Choose Your Free Guide to Tutoring


International Award Winning Private Tuition Provider

Customer Services & Support: 0800 772 0974

google logo
66 Parent Reviews
google logo
66 Parent Reviews
Request a Tutor Become a Tutor Sign in
Request a Tutor Sign in
google logo
66 Parent Reviews

Is English GCSE Hard To Pass?

01/06/2023 / English Tuition

GCSE English is one of the most important exams to pass in your school career. That’s because most colleges, universities and employers require a good standard of English competence. However, it’s often the most challenging to revise, as what’s presented in the exam is perhaps text you’re not familiar with seeing.

If you’re wondering whether English GCSE is hard, then you’re in luck, as it doesn’t have to be as daunting as first expected. Passing English at GCSE is possible for most students, but it’s worth delving a little deeper into what the qualification entails to help you prepare.

In this post, we cover what you can expect before you head to your exam and offer tips on the best techniques to help you pass with flying colours.

The GCSE course

Throughout years 10 and 11, you’ll work towards passing exams in English. This examination is highly regarded in the UK, and most colleges, universities and employers will require a pass in the subject before you’re accepted onto courses and training.

The curriculum focuses on honing students’ writing, listening, speaking and reading skills. However, it’s not just the English language you study, English Literature also plays a part in your education. This syllabus covers elements such as drama and poetry texts and developing knowledge around this area.

Both exams are important for students to pass. However, each requires focus and knowledge to improve your success. Below, we take a look at each syllabus and exam in more detail:

Is English Language GCSE hard?

Most people ask “is English Language GCSE hard to pass?” There’s no right or wrong answer to this – it is challenging but obviously designed for students to pass with the proper knowledge and skills.

English Language is a subject most students focus on, as this feels more natural to learn, as we read, write and speak it every day. But, unlike learning a foreign language at GCSE, there are more technical sides to this subject.

Awarding bodies for the GCSE English Language syllabus

Three awarding bodies in the UK offer the English Language GCSE. These are:

  • AQA
  • Edexcel
  • OCR

Each offers a slightly different structure to the exam and grading system. But overall, students are assessed on the same topics and competencies.

So, what do you study for the English Language exam?

The syllabus gears you up to tackle various areas of the English language. In the exam, you must demonstrate your skills in these areas and answer questions based on a number of elements. The main aspects covered in this exam include:

  • Creative reading and writing
  • Fictional text
  • Use of English
  • Descriptive/narrative writing
  • Literary non-fiction texts
  • Answering questions and feedback
  • Presenting

What’s in the GCSE English exam paper?

There’s often a misconception that there are two papers, one for English Language and one for English Literature. However, since the new system came into play in 2017, there are now two English Language papers to sit.

Unlike other exams with Foundation and Higher Tiers, this qualification doesn’t have this structure, and everyone sits on the same paper. But you only receive one grade for both papers.

So, as the Language paper is split into two, this helps you to focus on different areas for revision. Different awarding bodies have slightly varying structures for each paper. The majority are weighted 50:50, but Edexcel has a 40:60 weighting.

Paper 1 for English Language is different depending on the examining board. For example:

AQA Paper 1 is called ‘An exploration in creative reading and writing’. It is split into two sections, A and B. Section A covers a fictional text where you need to answer questions relating to it. Section B tasks you with writing your own creative text. There is a prompt on the paper, and you need to write about this.

In paper 2, titled ‘Writers’ viewpoints and perspectives’, section A offers two non-fiction texts, and you have questions to answer comparing the content. Section B is a writing piece again, and this time it focuses on non-fiction.

For the AQA paper 1, you get one hour and 40 minutes to complete and paper 2, one hour and 45 minutes.

While there are similarities in the other awarding bodies, some differences include the time allowed for the exam and slight structure variations.

Is it hard to write an essay for the GCSE English paper?

When most people question whether English GCSE is hard, they often refer to the individual writing aspect of it. Of course, this area draws on your knowledge and interpretation of the information given, and it can be challenging to know where to start.

