How to Revise for the Unseen Poetry Exam AQA

If there’s one exam that students typically don’t know how to revise for, it’s the unseen poetry exam. This is because students are unable to prepare any revision notes beforehand and they are walking into the exam without having seen the poem they will be writing an essay on. 

Seems a bit harsh right? Well, luckily this blog post is here to settle those nerves. Despite being unable to read the poem before the exam, there are plenty of analytical and close reading skills that students can develop and use in an exam setting. 

So if you’re wondering exactly how to revise for the unseen poetry exam (AQA) then read on below to find out exactly what to do. 

Read and Analyse Poetry Books as Revision Tools 

The best way to get more familiar with poetry is to spend time reading poems outside of the core texts on the syllabus. It will enrich a student’s understanding and knowledge of poetry devices, meaning, form and structure and allows them to critically analyse the poems.

These are precisely the skills you need for the unseen poetry exam. A student can even use these poems as a close reading exercise and underline all the poetic devices and summarise the poem’s meaning. 

The more poetry a student reads, the easier it will be during exam time as they will have a more comprehensive grasp of how poetry can be interpreted and how to pick out key quotes. 

Poetry Books to Buy for The Unseen Poetry Exam 

There are so many poetry books out there to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start. 

Here’s a roundup of our favourite ones that are worthwhile investing in so that a student can get plenty of analytical practice for the unseen poetry exam:

And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou 

Maya Angelou’s lyrical and rhythmic ballads are beautifully written and are full of interesting poetic devices and poignant messages about race, feminism and inequality. 

Her uncomplicated style and forceful presence makes her poetry an unmissable collection and perfect for inspiring students to enjoy reading poetry. 

Days Like These by Brian Bilston 

366 poems focusing on a wide range of topics from the invention of the Rubix’s cube to when New York banned public flirting. It’s a fun, whimsical and diverse set of poems that are playful but poignant. 

Brian Bilston’s easy-to-digest style is ideal for students who are new to poetry but want to develop their critical thinking skills. 

Bless The Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warshan Shire 

This poetry collection is based on the poet’s experience as a Somalian refugee, war, migration and displacement. Her vivid descriptions and lived experiences make for an impactful book that teaches students about the profoundly moving effect that words can have. 

This collection can also be an excellent comparative text for students that are doing the ‘Power and Conflict’ module for GSCE Poetry as a lot of the themes and motifs are similar. 

This book is for those students who are interested in history and politics and want to learn more about the world around them. 

Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith 

This is a hard-hitting set of poems that grapple with topics such as death, police violence and illness. Danez Smith is a poet whose words are visceral, cutting and provide important messages about how the government and society operate. 

Due to some of the sensitive topics discussed in the book, this collection is for students who are comfortable with learning and reading about more mature themes. 

It’s a fabulous book for higher-ability students that want to challenge themselves and read some incredible poetry. 

Read the Poem Three Times Before Annotating 

Once a student gets into the exam, it can be quite tempting to start annotating and writing straight away. However, it’s best to use your time at the start to read through the poem in your head a number of times before picking up your pencil. 

This allows you to think about the intentions of the poem and to give yourself time to fully understand what the poem is trying to say. After you work that out, you can use your pencil to underline key phases, and poetic devices and make notes that will inform your essay.

Remember to Answer these Questions

It can be quite overwhelming to try and put together an essay under timed conditions when you can’t see the exam text beforehand.

Here are some key questions to apply to the unseen poem and exam question so that you can craft a fully-rounded exam essay:

  • What are the key words in the exam question? 
  • What is the literal meaning of the poem?
  • Who is the speaker of the poem? And who are they speaking to?
  • How is the poem structured?
  • What is the tone of the poem? Is there a change in tone from start to finish?
  • What are the key images in the poem? 
  • Is there a rhyme scheme or form? If so how does this support the poem?
  • What language devices are used? What effect do they have on the poem?
  • Can you summarise the poem in a sentence that relates to the exam question?

Once you have considered and answered these questions, you will be able to bring together your notes and annotations to create an essay plan for your exam.

 It’s okay to spend 5 to 10 minutes writing an essay plan because it’s better to have a comprehensive essay plan where you know what you are going to write, instead of writing straight away with no plan. 

Pick 3 or 4 Key Quotes to Base Your Essay Around 

Choose the strongest quotes and devices that you think will help answer the exam question. And it’s really important that you answer the question! Each quote you choose must in some way support your argument, otherwise you won’t be answering the question properly and will be marked down. 

3 or 4 key quotes is a strong base for an essay as each quote can have a paragraph to develop your argument and further analysis. Make sure to pick a range of key quotes such as language, form and structure so you can talk about a wide range of poetry techniques in your essay. 

If you just focus on language for example, this will prevent you from hitting all the criteria needed for those top grades. 

Write Your Essays and Leave 5 Minutes to Proofread 

The main portion of your exam will be writing the essays after you’ve formulated your plan. The first question is worth 24 marks and the second is worth 8 marks, so make sure that you spend a greater portion of your time on the first question. 

The second question focuses on the similarities and differences between the two poems in the exam booklet. Make sure to highlight around 3 to 4 similarities and/or differences between the poems and include those in your mini-essay. 

Make sure to leave 5 minutes before the end of the exam to proofread and check your work. Examiners can award up to 4 marks for spelling, punctuation and sentence structure so it’s worth having a good read-through to correct any mistakes before the time runs out. 

How to Revise for the Unseen Poetry Exam AQA with Sandeman Tutoring 

At Sandeman Tutoring we are a family-run business with an expert network of tutors who specialise in GCSE exam revision for all subjects. Our tutors have decades of classroom and tutoring experience and have helped students achieve their very best with their exam results.

If you need a bit of extra support with how to revise for the unseen poetry exam AQA get in touch with our team today to learn about our tutoring packages. 

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