English Language or Literature? Confused Person

Should You Take English Language or Literature?

When it comes to studying English, things can be a little confusing. Why are there two different subjects? What is the difference between English language and English literature? Which one should you take? So many questions! So many conflicting answers! How on earth are you going to know what to choose?

You’ve probably heard a thing or two about “soft” subjects. You might have even heard that universities prefer one English over the other. People talk about your A-levels like they’re a code you can crack. You just need to put in the right formula and out pops future success on the other end. Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s not like that.

Stick around for some sound advice on which subject you should take – both for your GCSEs and your A-levels. I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong if you take one or the other. Frankly, I think both subjects are great. Sure, I have some suggestions on what might work well, but they’re not set in stone. Remember that the most important thing is that you find your subjects interesting and you do as well as you can. You’ll always have your personal statement and possible interviews to back up why those choices worked for you.

Do your research, sure. Read this blog post. Check out the Russell Group’s Informed Choices website. Consider what you want to do in future and what you’re good at. Don’t freak out, though! Neither language nor literature is a soft subject. There are no bad subjects; just subjects that don’t work for you. Remember that!

For All GCSE Students

It doesn’t matter if you want to be a doctor, carpenter, mathematician, writer or lawyer. You’re going to need to have at least a C in English (as well as maths and science) to get all of the best opportunities. Apprenticeships ask for it. Most universities ask for it. Heck, there are plenty of jobs that might look at your GCSE results, too! So, it’s a good idea to make sure that you have at least one of the two under your belt. But if you’re taking at least one, which of the two should it be: English language or literature?

Well, English language! That’s the must-have GCSE subject! In fact, it’s compulsory for students, so you need to take it seriously. If you’re thinking about getting a tutor for any subjects, make it these compulsory ones! They will really open doors for you in the long run. If you’re not sure if you need tutoring or not, I’ve written a whole blog post to help you!

You see, English language is all about grammar, comprehension and understanding the effect that words can have on you. Those are essential skills to have no matter what your end goal is. You need to be able to understand English well so that you don’t get confused. Your writing needs to be understood by others. Those are universal skills. They apply to everything you do in your life. It doesn’t matter what job you choose.

Make sure that you take maths and English seriously the first time you sit your GCSEs. Thanks to laws made by the government, you have to resit them if you don’t pass. So, make sure you get them right the first time if you can! It will save you time and stress in the long run.


Most schools offer both GCSE English language and literature at the same time. Exam boards expect teachers to teach them both in the same class. That’s because the skills are so transferrable. You can do a little bit of lang and a little bit of lit all in one single lesson.

In fact, most schools mix the two subjects together so well that students struggle to tell how they’re different! They might know that literature is the one where you study some texts before you go into the exam. However, that’s pretty much it. Most teachers make you study your lang skills through the texts you’re reading in lit, so the lines can get pretty blurred.

Most of the time, you won’t get much of an option to miss out on literature, anyway. However, if you’re one of the few people in the country who gets to choose, I really recommend signing up for lit. It’s like getting 2 GCSEs for the price of 1! If your school blends the two properly, you won’t have to worry about doubling your homework load.

Of course, not all of us can or want to do double the English. If that’s you and you’d rather just focus on one, make it English language. I only recommend this if you’re sure you don’t want to study English in the future, though. If you want to keep your options open for 6th form and uni, do both of them.

Picking Between English Language and Literature for A-Level

If you’re an A-Level student considering an art or humanities subject at uni, a good English A-level grade is a great way to get you into the course of your dreams. English is versatile, so you can pick it if you’re not 100% sure what you want to study yet. Unis love it and it will keep those doors firmly open for you to explore your interests during your time in 6th form.

English is a great subject to take. It helps you to lay the foundation of good analysis, grammar and essay-writing skills. Plus, it complements so many other essay-based and arts subjects like history, geography, drama or government and politics.

