IGCSE First Language English

The Importance of Markschemes for First Language English Success.


I. Introduction

As students embark on their journey to mastering the English language at an international level, the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) First Language English exam is a critical milestone.

The exam provides a robust framework to assess learners’ ability to communicate effectively in English, as you know, but you may have been wondering: How is excellence defined? How do we understand it?

One of the keys to acing this exam and achieving a high score lies in understanding the mark schemes. This blog post will guide you through the importance of mark schemes, the documents that examiners use as they proceed through the assessment process each exam season, providing valuable insights to help you succeed in the exam.

II. Understanding the IGCSE First Language English exam

Understanding the structure and format of the IGCSE First Language English exam is an essential first step towards acing the test. The exam consists of various components, including reading passages, writing tasks, and in some cases, spoken language assessment, each having its unique grading criteria.

The primary role of this exam is to assess your language proficiency. It tests your ability to read, understand, and write responses to material from a variety of sources. It also examines your ability to employ a rich and varied vocabulary, correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling, and organize your ideas coherently.

Now, where do mark schemes fit into this picture? Mark schemes are the structured scoring guides provided by the examining body (whether CAIE, Pearson EdExcel, or otherwise). They detail how marks are distributed for each question or task in the exam. Understanding the mark scheme can shed light on what examiners are looking for in your responses. A thorough understanding of these mark schemes is not just a good-to-have, but an essential part of exam preparation.

III. Importance of Mark Schemes

A mark scheme is more than just an answer sheet; it is a detailed guide that breaks down how every mark in the exam is awarded. It provides the criteria that examiners use to grade students’ responses, ensuring a fair and uniform assessment. Every point you make, every argument you build, every sentence you form in the exam is examined and awarded marks based on these schemes regardless of what I or any other teacher tells you.

One of the major roles of mark schemes is to make the expectations of the exam clear. They offer an insight into the examiner’s mind, showcasing exactly what they are looking for in an answer. For instance, if a question asks you to analyse a text, the mark scheme will specify what aspects of the text you should focus on, how deeply you need to delve into it, and how your observations should be presented.

This is especially relevant for those of you who are targeting extremely high grades and shooting for an A*; there is a strong connection between mark schemes and grading. The marks allocated in the mark scheme directly determine the grade you receive. Hence, understanding the mark scheme can give you a clear idea of what you need to do to attain the grade you aspire to achieve.

In the context of IGCSE First Language English, mark schemes are particularly important due to the subjective nature of language assessment. Unlike subjects where there’s only one correct answer, in language exams, there are multiple ways to express an idea correctly. Mark schemes can guide students on how to structure their responses effectively and meet all the criteria needed for top marks.

IV. Using Mark Schemes for Exam Preparation

Mark schemes aren’t just meant for examiners; they are an extremely useful tool for students as well. They can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your exam preparation. 

Firstly, understanding how to read and interpret mark schemes is crucial. They are often split into different sections, each representing a different part of the question or task. Marks are allocated to these sections based on the skills or knowledge they test. For example, in a writing task, some marks might be dedicated to the quality of your language, some to the structure of your argument, and some to your use of supporting evidence.

Once you understand the mark scheme, you can use it to guide your study and preparation. You can focus on the areas that carry more marks and strategize your responses accordingly. It can also be beneficial to practice past exam papers and then use the mark schemes to self-assess your answers. This way, you will understand where you’re likely to gain and lose marks.

Another effective strategy is to use mark schemes to learn from your mistakes. If you lose marks in a particular area in a practice test, look at the mark scheme to understand what you missed. You can then focus on improving that aspect in your subsequent studies.

Consider mark schemes as a roadmap to success in the ICGSE First Language English exam. They are not just about ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. They are designed to reward depth of understanding, quality of analysis, and effectiveness of communication. By aligning your study strategy with the mark scheme, you can elevate your exam preparation to the next level.

V. Advantages of Using Mark Schemes

The use of mark schemes in your exam preparation comes with numerous advantages. These benefits can significantly boost your performance in the IGCSE First Language English exam.

