How to get a 9 in GCSE English Language

English language is one of the subjects (along with English literature and maths) that students across England and Whales are required to pass in order to carry on higher education in sixth form or college, or to go into work or an apprenticeship. As such, it is of critical importance that students try their best to achieve their highest in this subject.

A good grade, especially a grade 9, in GCSE English Language, can set up a student up for greatness. A pass in the subject is often seen as the minimum requirement by many employers for apprenticeships and work after school.

It is also a key skill in getting in to sixth form. Higher grades, such as a 9, are especially needed for students which to study subjects such as English, History, Sociology, Politics and Law at a collegiate level. It is also required to study these subjects at a university level, which can lead to top end salary careers.

Examples of these include careers such as barristers, lawyers, solicitors, government policy directors, politicians, and other related careers. As such, it is imperative for students to be able to achieve well in their English GCSE to achieve the above-mentioned life skills and paths along the years. This article will show you how to get a 9 in GCSE English language, or as close to it as you can achieve. Many of the tips here are relevant to English literature as well, what ever the exam board (e.g. AQA English Literature).


How to get a grade 9 in English language GCSE paper 1

students asking past paper english questions to the teacherEnglish language GCSE consists of two papers. Paper one has two sections, a reading section and a writing section. The fact that there are two papers should encourage you to work harder to achieve your desired grade. This is because the way these are graded, the grades attained in each paper are weighted against each other.

The examiners do not chose the paper with the higher grade. Instead, whatever is achieved in paper one and paper two are balanced out. As such, students should not see the two papers as an opportunity to have two shots at achieving a grade 9. Rather, students should understand that their grade comes from a concentrated attempt to get a grade 9 in both and not neglecting any aspect of the exam.

This is the first key to achieving a 9 in English Language GCSE; consistent hard effort, rather than relying on a single event or paper to rectify your grade.

The key to success is consistent in effort and then attainment. As stated, the two sections are reading and writing in the first paper. You will have to master both to get a 9 in this GCSE.

What questions are included in this exam?

Though there are many exam boards, such as AQA, The first section is the reading section. This consists of a text that you are tasked with reading, analysing and interpreting. With this text is four questions that students must answer using their findings from the text.

Question one usually consists of a basic retrieval exercise. This means that the question directs you to a specific set of lines in the text, with the expectation that you find basic pieces of information, recording it down in the answer box. For example, a question linked to a text on space travel may say “look at lines 1-3, list three components of a rocket ship”.

Question two is one that usually is about describing the use of language and an author’s writing in making a point. This means that you as a student are expected to write about different literary techniques and how a writer uses them to convey meaning. This is still usually asked with reference to a specific part of the text.

Your answer must then rely on these specific parts of the text, as evidence to support your point outside of it will go uncredited. An example of a question like this could be “in lines six to twelve, how does the author describe the feelings of the astronauts”. It is expected here you pick up on techniques such as pathetic fallacy, metaphors, and others you should have covered.

Question three moves away from specific portions of the text by asking you to consider the nature of the text as a whole. You will usually be asked about a specific theme that is evident in the text, and the asked to write an essay addressing how exactly the author presents and explores that theme in their work.

For example, you may be asked “you now need to think about the text as a whole. How has the author presented themes of loneliness and helplessness in the text?”.

Here, you need to refer to textual evidence and literary techniques as you have in previous answers, but also now discuss other ways the author may present ideas. These includes things like various phonetic and structural techniques. For example, one may talk about how the use of punctuation in rapid bursts may force a reader to see suspense.

Question four is one that asks you to engage with a debate by presenting a statement and asking your position on it. For example, you may be asked “focus on the last 10 lines of the text.

A student said ‘this part of the story shows despair so that all our sympathy is with the main character’. Do you agree?” As such, you need to think carefully here about writing a persuasive piece to convince the examiner of your position by referring extensively to textual evidence and support for your ideas.

Question five is the writing question and takes around forty five minutes to do well. Here, you are given a prompt, which may be a picture, post a poem or any other kind of material throughout the years, and are then asked to respond to that prompt.

For example, a student may be presented with a painting of a market, and then be asked to describe this market.

Alternatively, they may be asked to write a story based on a title prompt, for exampled “Write a story with the title misery”. It is important for students to use all the techniques they saw the author used in the reading section to help them do well in the writing section.

Close Readings

The key part of questions one to four is being able to read closely. This means to be able to extrapolate meaning from every single part of the text. Every single word, every single piece of punctuation and every single paragraph is the way it is for a specific reason. It is up to you as the student to be able to figure our why.

This is where your previous lessons become extremely important. All that time you spent making a and using flashcards to help familiarise yourself with literary techniques such as metaphors, personification and others come into use here as you identify every single instance of these, using them to demonstrate what the question is asking of you.

Using your reading for writing

Section two (question five) is of course the writing portion of the exam. Here, the examiner is looking for your ability to apply various literary and structural techniques to see if you have internalised the ability to communicate clearly and effectively.

If you are a bit stuck in this section, it is possible for you to look at the extract you were given for the reading portion of the paper, and using your close reading of it, you can use some of the techniques to help you in your own writing about the topic.

Do not underestimate the importance of smart revision

In order to do close readings or write your own masterpieces to achieve your grade 9, you need to actually know what you are looking for and writing about. This is why it is critical to make sure you know the content. There are various ways you can do this.

For example, you could create flashcards with the names of literary and structural techniques on them, with examples and elaboration on the purpose of that technique on the flipside of that card. It is through habits such as these that you will come to eventually get your grade 9 in English language.

Follow these tips for success in your GCSE English language, which can be applied to your GCSE English literature as well.

