HE Exams Wiki


For English Literature see here


English Language GCSE or IGCSE is a 'gateway' qualification which is a requirement for many college courses and jobs. English Literature is an 'optional extra' for home-educated students and is only really necessary if you want to take English A-level. See the English Literature page for more on this.

If you've read this page but still have questions, you can join the Facebook group: Home Education UK Exams & Alternatives or the HE exams email group to get support from fellow home-educators.

Home-educated students usually take International GCSE (IGCSE) English Language because GCSE English Language has a speaking and listening component and it can be difficult to arrange for this for external candidates. See here for an explanation of why it is an issue for external candidates.

Some home-ed students take a part-time college course to obtain GCSE English. For more on this option, see college for 14-16 year olds.

Options for IGCSE English Language are:

  • CAIE First Language English (0500/0990)
  • Pearson Edexcel IGCSE English A
  • Pearson Edexcel IGCSE English B

The CAIE O Level in English Language is also still currently available. However, it should be noted that this exam was designed for children whose first language is not English and that is explained in the syllabus.

Before deciding on an exam ask the exam centre you want to use which awarding bodies (exam boards) they are registered for. Then, look at the syllabus for each of the above and try to work out which one might suit your child best.

Functional Skill Qualifications If it seems to you unlikely that your teenager will ever be able to get a good grade at GCSE/IGCSE, then a Functional Skills qualification may be more useful to them.

English Qualifications and 16-19 College Funding: For college at 16-19, students who don't have GCSE English at grade C or above have to continue studying English until they reach that level. IGCSE English language or literature meets this criteria; if you have a 4 or C at IGCSE then you do not have to continue studying English.

The English Language and Literature IGCSEs for Home Educators' Facebook group supports parents helping their children prepare for these exams. It is primarily designed for parents who are not buying in tuition or correspondence courses.

This grid is a simplified explanation of the main features of each option.

English Language IGCSE

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The most popular options are CAIE (Cambridge) First Language English (0500 (A*-G)/0990(9-1)) and Edexcel IGCSE English - choice of Specification A or Specification B.

Edexcel English Language IGCSEs

Edexcel has two IGCSE English Language options at IGCSE - Specification A and Specification B

Edexcel IGCSE English Language Specification A

The code for this qualification is 4EA1

Edexcel IGCSE English Specification A

  • Two written papers - paper 1 is 2hr 15m, paper 2 is the 'Alternative to Coursework', 1hr 30m
  • Anthology of written material provided for preparation beforehand. This anthology is used for Edexcel IGCSE English and English Literature.
  • Specification from 2012 is old spec, with first exams in 2012.
  • Previous specification for teaching from 2009, ie exams from 2011, is virtually identical so good for practice.
  • Earlier specification is English 4355; still useful for practice for comprehension pieces, and some of the anthology pieces are the same. Past papers via Edexcel search for English 4355
  • Textbook: Edexcel International GCSE English Language A

  • The Edexcel Anthology for International GCSE English Language (A) and International GCSE English Literature is provided for use throughout the course and in the examination. You can download it for free from the subject homepage.

Edexcel IGCSE English Specification B

The exam code for this specification is 4EB1 (the old A*-G specification was 4EB0).

It's described as the 2016 specification because it was for first teaching from 2016 although first exams are in 2018.

Edexcel IGCSE English Specification B (2016)

Textbook: Edexcel International GCSE Specification B

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One 3-hour exam, no anthology, ie no literature content.

A parent writes about Edexcel B

'My children both took Edexcel IGCSE 9-1 spec B. My first child got a 9 (aged 16) and my second got a 7 (aged 15). We chose spec B together as it seemed the most straightforward English exam available to home educators. There is just one exam paper to take, and no literature anthology to study.

We bought the ‘official’ Pearson student book for the syllabus but neither child found it useful and we quickly abandoned it. They looked a little at BBC Bitesize and some YouTube videos, but mainly we used past papers. I adapted older (A-G) questions to match the new question style so that we had more papers than we needed.

We used the mark schemes and exemplar answers freely available on the Edexcel site to figure out requirements. We broke the syllabus into question types and worked on each separately. There are five types of question for this spec: short comprehension questions, 10-mark text analysis, 15-mark text comparison, 30-mark guided writing, 30-mark free writing.

My children did not complete a whole paper in one three-hour session until the actual exam, which they both found manageable.' LP

Cambridge IGCSE English Language

Cambridge Assessments and International Examinations - CAIE, formerly known as CIE. Home-ed students usually take English - First Language (0500) 0500 will still be available for HE candidates for the foreseeable future, and will still be graded A*-G. The same exam is also offered with 9-1 grading, as specification 0990. There is no difference apart from the type of grading, but you must specify which you want when making your entries.

