How to WOW Your GCSE Poetry Examiner in 5 Steps

A formula for success in the English Literature GCSE AQA Paper 2: Modern Texts and Poetry

1. Actually answer the question!

Be assured, the examiner is not trying to trip you up. The question is loaded with words that will help you meet all the requirements of the mark scheme.


For example:

Compare how poets present the ways people are affected by difficult experiences in ‘Remains’ and in one other poem from ‘Power and conflict’. [1]

[1] Question paper: Paper 2 Modern texts and poetry - November 2020 (


The wording is specifically designed to point you towards all the skills you need to demonstrate:


You must consider the similarities and differences of the poems throughout your response.


Don’t retell the examiner ‘what’ happens in the poem. You need to focus on the techniques the poet uses to convey their message. ‘How’ is reminding you to analyse all the relevant poetic methods you can identify in the poem.



Always refer to them by their surnames ie Heaney, Armitage, Duffy…By frequently referring to the poets you are letting the examiner know that you understand these are fictional works that have been crafted.


Like ‘how’, the examiner is pushing you to think about what the ideas/emotions/messages of the poems are and how you know that ie how has that been ‘presented’ to you.


Next, the question will specify the topic you’ll focus your response on. In this case it is:



Whatever the topic focus is, spend a little time considering how this could be interpreted in different ways and always use these keywords in your response.


With this question, keywords to use (preferably in every paragraph) would be ‘the ways’, ‘people’, ‘affected’, and ‘difficult experiences.’ This is a good way of checking that your response is actually answering the question.


If none of the topic key words are used in a paragraph; you’ve probably drifted off topic.



Don’t be tempted to show off that you’ve memorised several poems (even though that’s very impressive!) The examiner can only award marks to responses that answer the question. Choose one poem, and one poem only, to compare to the printed poem.

2. Choose the best poem to answer the question

Your choice of poem to compare is vital to how well you’ll be able to respond to the question. It can be frustrating if you really love a particular poem (London and Ozymandias are particular student favourites) but can’t see how it links to the question.


If this is the case, you just need to shrug and move on. Forcing a poem to fit the question will not do you any favours. Remember, there is one printed poem that you can use for detailed, thorough language analysis.


The one you choose should best fit the question even if that means you paraphrase/summarise quotes a little.

3. Annotate the poem keeping the question in mind

Like the advice about not clinging to a favourite poem, you may have to abandon a favourite quote from the printed poem if it doesn’t fit the question.


Once you’ve read the question carefully, and have identified the topic, read and highlight the printed poem very thoughtfully.


You should be annotating the quotes (including language features, structure, and form) that clearly link to the question.

4. Follow a plan to meet the Assessment Objectives

Your teacher and/or tutor will probably have shared a planning structure with you. Everyone has a slightly different method, and you’ll have to decide what works best for you.

However, you should have a plan of some sort that clearly meets the assessment criteria.

Here’s mine…


This is my go-to poetry response structure that I always share with my students. It’s quick, easy to remember and prompts students to hit all the assessment criteria. 


This plan encourages you to compare the two poems throughout your response. This means that if you suddenly lose track of time; you won’t panic that you haven’t begun writing about the second poem yet!


T - Title & Themes

By diving into an analysis of the title (T) and introducing the topic/themes in the introduction, you will immediately begin to score marks for considering structure. This is also a good opportunity to consider form if appropriate (a requirement for top band marks).


W - Words

The second paragraph is focused on words (W) rather than ‘quotes’ as it prompts you to use ‘judicious references’, as well as being ‘fine grained’ (top band criteria). 

[2] Focusing in on rich, interesting words that you can write a lot about is far better than copying out an entire line and making a general comment.

[2] Mark scheme: Paper 2 Modern texts and poetry - Sample set 1 (

I - Imagery

Next, you’re encouraged to compare imagery (I). All poems use some form of imagery so you should compare the ideas being conveyed by the poet and then explore how they go about this differently with their use of imagery. Using correct terminology (metaphor, simile etc) is essential from level 3 upwards.

S - Structure

Structure (S) is the final detailed analysis I point students towards. Analysis of the structure is a requirement for a level 5 or 6. So by planning some comparison of the poets’ use of juxtaposition, stanzas, punctuation and/or rhyme scheme your response will be sitting in level 5 or higher.

T - Thoughts & Feelings

Finally, the thoughts and feelings (T) paragraph is a prompt to conclude with a clear point of view. A reflection of both the poets’ and the reader’s thoughts and feelings in response to the topic. Again, this is to edge toward the level 6 expectation of ‘a well-structured argument.’

5. Leave time to proofread (and bag extra marks!)

This is where you could add a comment on form; make sure you’ve accurately spelt any tricky vocabulary and checked that the topic keywords appear throughout your response. 

Let me know what you think of this planning guide and best of luck in your exams!

Author's profile picture

Lauren M


English Teacher & Examiner with 15 years experience, Ofsted rated 'Outstanding'

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