  1. Improved Performance: By studying with the mark schemes, you will have a clear understanding of what the examiners are looking for in your responses. You’ll know precisely how to structure your answers and what points to cover, thus optimizing your responses for the maximum marks.
  2. Efficient Revision: Mark schemes can guide your revision process, helping you to prioritize and focus on areas that will yield the most marks. They essentially provide a blueprint of the exam’s scoring system, allowing you to spend more time on high-scoring sections.
  3. Reduced Exam Stress: Knowing what to expect in the exam can greatly reduce anxiety and stress. With a thorough understanding of the mark scheme, you will be better equipped to handle the exam with confidence.
  4. Better Time Management: Understanding how marks are allocated can also help you manage your time more effectively during the exam. You can allocate your time based on the number of marks a question carries, helping you to complete the exam within the given time frame.

To demonstrate these advantages, let’s consider a few success stories. Many top-performing students credit their success in the IGCSE First Language English exam to a thorough understanding of the mark schemes. They mention how aligning their study strategies with the mark scheme enabled them to score higher and achieve their academic goals.

By leveraging mark schemes in your exam preparation, you can make the most out of your study time, perform better in the exam, and ultimately achieve the grades you aspire to.

VI. Common Mistakes and Misunderstandings

Despite the numerous advantages of using mark schemes, students often make some common errors while using them, which can impact their exam performance. Here, we will identify these common mistakes and provide solutions for avoiding them.

1. Misinterpreting the Mark Scheme: Many students misinterpret the criteria set out in the mark scheme, leading to misconceptions about what is required. It’s essential to understand that mark schemes specify what you should include in your answer for each question type. Remember, the mark scheme is not the answer, but the yardstick against which your answer is measured.

2. Over-reliance on the Mark Scheme: While the mark scheme is an excellent tool, it should not be the only study resource. It is meant to complement your textbook and class notes. Some students make the mistake of relying solely on the mark scheme and neglect other aspects of studying, like understanding the content, practicing writing skills, etc.

3. Ignoring Lower Mark Sections: In the quest to score high marks, students often focus only on sections with high marks and ignore sections that carry fewer marks. However, remember that every mark counts. Those “small” marks can make a significant difference in your overall grade.

Corrective Measures:

– Understand the Mark Scheme: Make sure you fully understand what the mark scheme is saying. If you are unsure, ask your teacher or a classmate for help.

– Balance Your Studies: Use the mark scheme as a guide, but not as your only resource. Continue to review your notes and textbooks and attend revision classes.

– Cover All Sections: Don’t neglect the lower mark sections. They can be an easy way to pick up extra marks and improve your overall grade.

Remember, the goal is to use the mark scheme effectively as part of a comprehensive and balanced approach to your exam preparation and to develop self-awareness and the ability to objectively evaluate your responses with mark schemes; you should not simply view them as a replacement for your critical thinking and judgment.

VII. Conclusion

Mark schemes are a vital, yet often overlooked, tool for achieving success in the IGCSE First Language English exam. They provide an invaluable insight into the mind of the examiner, revealing what is expected in responses and how marks are awarded. These schemes are not only helpful for examiners to maintain consistency in grading, but they are also a goldmine for students, guiding them in crafting high-quality responses that hit all the right notes.

Using mark schemes effectively can transform your exam preparation, making it more targeted and efficient. By understanding the allocation of marks, you can focus your efforts on areas that will yield the most rewards, thus improving your performance.

However, like any tool, mark schemes need to be used correctly. Avoiding common pitfalls like misinterpretation and over-reliance on the mark scheme is crucial. Keep in mind that these schemes are a guide, not a shortcut. They should supplement your comprehensive understanding of the subject, honed by diligent study and practice.

In conclusion, if you aspire to excel in the IGCSE First Language English exam, make mark schemes your ally. Understand them, use them, and learn from them. It’s time to take control of your success. Make the most of mark schemes, and see the difference they make in your grades. Remember, success is not just about hard work; it’s also about working smart. And using mark schemes is a smart strategy indeed.

