Which English A Level Should You Choose?

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A-level English By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: English » A-level English
Last updated: 26/01/2017
Tags: a-level english language, a-level english language and literature, english literature, year 11

This is the time of year when year 11 students begin to think about the next stage of their education. It’s an exciting time when teachers at your school or at open events in FE colleges try to entice you onto their courses. Many courses sound great; they are presented as being incredibly interesting but you can’t take them all. Those of you who are enjoying and achieving in your GCSE English courses are likely to consider ‘A’ level English as a probable choice for next year. But, which English should you choose? Three different English ‘A’ level courses are offered by most exam boards: English Literature; English Language or English Language and Literature and all will be presented to you in their best light. Here I will try to unpick the main differences between the courses.  

English Literature is the most straight forward course to get to grips with. The techniques used in English Literature just build on the skills learned in GCSE English Literature. However, you MUST like reading. It may sound obvious but I have met so many students who have taken English Literature and hate reading. You will be expected to read some heavy weight literature quite quickly and the best students also read extra novels and academic texts to support the texts that have been set by the exam boards.

A Level English Language is very different from GCSE English. It is probably better to think of it as a social science rather than an arts subject. In English Language about 50% of your study will be on new topics such as: how children acquire language; how males and females use language differently; how language is used differently in different regions of the UK or around the English speaking world; how English has changed over time. The other 50% will be spent on the analysis of non-fiction texts and spoken language transcripts. To do this you are taught about the grammatical structure of the English Language, such as: word classes (nouns, verbs, adjectives, conjunctions etc), phrase, clause and sentence structures. You need to show that you are fully in tune with what a writer is implying whilst adopting a structured approach to how you describe the parts of the language being used. This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. You need to be interested in how language works to fully appreciate this course. However, it is a brilliant course if it’s your thing!

The combined English Language and Literature course is, as its title suggests, a balance between the two aspects of the subject; however, Language is the predominant subject. The course trains you to analyse how language is used to create the literary or non-fiction text. You are expected to read a little less than a Literature student; however, you will be expected to read those texts that have been prescribed for study by the exam board. You will learn techniques and skills from both the Language and Literature aspects of the subject. This course doesn’t cover the social science topics that are part of the English Language course but concentrates on the grammatical structures and analysis. This A Level is accepted by most universities on a par with the pure English Language or English Literature ‘A’ levels; however, if you aspire to go to a top university then check with the institution before embarking on this course, just in case they have a preference for one of the other English qualifications.

All of the English A Levels are brilliant; however, some students are more suited to one or other of the courses. Only you can decide which of the courses will be of most interest to you.


Karen Pitts A-level English Tutor (Oxford)

About The Author

I believe that increasing a student’s confidence in the use of English is the key to success in many areas of their studies. I develop materials to suit the individual student’s learning style and interests.




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