In 2015, the Department of Education reformed GCSE English Literature, which meant massive changes not only with the teachings but with the final exams, too. Evidence of those changes was evident in the exams conducted in 2017.

GCSE English is regarded as a core academic qualification wherever you may be in the United Kingdom. This means that a qualification in GCSE English is crucial for your university applications. 

GCSE Literature is one of the two main topics that are included in the GCSE exam in the UK for English together with language. Here’s what you need to know about it:

What Students Study for GCSE English Literature

GCSE English Literature

There will be a wide range of literature pieces that students will study for their qualifications, including:

  • Prose
  • Drama text
  • Poetry
  • Shakespeare plays

The specific content will vary depending on the school. The texts chosen throughout the GCSE will be used for the final examination. The exam board sets the tests, and each of the three exam boards will give a list of texts that they offer as part of the qualification. The schools will then choose the texts that they want to teach. 

There are some required types of texts for the qualification. For example, students are always required to learn modern prose or a drama, a 19th-century novel, one piece of poetry, and a Shakespearean play. 

One of the most commonly used modern prose is Animal Farm. Shakespear plays may be Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, or Macbeth. 

Examination Boards

GCSE English Literature Exam Boards

Right now, three exam boards provide papers for English Literature:

  • AQA
  • Pearson Edexcel
  • OCR

Note: that there is no higher paper for English Literature. That means all students will have to take the same papers and will thus be graded based on the results. The content for the three exam boards will differ, but the structure and the topics covered will be the same. 

How  GCSE English Literature Is Assessed

There are two formal GCSE English assessments, both of which are closed books. ANy stimulus materials needed will be provided to students as part of the assessment. These are a compulsory part of their curriculum. These two assessments are for: 

  • Shakespeare and the 19th Century Novel
  • Modern Texts and Poetry

The first paper will assess the learner’s knowledge and understanding of Shakespeare plays and the chosen 19th-century novel.  This will take one hour and 45 minutes and will be worth 64 marks, amounting to 40% of the total GCSE. This will be divided into two sections. 

Section A will require the students to answer a question on a Shakespeare play of their choosing. They will have to write in detail about an extract from the play and a piece about the play as a whole.

Section B will be a question on a 19th-century novel. Again, students will answer a question about a specific part of the novel and another one about the novel as a whole. 

The second assessment will be longer as it will last two hours and 15 minutes. This assessment will be worth 96 marks or equivalent to 60% of the GCSE. This assessment includes:

  • Modern Prose or Drama Texts
  • Poetry
  • Unseen Poetry

Section A will include essay questions on a piece of prose that the students have studied. Section B will present a comparative question on a named piece of poetry and another from the anthology. Section C will require students to answer a question about a poem they have not seen before and then compare it to a second poem they haven’t read either. 

What’s discussed above is the exam structure for AQA. There may be slight differences with OCR and Pearson Edexcel. 


Hopefully, this article has given you an idea of what you can expect from the literature part of students’ English GCSE exams in the UK. With the information you now have, you can strategise and come up with a good plan on how you or your child can ace the tests.

One of the things that you can do is to find one of the best English GCSE tutors in the UK. 

SchoolOnline can provide you with export video tutorials to nail your English GCSE exam in the UK. Subscribe now or enjoy our free trial!