How to get an A in English when English isn’t governed by rules like the sciences… it’s the question that so many students struggle with, but with English a core requirement in ATAR based university placements, it’s vital to push yourself to get that A if you want to get that placement. Because it is a struggle for so many students, we’ve put together a learning hub for students struggling with how to get an A in English. Read more about the fundamental rules of English papers and how to get your primary school child’s English marks up.
Why is English so important for university placements?
Writing is a major part of the world we live in; as one of our main forms of communication. From text messages, emails, letters, birthday cards, menus, road signs, to assignments, written exams, speeches, books… writing is all around us. It touches us every day. We live and breathe it.
Despite this, English is argued to be one of the most infamous and difficult classes in school to achieve well in.
When I first asked my grade 9 students if they thought getting an ‘A’ in English was possible, I mostly just received a wave of eye-rolls and a chorus of groans.
While this may seem a bit dramatic, it was clear that they all believed (to varying degrees) that getting a perfect A in English was next to impossible.
How I finally achieved an A in English
As someone who used to get C’s in English in grade eight, and who is now an English tutor, university law and justice honours student, author, and someone who did achieve the mythical ‘A’ in English, I am here today to debunk this ridiculous conspiracy!
With a few simple tips and tricks, and a lot of hard work and determination, I attest that anyone can achieve an ‘A’ in English.
But, why is this important?
Because, not only would it be nice to see a big, fat, juicy ‘A’ on that report card, but writing underpins the functioning of society and is also a key art form that should be explored by all.
The power that words can have is limitless. The meaning, emotion, and value a thoughtfully written sentence can have is mind-blowing. It educates, informs, and connects all of us. So, with that said…
I dare you to take a leap of faith… keep reading, challenge yourself, and take a step in the right direction to achieve that long-desired ‘A’ in English, as I will reveal my top ten tips on how to get an A in English!
1. Master the Basics!
2. Expand Your Vocabulary
3. Read, Understand and Know the Task Sheet
4. Develop a Healthy Teacher-Student Relationship
5. Be Creative
6. Create Your Own Strategy
7. Continuously Seek Feedback
9. Just Keep Swimming!
10. Believe in Yourself
It all seems pretty straight forward right? For some students, these steps seem incredible daunting, especially those who take comfort in the defined rules of the sciences.
For students who thrive in the sciences, consider that there are rules and definitions to help you to get an A in English. There are processes just like the subject that you favour. The big difference most students fear is the use of creativity and opinion. Isn’t it true though, that the best scientists and mathematicians throughout time were the most creative? The out-of-the-box thinkers, the rule testers, the scientific philosophers? Getting an A in English is about following the accepted rules of good grammar and word choice – topped with a little out of the box thinking. Doesn’t that just sound like maths, only wordier?
1. Master the Basics
It’s time to start from the very beginning. Let’s go back to the basics… I’m talking about punctuation, spelling, sentence structure… the easy stuff, right?
Well in the classroom, many students get seriously penalised for grammatical errors. This can have a detrimental effect on results. You might have the best idea in the world for your English assignment, but it is not going to matter if you can’t execute it well.
So, by starting from the beginning, you can refresh your memory about all the little rules in English that you learnt years ago and identify any gaps in your knowledge. To do this, just follow the steps below:
- Define and identify the rule for each term listed in the green table:
|Singular and Plural Nouns||Tense||Capitalisation|
|Adverbs||Australian v American Spelling||Apostrophes and Quotation Marks|
How to use these rules to form the foundation of your A grade
1. Provide an example for each term/rule.
2. Highlight key areas for improvement (such as rules that you are not comfortable with).
3. Write out this list on a piece of paper or in the back of your English book and title it ‘English Rules’ (if you have not already done so). This will allow you another opportunity to go through each rule to aid understanding and embed the rules into your memory. NOTE: Do NOT cheat and print it out.
4. Before starting an assignment or exam, read the list over to refresh your memory. You can also refer to it at any stage.
5. Finally, I can’t emphasise enough the importance of proof-checking your work before submission to fix up any grammatical errors that you may have missed (this point will be elaborated on below).
So, there you have it… six vital steps to start from the beginning with the basics. I bet there was at least one rule that you either had not heard of or couldn’t remember!
2. Expand Your Vocabulary!
Expanding your vocabulary offers a wide range of benefits and possibilities. Not only will it advance your writing skills, but it will also allow you to understand more, expand your knowledge and develop key cognitive abilities.