IGCSE 0500 First Language English – Narrative Composition: Two Sample Essays


One of the most crucial aspects of any student’s journey is learning how to write well and to understand the criteria for the mark scheme… But how do you make sure that your understanding of the criteria and the mark scheme actually reflects that of an examiner?

This makes it such that it is very important to have good examples…

…And that’s exactly what this essay aims to resolve today!

Here’s a set of two sample essays for Narrative Writing for the IGCSE. Each essay is written to match a specific level descriptor and has been validated with the experience of our team, and reflects the way that we would assign marks based on the mark scheme.

Have a look at this, think about it, and hopefully it will help you to understand what is required and desirable in the exam 🙂

We’ll start with two essays from the Winter 2022 Paper 2; more examples will come soon (and even more for our paid members!), and we will soon publish a book of narrative writing AND descriptive writing essays as well; it will be available on both Shopee and Lazada as well as from this site, so make sure that you’re following this blog!

Without further ado, here are the examples!

Example A: 

Title: “Write a story with the title ‘Lost’.” – Winter 2022, Paper 2 Variant 2.

Tom, a 12-year-old boy, lived in a small town surrounded by a vast, mysterious forest. He spent most of his weekends exploring the woods with his loyal dog, Max. They had many exciting adventures, discovering hidden trails, secret clearings, and beautiful wildlife. Tom felt a sense of freedom and wonder every time he ventured into the woods.

One sunny Saturday morning, Tom and Max set out on another adventure. They walked deeper into the forest than they had ever gone before, captivated by the vibrant colours and enchanting sounds of nature. Hours passed, and they were blissfully unaware of how far they had strayed from home.

As the sun began to set, Tom realized they were in an unfamiliar part of the woods. He tried to retrace their steps, but the shadows cast by the towering trees made it difficult to navigate. Panic began to set in as they wandered aimlessly, desperately searching for a familiar landmark.

The sun dipped below the horizon, and the forest was soon enveloped in darkness. Tom’s fear escalated, and Max, sensing his distress, stayed close by his side. As they stumbled through the darkness, they suddenly spotted a flickering light in the distance.

Approaching the light, they discovered a small, old cabin with a warm glow emanating from its windows. Tom hesitated, but he knew they needed help. He mustered the courage to knock on the door.

An elderly man with a kind face and a long, white beard opened the door. Tom nervously explained their predicament, and the man agreed to help them find their way home. He grabbed a flashlight and a map, and together, they set off into the night.

They walked for hours, following the map and the man’s vast knowledge of the forest. The journey was long, and Tom’s exhaustion began to take over. But, just as hope seemed to be fading, they reached the familiar edge of the woods. Tom’s house came into view, and relief washed over him.

Tom thanked the old man, who offered some wise advice before departing. “Remember, young one, the forest can be both magical and dangerous. Always be prepared and respect its power.”

Comment: “The essay “Lost” deserves a level 4 in both Table A: Content and Structure and Table B: Style and Accuracy. The story’s plot is relevant and cohesive, featuring narrative elements such as character development and setting the scene. The content is relevant, with some development (W1), and the structure is competently managed (W2). The story falls short of level 5 as the plot could be more strongly developed with further description, character interaction, or a more effective climax.

For Table B, the essay displays some precise vocabulary and a range of sentence structures used occasionally for effect (W3). The story maintains an appropriate register for the context (W4), and the spelling, punctuation, and grammar are generally accurate, with some errors (W5). It does not reach level 5 due to the vocabulary and sentence structures not being consistently precise or well-chosen for effect.

The essay does not deserve a level 6 because the content is not complex, engaging, or effective enough (W1), and the structure is not as well-balanced or carefully managed for deliberate effect (W2). Furthermore, the vocabulary is not consistently well-chosen for effect (W3), and the spelling, punctuation, and grammar are not almost always accurate (W5).

