and substantial whole texts in detail. These must include:

  • at least one play by Shakespeare

  • at least one 19th century novel

  • a selection of poetry since 1789, including representative Romantic poetry

  • fiction or drama from the British Isles from 1914 onwards.

All works should have been originally written in English.

The purpose of this range of texts is to deepen your understanding, provide you with knowledge, broaden your knowledge of literature, and enhance your critical and comparative understanding. Hence why you need to read widely within the range above to prepare yourself for ‘unseen’ texts in the examination.

Reading comprehension and reading critically

  • literal and inferential comprehension: understanding a word, phrase or sentence in context; exploring aspects of plot, characterisation, events and settings; distinguishing between what is stated explicitly and what is implied; explaining motivation, sequence of events, and the relationship between actions or events

  • critical reading: identifying the theme and distinguishing between themes; supporting a point of view by referring to evidence in the text; recognising the possibility of and evaluating different responses to a text; using understanding of writers’ social, historical and cultural contexts to inform evaluation; making an informed personal response that derives from analysis and evaluation of the text

  • evaluation of a writer’s choice of vocabulary, grammatical and structural features: analysing and evaluating how language (including figurative language), structure, form and presentation contribute to quality and impact; using linguistic and literary terminology for such evaluation (such as, but not restricted to, phrase, metaphor, meter, irony and persona, synecdoche, pathetic fallacy)

  • comparing texts: comparing and contrasting texts studied, referring where relevant to theme, characterisation, context (where known), style and literary quality; comparing two texts critically with respect to the above.


  • producing clear and coherent text: writing effectively about literature for a range of purposes such as: to describe, explain, summarise, argue, analyse and evaluate; discussing and maintaining a point of view; selecting and emphasising key points; using relevant quotation and using detailed textual references

  • accurate Standard English: accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar

English Literature GCSE Assessment Objectives:

Assessment Objective 1 (35 - 40%)

Read, understand and respond to texts

Students should be able to:

  •  maintain a critical style and develop an informed personal response.

  •  use textual references, including quotations, to support and illustrate interpretations.

Assessment Objective 2 (40 - 45%)

Analyse the language, form and structure used by a writer to create meanings and effects, using relevant subject terminology where appropriate.

Assessment Objective 3 (15 - 20%)

Show understanding of the relationships between texts and the contexts in which they were written.

Assessment Objective 4 (5%)

Use a range of vocabulary and sentence structures for clarity, purpose and effect, with accurate spelling and punctuation.

Note: In each specification as a whole, 20-25% of the marks require candidates to show the abilities described in AO1, AO2 and AO3 through tasks which require them to make comparisons across texts.


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