What percentage is a 9 in GCSE English Language?

What constitutes a grade 9 in GCSE English Language shifts every year. This is because grade boundaries are not standardised or static. Rather, they are constantly reassessed and changed to accommodate different aspect of attainment in the previous exam. As such, it is not a useful mindset to aim for a specific percentage to try and secure a grade 9. Rather, you should be looking at working at your very best consistently to try and achieve a 9.

How to get a grade 9 in English language GCSE paper 2

Just like paper one, paper two is divided into two sections, a reading and writing section. Here, the emphasis is on the writers viewpoints and opinions. Similarly, to paper one, you are given a source sheet with a text on it through which to work. However, unlike paper one, paper two’s source sheet often is composed of two sources you need to analyse, and sometimes even compare.

As such, whilst elements of the paper will be similar and familiar due to paper one, you must be careful to not just assume it will be the same. As stated, there are key differences here. In addition, one must be careful to avoid treating paper two as “another chance”.

As we said before, paper one and paper two are weighted against each other. It is then imperative that you try to do your best in both of them. One can not wholly redeem failure in the other, so revise hard and achieve well in both.

What questions are included in this paper?

Question one is rather simple. The focus here is that one part of a specific source is mentioned to read. For example ‘read lines 6-10 of source A’. Then is a list of statements that, depending on the question, students will tick as either correct or incorrect. This first question is then fairly straightforward, but requires close attention to the particular details of the specified part of the text.

Question two is one of basic comparison. Here you will have to read both source A and source B. The question will then usually ask you to discuss what you understand about a specific thing as presented differently across the two sources.

For example, two sources on space craft with different kinds of space craft may have the following question for source two; “the writers in source A and B are in different kinds of space craft. Use details from both sources to discuss what you understand about the different kinds of craft”. Here, the way to do well is to really focus on this particular aspect across both texts and summarise the comparison in your answer.

Question three is more of a close reading question, with a specific part of one source being focused on. Here, the examiner wishes to see how you can examine and see language and structural techniques as used by the writer, and how they are effective in conveying the mood of the piece. For example, the questioner may ask “in source A from lines 14-24, how does the writer describe the emptiness of space?”.

Question four goes back to comparative answers. Here, both source A and B are needed to form an answer that explicitly asks you to compare how the two explore or present a specific aspect. For example, you may be asked “compare how the writers present their experiences of misery”. Here, the key part is the comparison aspect.

Question five again represents the writing aspect of the exam and should have around forty-five minutes allocated to it. Here, the question is based more on persuasive skills, with questions often being asked to take the form of a persuasive formal document, with many marks being awarded for organisation and technical skills.


Compare, compare, compare!

This is the key part of two of the reading sections, one of which is the big essay question. As a result, it can not be overstated how important it is to be able to compare two texts well. Find out what both authors are saying by reading closely and comparing them. If you struggle with this as a technique, practice this extensively by writing many practice papers for your teachers and tutors. Perfecting this skill will help you on your way to a grade 9 in a GCSE.


Persuasion is a huge part of the writing paper here. You would have done persuasive techniques in your oral and spoken presentations for GCSE English language. A lot of the techniques you would have learnt there are applicable to the written aspect. Make sure you are loading your writing with all the rhetorical questions, alliteration, and other techniques you can remember to do well.

Plan and check

Sixteen marks of question five go towards to technical and organisational skills. As such, you need to make sure your spelling, structure and all aspects of your spelling, punctuation and grammar are perfect. You do not want to miss many marks on small mistake like using “affect” instead of “effect”!


AO1 to A06

The GCSE exam is marked against these criteria.

  • AO1:identify and interpret explicit and implicit information and ideas

select and synthesise evidence from different texts

This is the basic analysis tested in question one of both papers. Here, you are just finding explicit textual facts in specified sections of the papers.


  •  AO2: Explain, comment on and analyse how writers use language and structure to achieve effects and influence readers, using relevant subject terminology to support their views

This aspect is a little more complex and requires analysis. Here, you look for structural and language techniques used by writers and explain how and why they do what they so. For example, one may say that Kipling uses sibilance to describe a python to emphasise the fear and sound of snakes as readers read about it.


  •  AO3: Compare writers’ ideas and perspectives, as well as how these are conveyed, across two or more texts

This requires you to be able to draw comparisons and critiques between two different author approaches to tackling with a topic. This skill comes through repeated practise.


  • AO4: Evaluate texts critically and support this with appropriate textual references

This one essentially requires to give your opinion on a text in what you think an author is achieving or trying to do. Sounds simple enough. But you MUST back it up with evidence, or you will not be credited for it. Remember the evidence!


  • AO5: Communicate clearly, effectively and imaginatively, selecting and adapting tone, style and register for different forms, purposes and audiences. Organise information and ideas, using structural and grammatical features to support coherence and cohesion of texts

This one is more for the writing sections of the language papers. Here, the greatest piece of advice is to imagine something you would like to read; a well written, interesting piece. That is what the examiner wants to read too!


  •  AO6: Candidates must use a range of vocabulary and sentence structures for clarity, purpose and effect, with accurate spelling and punctuation. (This requirement must constitute 20% of the marks for each specification as a whole.)

Also for the writing section. Whilst this one seems long, it is quite simple. You need to write well. That means using the correct spellings, grammar, and punctuation. Double check your work and this should be a breeze.


Summary – achieving grade 9 in GCSE English language

Our six main tips today were:

  • Read the text closely!
  • Use your reading to help your writing
  • Revise well
  • Compare in comparison questions
  • Be persuasive
  • Plan and check your work.

Follow these and you will follow the AOs well, leading to a grade 9 in your GCSE!

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