As a private tutor and as a teacher and Deputy Head ( in a previous life!), I have often been asked by parents how they can help their children prepare for English exams. My answer has always been pretty much the same, whatever the age and level of the student: get them to read as much varied material as possible; watch films; talk to adults who have stories to tell and find ways of absorbing a sense of history. In other words, nothing is wasted.
With access to the internet, YouTube and its world, students have the power in their fingers to reach parts we old folk spent forever trying to find on dusty library shelves!
If we take GCSE English Language and Literature for example, students do not always recognise the historical context of a piece of writing. They don’t necessarily know who reigned when and what the culture and language was like when pen was put to paper. I have, without exception, ended up explaining the historical and cultural context of every chosen book or play. History, it seems, along with many other subjects, has been ‘dumbed down’ to make way for extra English or mathematics. This is not the ‘ balanced curriculum ‘ that inspired my first entry into teaching.
Time for preparation is important too. I have been asked, on numerous occasions, to help tutor students who are only weeks from an exam. Recently, I was asked to help an A level student to get from a C to an A this month! An unrealistic request that received a realistic response. ( Did you spot the alliteration there?)
For younger students, I advise to start GCSE preparation long before the actual exam year. It allows time to read, practice, ask questions and explore a wider range of material. It opens up opportunities to learn more of the historical and cultural contexts.
For SATs and 11+ students there are set procedures to follow and plenty of practice papers to draw from. But once again, my advice is not to leave things until last minute.