Lastly, the essay does not deserve a level lower than 4 because it does not exhibit the characteristics of lower levels, such as limited or unclear content (W1), partially organized or ineffective structure (W2), simple vocabulary or sentence structures (W3), or persistent grammatical errors (W5).

Now, on the other hand… What does a Level 6 essay look like?

Have a look!

Title: “Write a story with the title ‘Lost’.” – Winter 2022, Paper 2 Variant 2.

In the quaint town of Willowbrook, nestled in the heart of the valley, nine-year-old Lucy found solace in the dense, enchanting woods that surrounded her home. The forest was her sanctuary, a place where she could let her imagination run wild. Alongside her trusty companion, a golden retriever named Jasper, she would spend countless hours exploring its depths, discovering its secrets.

One day, as the sun dipped below the horizon, Lucy and Jasper ventured further into the woods than they ever had before. They traversed moss-covered trails, played hide-and-seek among the towering trees, and splashed in the crystal-clear stream. As they roamed deeper into the woods, the sun’s fading light cast long shadows across their path, but they continued on, oblivious to the encroaching darkness.

It wasn’t until the last rays of sunlight vanished that Lucy realized they were lost. Panic surged through her veins as she clung to Jasper for comfort, whispering, “We’ll find our way back, won’t we?” The woods had transformed into an eerie, unfamiliar world. Shadows danced in the moonlight, and the once melodic bird songs were replaced by unfamiliar, haunting sounds. Together, they stumbled through the dark, moonlit forest, guided only by instinct and the faint glimmer of hope.

As they pressed on, the forest seemed to close in around them, the darkness growing thicker with each step. Suddenly, they came upon a mysterious, ancient oak tree. It stood tall and majestic, its gnarled roots digging deep into the earth, as though it had been there for centuries. The tree seemed to beckon them, and as they approached, they noticed a glowing inscription carved into the trunk. It read, “Whisper your fears, and I shall show the way.”

With trepidation, Lucy leaned in and whispered her fears to the tree, her breath quivering. As she finished, the inscription shimmered, and a trail of luminous fireflies emerged from the tree, leading them through the darkness. As they followed the swarm, the menacing shadows receded, and the forest gradually regained its familiar allure. The fireflies weaved through the trees, illuminating their path and casting a warm, comforting glow.

The journey through the forest felt like an eternity, but eventually, the fireflies led them to the edge of the woods, where they caught a glimpse of their town’s warm glow. Overwhelmed with relief, Lucy hugged Jasper tightly, tears streaming down her cheeks. Together, they raced towards the town, grateful for the guidance that had delivered them from the clutches of the unknown.

Upon their return, Lucy shared the tale of their adventure with her family, who listened in awe. The ancient oak tree and its magical fireflies became a cherished part of local folklore, a symbol of hope for those who found themselves lost, both literally and metaphorically. And for Lucy, the woods remained her sanctuary, but she never ventured too far from the guiding light of home.


The essay “Lost” deserves the highest possible grade, as it demonstrates complex, engaging, and effective content (W1) with a secure, well-balanced, and carefully managed structure for effect (W2). The story plot contains well-defined and developed ideas as well as images to create a convincing overall picture with varieties of focus. As for writing for effect, it contains a good range of sentence structures and precise vocabulary, used effectively for effect (W3), while maintaining a consistent, well-chosen register suitable for the context (W4). Spelling, punctuation, and grammar are almost always accurate (W5).

To improve the story, the writer can incorporate more sensory details to further immerse the reader in the setting. By adding these elements, the essay is able to evoke even more vivid images and emotions, further enhancing the reader’s experience and appreciation.

Okay, and we’re done! 🙂

I hope that you enjoyed this post, and that you will find it valuable!

If you did, do feel free to share it with your friends! We will proceed onwards with descriptive writing examples pretty soon – these will be part of the membership site component of the site materials, and we will also create more of these materials for you soon!

Thank you once again, and we look forward to sharing more with you soon!