Cambridge IGCSE English - First Language (9-1) (0990) CAIE say: "This syllabus is graded from 9 to 1 but is otherwise the same as Cambridge IGCSE First Language English (0500). You can view papers and other resources for Cambridge IGCSE First Language English (0500); these may be useful for teaching Cambridge IGCSE (9-1) First Language English (0990). "

Changes from 2020: One tier. Reconstructed Reading Paper. See website for details.

A parent’s experience of CAIE 0500/0990

'Four of my children have taken the CAIE English Language IGCSE 0500 (or 0990), old specification. I have not prepared anyone for the new exam yet.

We did not rely much on textbooks. I bought the ‘IGCSE Study Guide for First Language English’  (Hubbard) but didn’t find it very helpful. Whilst my sons love to read (and a few even write) in their own time, they all hated English Language exercises from an early age so it wasn’t worth the trouble of dragging them through a textbook. Like many parents, I relied instead on giving them a strong background in reading (and listening to) books which modelled good syntax and vocabulary (generally older books). Ideally, children need to be reading literature with complex sentences and subtle subtexts for a while before this exam: if they only read simple sentences with explicit meanings that is likely to limit their ability to read between the lines and to write well - both of which are needed for a high score. Given that my sons were allergic to English exercises, we corrected their spelling and grammar errors largely through other subjects (e.g. we made history quite writing heavy from 12 onwards).

To prepare for the actual exam I read some examiners reports and mark schemes and asked advice from others who had taught this syllabus. Then, in the September before the exam I set a few example questions from Paper 2 and marked them: we worked on the same question until they felt OK with what was required/got bored. Then we moved onto the next question and did the same. We didn’t do more than two or three of each so it wasn’t at all intense or stressful. My boys all found the ‘Writers’ effects’ question challenging at first. It helps if you have done some poetry analysis with them a while before this exam so that they are familiar with explaining how writers use language to produce particular effects (which is easiest to see in poetry). This is a hard skill to learn in a rush! I have found that the Reading Paper is more challenging than the Writing Paper: the key in the first question is to tell them to look for hidden/implied meanings, for things they can develop (N.B. this question is changing in the new spec). This is hard to ‘teach’ if your child is not used to reading between the lines. So, lots of reading (or being read to) from an early age is the best thing all round!

My sons all did well with this approach - A*, A*, B, 8 (my eldest son took a different board but scored A* 98% with the same approach). Textbooks can obviously help but I think they need to be used sparingly, not slavishly. Interestingly, DS4, who scored a B, loved to write but didn’t read extensively and, in past papers, struggled a lot with identifying implicit meanings; DS2 on the other hand, who scored an A*, rarely ever wrote at all but read avidly and widely. I think that says a lot.

One final point: like many parents, I found that this exam is best left to nearer 15/16 due to the maturity of understanding a child will have gained in that extra year.' Kathryn H. 2019

Resources for CAIE English (Cambridge 0500/0990)


This is the textbook designed for the 2020 syllabus and is endorsed by the exam board. Collins Cambridge IGCSE English - Cambridge IGCSE English Student Book by Julia Burchell, Mike Gould, Geraldine Dunn, Steve Eddy, Keith Brindle - This textbook matches the most recent specification and is endorsed by CAIE.

There is an accompanying workbook.

First Language English for Cambridge IGCSE by Beth Kemp et al.

Cambridge IGCSE English First Language Workbook 4th Edition by John Reynolds - There are good practice questions for all parts of the exam plus really good suggestions for tackling each section.

There is an accompanying workbook.

Marion Cox's textbook is also very good and continues seamlessly on from her Checkpoint English (KS3 books).

An accompanying workbook also exists for this.

Her teacher's Resource book is excellent: Cambridge IGCSE First Language English Teacher's Resource (Cambridge International IGCSE) by Marian Cox. However, most home educators will not find it necessary.

Revision Guides

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Cambridge University Press publishes a very good revision book written by Marion Cox, who has written many other published materials for English. It is endorsed by CAIE, the exam board. Cambridge IGCSE First Language Exam Preparation and Practice.

OUP publishes a revision guide NOT endorsed by Cambridge by Jane Arredondo. Exam Success in First Language English

Letts publishes a revision guide for the CAIE English Language IGCSE which is endorsed by the exam board.

How to Ace the English Language iGCSE (0500 CIE version Higher Tier): Tips, tricks, and advice to help you ace your exam in eight easy lessons by K Patrick - Dr Kat Patrick is a home-educator and member of the HE Exams community. She has written a revision guide based on her online crammer at Dreaming Spires Revision. It's available as an Ebook and print-on-demand paperback. She writes: "It's a workbook version of my online courses that I developed after examining the 0500 IGCSE and thinking home-ed students needed to know the exam from a behind-the-scenes perspective. "

https://www.facebook.com/groups/622353194460800/?fref=ts This Facebook group discusses all aspects of English in the home education context.

