Perfect A-Level Essay?

I teach the Edexcel spec and I love it. There I said it!

Some people seem to hate it, but I am really enjoying the set works and the approach to study. I also think that my students are starting to enjoy it. What I am finding is that now I am in my second year of teaching I am getting into it and starting to see what “might” be required in the summer. I say might because none of us really know what to expect and the AS has only given us hints of what might be required.

Undoubtedly the essay part of the course is something that may cause some degree of concern, worry, stress or frustration. There is a lot to learn and remember and then you throw in Wider Listening and you are putting a lot on the students. I have been pushing my Year 13 students really hard with essays and I make them write a fair number of them and try and give as much clear feedback as I can. I want them to do well and I want them to know exactly what they need to do to improve. So here are some thoughts and I have also attached an essay that I think is pretty good, it its possibly full-marks in my opinion. I have also attached a marking sheet that I have started to use.

  1. Wider Listening is key, if they don’t have it then they need to re-do the essay essentially.
  2. A clear line of argument needs to be established in the introduction. It seems to help the flow of the essay and give the something to pin all of their points to.
  3. They need to focus on what the composer is trying to achieve. Kate Bush is clearly someone who was seeking to break away from some of the conventions of pop music at the time and create something that was very much her. Establishing this kind of argument in the intro really helps the essay, and line of argument is referred to in the mark scheme.
  4. They should also be thinking about how the pieces typifies the genre or style of music and this can then be referred to throughout.
  5. An evaluative conclusion is absolutely essential in order to both round the essay off and also make the essay an evaluation.
  6. They need to avoid trying to pack everything in, but should pick salient points that they can link well to their line of argument.
  7. Key terms are just crucial and they need to pack their paragraphs full of them.
  8. I find that they do well when they put one element per paragraph and section their essay out clearly. This helps them and the examiner who will eventually read it.
  9. Wider Listening needs to be used to back  up a point and mustn’t just be loosely referenced. Wider Listening can refer to other set works in the anthology or other movements, songs, or pieces from the same composer.
  10. Bar numbers aren’t needed and will just slow things down. how can they possibly remember every bar in the entire anthology.

I have now started to use the following mark sheet for essays and not only is it nice and clear for students, but it is also saving me time.


It gives them clear points to develop on and gives space to respond to feedback. It also has the mark scheme there so that you can highlight where they are at. It is important that they see what they need to do in order to improve.

I think the essay part of the exam can be a positive experience, but the more they practice the better. They also need to have clear marking that they can then respond to. It is a lot to cover, but it is possible and the resources online and the textbooks are helpful. Listening is crucial and the more they listen the better. Wider Listening should be fun and enjoyable and embedded into every lesson.

Just some thoughts and i hope the attached documents are helpful. I am happy to email you essays to have a look at, ones that I have marked. And if you have any thoughts on the attached essay then let me know, but I think it is pretty good.

Kate Bush Essay 1

Kate Bush Essay 2



  1. Hi James. This was very useful thank you. I have QTS status but did a Secondary placement and am now looking into A-Level tuition and employment. I would be extremely grateful for any pointers you have (such as this article) on teaching from the Edexcel A-Level syllabus. I must admit I find their website slightly confusing at times. I will of course share this article with colleagues. You mentioned emailing other essays, this would be fantastic if they are still available.
    With many thanks,
    Kind Regards,

    Luke H

  2. Hey, I’m doing the A Level Edexcel Music course and this is really helpful! I understand that you already have a post on Bach’s Ein Feste Berg which I will definitely use for revision. On my website (www.jackwilliamsmusic.wordpress.com) I have various in-depth posts on the other works within the Edexcel spec, where I’ve combined content from both the Edexcel anthology, the online notes from Pearson and some resources our school has provided. I would love it if you could show it to some of your students. Thank you for making the website inclusive for all students and teachers nationally, It’s a brilliant blog, keep it up!

  3. I am wondering….do you feel the essays attached are full marks? I am just trying to gauge a standard! I was wondering about the wider listening in the second, is there enough? I am a complete beginner to this, so finding your essays/blog are a God send!

    1. If I am honest I am not sure. Having now had two summers of exams it does appear the exam board are wanting a very high standard. We are left in the dark a bit as teachers. I have another blog I am preparing on my current thoughts on essays. But when the average mark last summer was I think 8/30 it is clear that something is going wrong!

  4. Hi I am a student in year 12 now studying Music Edexcel for my A Levels. I was wondering if you had any other useful resources which could help.

    1. Let me know what you need support with and I will do what I can. Have you asked your teacher initially as I wouldn’t want to tred on their toes.

      1. I have asked my teacher. I think its more with writing essays and structures of the essays. Do you have any good resources with a list of essay questions by any chance?

      2. Send me an email and I will send you some thoughts. Also look at all my essay blogs on here.

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