Revealed: The ideal length of an A level English essay

A-Level English essays should be nearly twice as long as GCSE essays, study suggests

Helen Ward

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The sweet spot when an A-level English literature essay is neither too short – or too long – has been uncovered by researchers.

Writing more than 1,300 words in the A-level English literature exam does not necessarily lead to higher marks, a study by Cambridge Assessment has found.

The finding comes after an earlier study into the ideal length of a GCSE English Literature essay, which discovered that the mark awarded flattened off beyond 700 words.

“As with the GCSE analysis, quantity does not trump quality. The curve flattens off at around 1,300 words per essay, and so writing more than this isn’t consistently associated with getting higher marks,” researcher Tom Benton said.

Perfect English

The researchers analysied data from the OCR A-Level English literature exam, which was sat in June 2016.

One student achieved an A* with two essays that were only three pages long, while another candidate filled the 11-page answer booklet and four further extension booklets – but ended up with a grade E.

The researchers also calculated the writing speed of candidates – finding that on average pupils wrote about 1,000 words per hour in an exam, or 17 words per minute.

This compares to the GCSE candidates who wrote at a rate of round 13 words per minute, churning out 800 words in an hour. The researchers said that the difference reflects the fact that A-level candidates tend to be two years older and have more experience in writing exams.

The study will be discussed further on Twitter on Thursday 1 February between 4.30pm and 5.30pm at #CamEdLive.

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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