How to write an analytical GCSE English essay

The two most important assessment objectives are AO1 and AO2. They are about what writers do [the choices they make, and the effects these create], what your ideas are [your analysis and interpretation], and how you write about them [how well you explain your ideas].

AO stands for assessment objectives (for all you parents out there that may be interested in the abbreviation).

To achieve good marks for these AOs follow the guidelines below.

Structure your work

In your introduction, you must be able to respond to the question in a clear way. The first sentence of each subsequent paragraph should be a topic sentence in which you demonstrate your understanding of the question and the source text. Aim to make a clear point, as this will form the framework for the rest of your answer. Ensure each paragraph is dealing with a separate idea, to avoid repetition. Always keep your focus on the question!


Relevant quotations are essential to writing a successful response to the question. You need evidence that will support the point/s that you make. I am sure you have heard the popular term ‘judicious’ quoting highlighted in the marking criteria. Really it means that you are showing good reasoning by being perceptive in your choices and including textual references which help you answer the actual question. Do not use long quotations, but carefully choose the words you need and drop them expertly into your response.

Always embed your quotes! You do not have to write phrases like, ‘the quotation that shows this is…’ or ‘where it says…’. Rather select what you need and firmly attach it to your comment by surrounding the quotation(s) with words of your own. This will impress the examiner as your writing will be more fluent and help you to achieve the criteria for judicious quoting.

Example 1

Macbeth demands that the witches reveal the source of their prophecies to him in the quote 'say from whence/you owe this strange intelligence'. Noooooooooo!!


Macbeth demands that the witches reveal the source of 'their strange intelligence' to him. Yesssssssss!!

Example 2

In the quote 'As she is troubled with thick-coming fancies/that keep her from her rest' we learn that Lady Macbeth's nightmares are tormenting her. Noooooooooo!!


Lady Macbeth's 'thick-coming fancies' are tormenting her. Yesssssssss!!

Remember that you are taking these words from the source, therefore you must definitely indicate this each time. If you use "double" marks for speech, it is wise to use 'single' marks for quotes. This will help the reader distinguish between the two. Otherwise, it gets very confusing!


You will get higher marks if you show your examiner that you have the ability to infer meaning. This really means reading between the lines for a deeper meaning. If possible you want to dig as deep as possible and squeeze a lot of meaning out of a little piece of evidence. Using phrases such as, ‘implying that…’, ‘suggesting that’ or even ‘illustrating the idea that’ are all beneficial phrases to develop your analysis further.

Be realistic and don’t get carried away by fanciful ideas at odds with your text.

Remember (K.I.S.S.) to keep it simple and succinct by writing your own informed personal opinion about what the quote actually means in your own words.


Try to identify linked concepts and themes. Consider how the writer expertly presents ideas and imagery through effective use of language and structural devices such as:


  • dynamic verbs
  • specific use of word classes such as adjectives/adverbs/pronouns/prepositions - [use the phrase 'the writer's lexical choices'] you can't tell me that doesn't sound good!
  • concrete/abstract nouns
  • personification
  • simile
  • metaphor
  • pathetic fallacy
  • oxymoron
  • onomatopoeia
  • sibilance
  • alliteration


  • repetition
  • beginning - middle - end
  • flashforwards
  • flashbacks
  • sentence structure
  • shifts of focus
  • chronological / non-chronological

Explore and analyse the role each device plays in developing the text and creating meaning. There is no point in just identifying a metaphor or onomatopoeia. The quality of your comments on the effects of language is what decides your level/grade, not the ability to simply spot features.

Ask yourself:

  • Why has the author/poet made this deliberate choice?

  • Why has the author/poet chosen to place this method here?

Then explore different meanings and ideas that are associated with each choice. Dig deep and get the awards! It's like digging for those golden marks.


Once you have explored a range of meanings and drawn conclusions, then consider the effects on the reader. Authors/poets always write with a clear aim in mind. They craft their work to deliver a message to the reader. The following sentence stems help you to achieve this:

  • From this, the reader can infer that...
  • This encourages the reader to imagine/feel...
  • The reader may interpret this on two levels...
  • This helps the reader to visualise...
  • This encourages/prompts the reader to consider...
  • This results in the reader experiencing...
  • This relates back to/foreshadows...
  • This reinforces that idea of... in the reader's mind
  • This creates a... atmosphere for the reader...
  • This provokes the reader to believe that...
  • The reader is compelled to...
  • Some readers may interpret this as... whilst others may believe that...
  • This entices the reader...

Writing frameworks

To develop a clear, purposeful and effective writing style you need to have a sound framework for your writing.

Many students use some of the following frameworks to help construct their answers:

👉 PEE - Point + Evidence + Explain

👉 PEEL - Point + Evidence + Explain + Link

👉 PEED - Point + Evidence + Explain + Develop

👉 PEEZL - Point + Evidence + Explain + Zoom + Link

👉 PETAL - Point + Evidence + Technique + Analysis + Link

👉 PETER - Point + Evidence + Technique + Explain + Reflect

If you are comfortable using any of the above frameworks, then there is no need to change. But, there is an alternative should you want to try it. This method keeps it all simple and was highlighted in the AQA Examiner's advice in June 2019 which recommended that the best way of approaching a literary text is the WHW writing frame.

🟩 What?

What is the writer writing about? What is the meaning and purpose of the text?

🟦 How?

How have they done it? What writing techniques have they used? Think of your figurative language, word classes, sentence types and comparative/superlative adjectives.

🟨 Why?

Why did they use particular techniques? What effect were they hoping to achieve? How do they want you to think and feel? How do you respond personally to the text? How might others respond? Were the writer's intentions effective?

It is not enough to just feature-spot, you HAVE TO consider the writer's intention and the effect on the reader.

Following all the handy guidelines above will help you boost your grades and confidence when answering those important AOs in class or in an exam.

Learn how to answer questions in GCSE English Language Paper 1 using our ultimate revision guide below.

Author's profile picture

Ruth D


An enthusiastic English tutor with over 25 years experience

Looking for a tutor?

Sherpa has hundreds of qualified and experienced UK tutors who are ready to help you achieve your goals. Search through our tutors and arrange a free 20 minute introduction through our industry-leading online classroom.

Find a Tutor