Mark schemes can be tricky to follow, but it’s crucial to spend time figuring them out. If you understand the Cambridge IGCSE English literature mark scheme and work backwards from there, the essay writing process will be much easier and you’ll get higher grades as a result!


IGCSEs are marked by examiners, who are employed by the Cambridge exam board. For several years I’ve been an examiner myself, although for a different board – AQA. As examiners, we’re sent a ton of papers and we get paid almost nothing and we have to mark them and send them back very quickly – it’s a tough job! People really only do it because it makes them better teachers, not for money or anything like that.

So, if you think about the person marking your work (such as poor old me with my stacks of 300-400 papers that have to be returned within 2-3 weeks!), there are things you can do to make our lives easier, and if we can read and understand your work easily then we are likely to mark you kindly.

Be clear about your ideas, and structure properly – always use a short plan before you write. Use an academic, formal essay style and show an awareness of assessment objectives – these are the boxes we have to tick in order to justify giving you your grade. Learn the mark schemes. Read that again. Learn the mark schemes! Some schools – especially top schools – teach their students how to understand mark schemes, because then they can adapt their writing to exactly what the examiners are looking for, and get higher grades. Other schools don’t bother (unfortunately, my own school was in this category, which is why I used to write such weird essays because I had no idea what they were looking for!). Don’t leave your grade up to your school or your teacher, teach yourself all the gaps and what you need to know.

Thanks for reading! If you’re looking for more help and support with Literature, English or essay writing in general, you can find recorded video lessons and downloadable content by clicking here

How to Write Essays – CAIE IGCSE Literature 


Here’s a breakdown of the assessment objectives and what they look for at mid-grade and top-tier levels: 


“Show detailed knowledge of the content of literary texts in the three main forms (drama, poetry, and prose), supported by reference to the text.” 

In plain words: show a detailed understanding of your texts, and understanding of your form – in this case, poetry. Use quotations and references clearly and effectively to back up your ideas.


“Understand the meanings of literary texts and their contexts, and explode texts beyond surface meanings to show deeper awareness of ideas and attitudes.” 

In plain words: Understand the deeper meaning and background meaning of your texts – such as the themes, ideas, attitudes, and messages. Learn context. Focus on the time period of the text, plus information on the genre and background of the writer. For the poems, each one has its own context – be sure to learn them and be comfortable with analysing them.


“Recognise and appreciate ways in which writers use language, structure, and form to create and shape meanings and effects.” 

In plain words: Understand how language techniques, structural features, and poetics, change and underscore the main messages, themes, and meanings of the poems. Have a confident and equal focus on form, structure and language.


“Communicate a sensitive and informed personal response to literary texts.” 

In plain words: Develop your own ideas on the poem with confidence, after clearly learning about the poems in-depth first. Make sure you have your own opinion about the themes and attitudes presented in each poem.

Every objective covers 25% of your overall grade. For a mid-level and top-level essay, here’s what examiners are looking for. I’ve translated the mark scheme into my own words here so it will be clear for you:

MID BAND (high C / low B grade) 

AO1 – good knowledge of the text and thorough use of quotations throughout the essay, well-selected quotations that prove your point well.

AO2 – understanding the surface meaning of the text completely, and some of the deeper meanings.

AO3 – a good understanding of language techniques and the way they are used.

AO4 – some personal response, starting to be developed – a sense of deeper thoughts and interpretations being explored.

TOP BAND (A* grade)

AO1 – well-selected evidence and references, skillfully integrated into the text with ‘flair’ (a creative, confident, and personal essay style).

AO2 – an excellent understanding of surface and deeper meanings.  This includes a critical exploration (looking at different angles of interpretation) and creative insights into the themes, attitudes, and ideas.

AO3 – sensitive, detailed, and through exploration of form, structure, and language. A detailed understanding of how and why these create specific meanings.

AO4 – personal and evaluate engagement with the question. Don’t just explain the poem, respond properly in the moment to the focus and keywords of the question. Aim to have your own complex and sensitive thoughts about it and how it relates to the poem.

Hopefully, that’s useful for you and you’re starting to feel more confident with essays, exams, and poetry in general. In the next section, we’ll be looking at the poems themselves and what to say or think about them.

If you’re looking for more help and support with Literature, English or essay writing in general, you can find recorded video lessons and downloadable content by clicking here