books, sixth form

Studying English Literature at A-Level

Hi!

So, basically, I got this idea from the wonderfully amazing BookTuber/book blogger LucyTheReader, who recently made a video on her experiences with studying English Literature at A-Level, the set texts that she’s studying and how she’s getting on with them all.

I guess this is kind of a response to that, in a way. I think it’s really interesting to compare what different colleges/sixth forms/other institutes of education study at English Literature A-Level, so I wanted to contribute my experiences to the melting pot.

First and foremostly, A-Levels are the exams that English students sit at the ages of 17/18, if they choose to go on from high school (up to age 16) to more education before university (the age of 18+). I’m in my first year of A-Levels, which is year twelve, or Junior Year in America. I don’t know the equivalent in any other country’s education system, sorry!

I also started my A-Level much later than other people in my year group, I started in the middle of January rather than last September. This means that I’m not actually aware of what part of the specification my college focuses on, I’m just along for the ride.

I’m on the AQA specification, which requires us to sit a few papers (I’m not actually sure how many). I’m not taking an AS exam in this, as my college is geared towards fully linear A-Levels now. However, I will be having an internal exam towards the end of June which will cover most of the set texts I’m about to explain.

The way my college does things, we start with our first play – the one that isn’t Shakespeare. For us, that’s A Streetcar Named Desire. 

813k0gruz-lStreetcar is about Blanche DuBois, an aging Southern Belle who goes to New Orleans to stay with her sister Stella, and Stella’s abusive husband Stanley. It’s a very easy text to study – I missed all the teaching on this so I’m having to mostly teach myself the source material on it. I use the York Notes on Streetcar to help me with this – if you’re studying English Lit A-Level (of if you’re planning to) then I really recommend the York Notes series of study guides. 

We also have a second play, which is the first set text that I started looking at. This is our Shakespeare play, which I’m finding really interesting! It’s a less well-known work, but it’s really well written and has a lot of depth to it. We study Measure for Measure. 

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Measure for Measure takes place in Venice and is about a pious young woman called Isabella, who is entering a convent. When her brother Claudio is arrested for pre-marital sex, she pleads with the temporary head of Venice, Angelo, for him to be released, only to discover that Angelo wants her to have sex with him in exchange for Claudio’s arrest. This is a really interesting play, all about morality and sexual power, and is one of Shakespeare’s later comedies. For someone that really enjoys history, this is also a brilliant play to be studying. 

In addition to the plays, we also have to study a set of poems from a book called Poems of the Decade. I believe there are about forty or so that we have to study in total, we’ve done nearly all of them by now. My favourite of the ones we’ve studied so far is Eat Me by Patience Agbabi. It’s all about a woman that is trapped in a relationship with a man who is obsessed with feeding her to make her fatter and fatter. You can read it here.

We also have to compare one of these poems to an unseen poem, but we haven’t started looking at those yet so I can’t give you many examples.

Finally, we come to my favourite part. The prose. We study two set texts, one post-1900 and one pre-1900. These, for me, are The Handmaid’s Tale and Frankenstein.

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The Handmaid’s Tale follows the story of Offred, a woman living within the dystopian society of Gilead, which requires women with viable ovaries in it’s population to give their bodies to wealthy couples in order for those couples to be able to have children. I can not describe how amazing this book is. I know it basically inside out by now, and I’m loving it. All I can say is go and read it. It’s incredibly significant in today’s society, as well, along with such classics as 1984. 

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I don’t know much about Frankenstein, as it’s the one we haven’t looked at yet, but I have read it in the past. I didn’t enjoy it much, and I don’t recall the plot very well. Simply, it’s about a doctor named Victor Frankenstein, who creates a monster and then abandons it. Terror ensues. I’ll get back to you on whether I’ve decided to take it to heart or not. I’m not the biggest fan, but I love Mary Shelley. 

That’s it for what I’m studying! I will be looking at a few other texts in addition to these, so I might make a list of those next year sometime. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below and I’ll get back to you!

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