Papers 1 and 2 both have a writing aspect, and the key element to identify in each is what techniques they use in the text. Optimise sentence structures and look for links between the start and end of the text. In section B, you’ll be asked to write a story, and this has no set structure in how you construct it. So, this is a great way to show your creative skills but don’t forget to incorporate language techniques such as similes and metaphors.

Is English Literature GCSE hard?

Alongside language, you’ll study English Literature at GCSE level. This covers various topics relating to:

  • Prose
  • Drama text
  • Shakespeare plays
  • Poetry

You’ll study a variety of texts in this course, and most syllabuses focus on classics such as Romeo and Juliet, Animal Farm and Macbeth, among others.

Awarding bodies for the GCSE English Literature syllabus

Like the English language course, there are three awarding bodies:

  • AQA
  • Edexcel
  • OCR

Again, some of the content of the exam may be different depending on the awarding body. But the structure and topics are consistent throughout.

What’s in the GCSE Literature exam paper?

You will sit two papers for English Literature GCSE, and any materials you require will be provided alongside the exam paper.

While awarding bodies may have differing topics – the below example covers the AQA paper.

Paper 1 covers your knowledge of Shakespeare and a 19th-century novel. There are two sections. Section A involves answering a question relating to a Shakespeare play, and you’ll need detailed knowledge of extracts from your chosen play. Section B covers a similar thing but relates to the 19th-century novel.   

This exam is one hour and 45 minutes and is weighted 40% of your overall grade.

Paper 2 covers drama and poetry texts, and there are three sections to answer. Section A involves essay questions on prose that have been studied. Section B compares a piece of poetry, and a chosen anthology, and Section C answers a question on poetry not seen before.

This exam is two hours and 15 minutes and is weighted 60% of your overall grade.

Is the English Literature GCSE exam hard?

English Literature can be a challenging subject. However, by studying the relevant texts and understanding the concepts thoroughly, you will be able to answer the questions as fully as possible.

For both courses, there is no coursework attributed to the final grade. So, it’s essential to master the subject in examinations to successfully gain a top grade.

Revision tips for GCSE English papers

If you’re concerned whether the English GCSE is hard, knowing what to revise is your best chance of getting your target grade or above. Below are a few ways to tackle the subject.

Use past papers

Past papers will be your new best friend for these exams. But, instead of just reading them – take them in real exam settings. This will help to give you an idea of the timings and allow you a chance to understand how to interpret the questions.

Once you’ve completed a mock exam – get it marked by a qualified teacher. It’s the only way you’ll really know whether you’re hitting the right mark or not. For the creative writing aspect, use a picture and practise wiring a story about it. Again, use your knowledge of the English language to fit in as much content as possible without waffling.

Hire a tutor

If you’re struggling to find time with your teacher for revision and feedback, hiring an English tutor could help. They provide one-to-one or group sessions that take you through the course content and can assist with areas you’re struggling with. What’s more, you’ll get quick feedback to help you tackle any areas of improvement.

Get professional help with GCSE English

The English GCSE doesn’t have to be hard if you have the proper support behind you. Hiring a tutor from Principal Tutors could be perfect for your study needs. With qualified teachers ready to assist, you can cover all aspects of the English syllabus to get those top grades. We have tutors specialising in both English Language GCSE and English Literature GCSE, who are assigned based on each student’s requirements and abilities.

Want to find out more about acing the GCSE English Language and Literature qualification? Contact us on 0800 772 0974 or request a tutor online today.


We are so happy with our 11+ tutor, she is always very professional and approachable, and she is helping my son to gain in confidence for his grammar school entrance exams next term.


Very happy with the Tutor who is working with my daughter for the 11+. He always replies to emails promptly, engages my daughter during the online lesson, and she's enjoying the work. Thank you.


We were recommended a tutor for our needs very quickly and were able to start immediately. My daughter is getting tutoring for her 11+ exam and according to her, the tutor is amazing. There is a long way until the exam but she managed to bust my daughter's confidence in Maths. Thank you!


Thank you for recommending such an amazing physics tutor for my son. We are now confident he will achieve the graded he needs to get into the uni of his choice, which is all down to the support we received from Principal Tutors and our wonderful tutor.