To expand your vocabulary there are a few approaches that you can try:
- Read – by reading you subconsciously introduce yourself to a wide range of new vocabulary. If you come across a word that you are unsure of, write it down and define it.
- Invest in a thesaurus – keep one of these little beauties next to you when completing assessment! This is a great tool, as you can quickly have access to synonyms.
- Learn a word a day! – Make it a game. English doesn’t have to be boring! Get your family and friends involved.
- Write a list of cohesive devices to implement in your writing.
Caution: Do not use any words that you do not confidently know the meaning of. You should not use synonyms for the sake of choosing something different or ‘sounding smarter’. Alternative terms will ONLY enhance your writing when used correctly in the appropriate setting.
3. Read, Understand, and Know the Task Sheet!
It is normally the moment students dread… when their teacher hands out that daunting new task sheet for the upcoming assessment!
Some students just have a quick skim and scan over the task sheet, while others chuck it straight into their bag and completely forget about it.
Try as you might to avoid it, but one way or another you are going to have to look at that task sheet and get the job done!
Instead of putting it off to the last minute and getting stressed, set yourself up to achieve well! Students must take full advantage of every opportunity when they get their task sheet to make sure they understand exactly what it is asking them to do. This is the first step to doing well in any task (no matter the subject).
To make sure you understand fully what the task sheet is asking you to do, complete the following:
1. Read the task sheet thoroughly.
2. Highlight any key terms or important information.
3. Circle anything that you are not sure/confused about.
4. Ask your teacher questions.
5. Ask more questions – do not stop until you completely understand the task!
6. Write down your teacher’s instructions – so you don’t forget!
7. Confirm your understanding by reiterating in your own words what the task is asking you to do. You can do this by talking it out with your teacher, peers, or parents.
8. Write out a brainstorm/ mind-map of your approach to answering the task sheet.
9. Keep checking that you are answering the task appropriately.
The more you understand what the task is asking you to do, the easier it is going to be to complete it. Thus, this will enable you to form a sound understanding to answer the task appropriately and provide the foundations to achieve well!
4. Develop a Healthy Teacher-Student Relationships!
I wouldn’t be where I am today, without the guidance, help, and support of all my teachers from high school. Of course, there were a few teachers who stood out from the crowd. I will never forget those who would go completely out of their way to help me in anyway they could. Their passion and love for teaching was inspirational!
However, I get it… you are not going to click with every teacher. As humans, we are naturally inclined to like some people more than others.
Despite this, it is important that no matter who your teacher is or what you think of them, you learn to work with your teacher!
This is incredibly important! A healthy, positive, and transparent relationship with your teacher will allow you to communicate effectively and gain more confidence to ask questions.
Your teacher is also the one who marks your work, thus they know that criteria sheet off by heart. They will have the knowledge, guidance, and ability to guide you towards that long-desired ‘A’ in English!
So, if you can think of a teacher that you are not so fond of, I recommend trying a few of the following approaches:
- Be respectful – Use your manners, don’t talk when the teacher is talking, and pay attention.
- Ask questions – either in class or over email, feel free to ask your teacher for help. They are more than likely going to be happy to answer all your queries.
- Show you care – ask them about their day, what interests them, or their hobbies.
- Demonstrate that you are willing to work hard – the best way to do this is to complete all homework set.
- Go above and beyond – don’t just do the set homework, go the extra mile. Try writing a practice paragraph on the given topic and ask your teacher to read it and provide feedback. Not only will this show your teacher that you are serious about wanting to get that ‘A’, but it will also provide you a great opportunity to get some extra feedback and enhance your writing skills.
So, next time you’re in class, try a few of these approaches and see how your teacher responds. You might just make their day!
5. Be Creative!
Writing is an artform!
Whether it is creating an argument or bringing a story to life… don’t be afraid to channel your inner ‘J.K Rowling’. Take a deep breath and step outside the box!
Imagine you are a teacher and must mark approximately 50 English essays on the same topic. Now, what if every single student argued the same thing. Does that not sound BORING!
Why don’t you stop your teacher from falling asleep at their desk and write something different? Not only will this encourage you to challenge yourself, but it will allow you to be expressive, creative, and keep your work interesting. Who knows… you might have a bit of fun writing it!
Your teacher will also be more willing to award your efforts for originality!
