English Literature (OCR)

In A level English Literature, you will develop skills of effective communication that will stay with you for life. The empathy gained from literary study is well-documented and is at the heart of our classroom discussions. You will learn how to construct persuasive and sustained written arguments, embracing critical perspectives, historical performances, and the everchanging social and literary contexts in which texts are written and in which we continue to read them.

Revisit The Handmaid’s Tale in the #MeToo era. Explore racial and cultural identity in Homegoing, Small Island, and other modern novels. Compare all-male and gender-nonbinary productions of Twelfth Night. And discover what Chaucer still has to teach us about inequalities in our own society over 600 years since he founded the concept of vernacular English literature.

The A level process asks you to narrow your focus to just a few subjects, but by choosing English you can instead broaden your scope to everything that literature embraces: psychology, philosophy, history, linguistics, anthropology, politics and more.

Topics studied

Component 1: Drama and poetry pre-1900, 2 hours and 30 minutes exam, 40% of A level

  • One Shakespeare play, such as Twelfth Night or Hamlet: close analysis of extracts, and evaluation of interpretations through study of a range of historical and modern performances.
  • Comparison of a drama and a poetry text, such as Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (1879) and Chaucer’s The
  • Merchant’s Tale (c.1387-1400), evaluating them in the context of the time they were written and the way they are read and watched now.

Component 2: Comparative and contextual study, 2 hours and 30 minutes exam, 40% of A Level

  • Synoptic study of a theme or genre: eg dystopia (The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, The Children of Men), American literature (The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, The Age of Innocence), women in literature (Sense and Sensibility, Mrs Dalloway, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit)

Component 3: Literature post-1900, non-exam assessment, 20% of A level

  • Close reading, or re-creative writing piece with commentary (7.5% of A level)
    • Modern poetry, such as Carol Ann Duffy, Robert Frost, Philip Larkin, or Ted Hughes
  • Comparative essay (12.5% of A level)
    • Modern drama and modern prose with a thematic focus, such as: identity, myths retold, the immigrant experience
    • Scope for students to choose their own prose text to accompany a class drama text


A*–A in A level English Literature in 2023


A*–B in A level English Literature in 2023

“I leave English lessons feeling educated about so much more than literature; we discuss history, philosophy, politics, linguistics, anthropology – everything, really.”
“It may sound cliché, but I’ve definitely experienced more of the world through literature than I have through my own eyes.”

Academic enrichment

The primary source of extra English exploration in Sixth Form is the Joint Literary Society with Abingdon School; we aim to cover the full range of literature, from Old English to graphic novels, romanticism to post-modernism. We run lunchtime meetings for students looking to pursue English at university, including Oxbridge and ELAT preparation. We encourage students to explore their own interests, and also look to take all our A level students to the theatre once a year. Lower Sixth students are invited to join us on our annual residential Literary Retreat.

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