English Language and Literature IGCSE for Home Educators https://www.facebook.com/groups/801773049841714/ This Facebook group is for sharing resources and links related to IGCSEs in English Language and Literature. It is an especially helpful group for those not using a tutor or distance learning provider because it is aimed at helping parents assist their own children.

English Language GCSE

Why is English Language GCSE a problem for external candidates?

(summary also available here)

English GCSE no longer includes coursework, but it does have a speaking and listening assessment, called the Spoken Language Endorsement ('SLE').

Schools will not normally accept private candidates for this part of the GCSE, although private exam centres may. Further- and Higher-education establishments are generally just as happy with the regular IGCSE. In schools, the speaking assessment is considered an "easy win" for most students, but it is generally more trouble than it is worth to arrange for external candidates.

How can you take the Speaking and Listening? Can you do the GCSE without it?

Thanks to Julie Barker for this detailed explanation, contributed on 3 June 2018. Julie is the head of Faregos Exam Centre, which is a specialist exam centre for home-educated candidates. Faregos is JCQ-approved and is an examination centre for all the main exam boards. Over to Julie:

There is frequent discussion about the availability of GCSE English language to private candidates- this is an explanation of the issues- This is NOT ABOUT IGCSE - where there are no problems at all and any references to speaking and listening components in those syllabuses are to entirely optional (and rarely done) choices.

The new 9-1 GCSEs have a speaking and listening component; "the SLE" -the centre organizes these and videos them; they are marked by the centre and a sample are sent to the exam boards for moderation. They no longer count for any % of the overall mark, but are reported on certificates as Distinction/Merit/Pass and Not Classified. The last grade covers those who fail the speaking and listening and those who don't turn up to sit it. (There is also the possibility of the centre applying to the exam board for an exemption for a student who could not complete it by reason of disability - that will have Exemption recorded instead of a grade for this component)

Originally Ofqual planned to make the SLE compulsory - ie not doing it would mean that the students couldn't pass the written paper;. they later relented. There was then a period where AQA said "no private candidates" so any who did sit this had to be entered as internal candidates- they have recently changed their mind.

So what is the situation?

- it is compulsory for the centre to offer it; but not for the student to sit it.

- however the exam boards make it clear that "Where a candidate misses the scheduled date/time for his/her presentation, the centre must organise an alternative session." (AQA)

and AQA say "The head of centre is required to provide a written declaration to us by a published deadline to confirm that reasonable steps have been taken to ensure that all candidates whom the centre has entered for GCSE English Language haveundertaken the Spoken Language endorsement.

Edexcel say "The SLE is a required element of the qualification. There is no separate entry code for theSLE as this is a linear qualification with a single code covering the 3 papers. Every student must have the opportunity to sit the SLE and the Head of Centre must confirm this in the declaration they submit with the recordings of the sample for SLE. If it ultimately proves impossible for a student to sit the SLE, they should be graded 'NC' and 'Not Classified' will appear on their certificate for the SLE." So - can a home educated student sit the GCSE? If the centre is willing to offer the SLE and video it alongside their own classes there is no problem. However many centres won't want the bother of inviting outside students into the classroom and will say no from the start.

The real problem lies with centres who say yes but who aren't offering the SLE; the head of centre will actually be signing the declaration when they know it isn't true. They may not get detected; however if the candidate is entered as a private candidate this year for example each entry required a separate declaration to the exam board "When private candidates are entered for internally assessed components, we (The Awarding Body) need confirmation from the Examinations Officer that teaching staff at the centre will ensure appropriate supervision, authentication and marking arrangements for all coursework, controlled assessments and non-exam assessment (NEA) components. These are Ofqual and JCQ regulations, I, ....................(Exams Officer) declare we will ensure that the appropriate supervision, authentication and marking for all coursework/controlled assessments/NEA for the candidates and courses stated below:...."

At least one centre local to us withdrew all their private candidates when they got these emails from the exam board - this was after the entry date so these students then had to pay late fees to re-enter at another centre willing to offer the SLE.

Additionally of course a missed SLE will be worded as not classified- the same working as those who failed it!

I hope this is helpful - Julie Barker

AQA GCSE English Language

AQA have a helpful page of information for private candidates by subject. On GCSE English they say:

English Language (8700) - Restrictions/special conditions for private candidates

Exam series - June 2019

This qualification is available to private candidates with the following condition:.

Spoken language (endorsement) (NEA) (8700/C)

The entering centre must provide private candidates the opportunity to complete this component. If the candidate has certificated in a previous series, then the result for the endorsement can be carried forward. This qualification is not available to students at schools and colleges in Northern Ireland.

Other Resources

Many home-educated students study this subject successfully using just the textbook and free online resources, but some find a distance learning course suits their family better, or want to use a tutor occasionally for marking essays or past papers. Course providers can be found on the Distance Learning Providers page.

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