Disclaimer: while creativity is subjective and personal, remember this is still an assessment, thus you must remain on task and answer the task sheet appropriately. If you are unsure, do not hesitate to ask for your teachers’ opinion.
6. Create a Learning Strategy!
If it is one thing that I as a tutor sees… it is that everyone learns differently!
There are certain types of learning languages that each individual is better suited to. Whether you are a visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic learner, you must develop a learning strategy that will enable you to work smarter not harder! This is key in achieving well at school!
I am a combination of a visual and kinaesthetic learner. This means that I learn best when I can visualise and engage with the content. For example, the diagram below is how I would take notes if I was learning about the different languages.
Each learner can personalise their approach to suit them and their given assessment, whether it is an assignment, exam, or speech.
Knowing what works best, such as flashcards, recording your speech and listening to it, or writing out your practice essay, will allow you to use your time wisely and best prepare yourself to do well!
7. Continuously Seek Feedback!
Mastering the English language is difficult… it takes time, practice, and patience.
I did not start as an ‘A’ student in English. I was not what you might call a ‘natural’ writer. On the contrary, I made sure to always read my teachers feedback and apply it.
I know it’s not always a nice feeling to be critiqued. But, let’s get one thing straight… there is no such thing as ‘bad’ feedback! Your teachers are not there to beat down your self-esteem. They are there to help you learn and develop key skills that you will use for the rest of your lives.
Feedback is vital to improving your grades, as it allows you to identify key areas for improvement and helps you improve the overall quality of your work!
A-grade students understand the value and importance of continuously seeking their teacher’s feedback. A common approach is for students to write practice responses, peel paragraphs, or even entire essays, give this to their teacher, and ask for their feedback. This allows them to test new ideas in a safe environment without fear of penalisation, apply the feedback, and develop their writing skills. So, when students finally come to completing the actual assessment, they understand exactly what their teacher is looking for. If attempted properly, this approach is guaranteed to increase the quality of your work, and thus improve your grades!
The old saying is true… practice makes perfect after all!
So, if you want to excel towards that mythical ‘A’ in English… go above and beyond! Write a practice response and seek feedback. Of course, your first point of call is always your English teacher, but you can also ask your other teachers, tutors, peers, and family for their advice.
It is always the first thing I ask students to do when they ask me to read over their draft…
Proof-reading is so important, yet so overlooked! Just because you have hit that word limit does not mean that the job is done… it is only the beginning.
I can attest that any high achieving student in English, always gets several people to check their work. They take pride in presenting a perfect piece!
It is not rocket science that an edited piece of writing is always going to score so much higher than one overflowing with spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes.
It is also a skill that you will need for the rest of your lives. Whether it is writing an important email or a report at work, you will need to proof-read! So, before you hand in your next piece of assessment, take some time to complete the following checklist:
- Print out your work and get ready with a red pen
- Read your work out-loud once
- Circle any errors
- Fix up any mistakes identified
- Read your work out-loud twice
- Get at least three people to read your work (however, keep in mind the new academic integrity policy)
- Check your work per the basic ‘English Rules’ discussed in the first section of this blog
- Final read and check of writing and document format per the task sheet
9. Just Keep Swimming!
Try, try, and try again! Do not give up! One of the most dominant characteristics of any high achieving or successful individual is… perseverance!
You are not going to achieve an ‘A’ overnight. However, if you can learn something from every failure or mistake, then you are on the right path.
Little by little, you will start to see improvements. Use that as your motivation! Let it push you to continue to improve and don’t stop there. Just do it!
As Dory would say… just keep swimming! Just keep trying to get that ‘A’. Because one day you will do it!
10. Believe in Yourself!
Too many students are held back by their fears, anxieties, and lack of confidence in their abilities. However, as someone who was once in the same boat, I dare you to jump headfirst straight into the water! You will not regret it!
The power of a positive mindset is limitless. You can do anything if you put your mind to it.
So, surround yourself with a support network of people that are willing to help you. They will be there to motivate, encourage, and reassure in times of doubt. Just plant the seed of self-belief and let yourself grow!
Please, if you only take one thing from reading this today… let it be that you should just believe in yourself!
So, there you have my top ten tips on how to get an A in English. But it is important to remember that miracles don’t always happen overnight. It takes hard work, perseverance, determination, and self-belief you can do anything!
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