In my humble opinion, both are valuable A-level subjects to consider. A lot of people think language is more fun. You get to do a lot more creative writing. You will learn how children develop language skills and how language changes over time. On the other hand, literature is all about reading other people’s work and discussing interpretations. This makes it the more analysis-based of the two, which gives you an edge at uni.

However, as far as universities are concerned, there is usually a winner. They love it when you take literature. It’s what they tend to prefer! That doesn’t mean language has no value, though. You can check out TheUniGuide to see which subject would be a better fit for your goals. There are plenty of reasons why language would be a better fit for you!

Remember that A-level subjects aren’t a one-size-fits-all deal. You need to think about what helps you on your personal path and which one you will do best in. After all, an A in language is much better than a D in literature! Here are some other things to consider.


An A-Level in Literature is Good For…

Pretty much any essay-based subject you could study at university! Literature is usually the more respected of the two A-Levels, so it is a great pick for Oxbridge, Redbrick and Russell Group Universities. In fact, Cambridge’s Trinity College recommends it on its website! According to Cambridge, you should either pick literature on its own or do a single A-level that combines both English language and literature in one course. It doesn’t recommend taking them both separately – not even for a degree in English!

English literature is a great subject that shows off your analysis and essay-writing skills. It also involves a lot of heavy reading, so keep that in mind. The texts on the lit syllabus are going to be a lot more “conventional” than anything you’d study in language. Think of the common classics: Dickens, Shakespeare, the gothic novels. All the good stuff. Thanks to this, lots of traditional unis consider it more prestigious and worthy of praise. They want you to be able to read that Shakespeare English like a boss so that you won’t worry about what they might throw at you next.

Here are some examples of degree subjects that would benefit from an A-Level in literature:

  • English
  • History
  • Law (forget an A-level in law. I recommend English and History)
  • Politics
  • Languages

You can do so much with a lit A-level. So, if you’re in doubt, this is the one I would go for.

An A-Level in Language is Good For…

Lots of things! Language is a great option to consider and you should never just dismiss it. Sure, there are some unis out there that don’t see it as respectable enough, but that doesn’t mean they all feel that way. Plus, it’s not like you’re doing a random subject that has a very limited appeal. It’s still great. There just isn’t enough of a gap between English language and literature to dismiss it.

Lots of unis accept an A-level in lang – especially if you have a great set of subjects to complement it. Don’t let snobbiness get you down if you really want to take lang. It’s not going to stop you from ever going to a good university.

The thing that you need to understand is that unis look at your A-levels as a whole. They don’t pick out one or two and turn their noses up at them. Well, maybe some do. Most, though, look at how your subjects work together and what they say about you as a student. Are your choices challenging? Did they give you the skills that you need for your degree choice? Those are the things they want to know. English language can be a valuable part of the whole picture.

If creative writing is your thing, you’ll get more of it in lang. There aren’t many literature A-Levels out there that do any creative writing at all! Then there’s the fact that you get to focus on grammar, which is great if you’re into foreign languages.

There is also a very close link between English language and media studies. In fact, they’re so linked that many media teachers can teach English, too! So, language might be a great choice for a media studies degree.


Should You Take Both?

The short answer is no. The long answer is: it depends on what you mean when you say “both”.

There are some exam boards that combine both language and literature in one subject. It’s for the people who love both of them! It’s a great option for loads of people out there and is seen as a very respectable choice. If you want to take both lang and lit, this is the way that I would go about it.

When it comes to doing separate A-Levels in each one, though, I wouldn’t recommend it. Remember that your A-Levels aren’t like your GCSEs. You only have so many that you can take! So, you want to show all of the unis out there that you have a range of skills. Your subject choices should complement each other, sure. However, they need to be different enough to show off lots of different assets.

It’s not the end of the world if you take both English language and English literature as separate A-Levels. They’re both very useful subjects in the real world. However, I highly doubt that you will be taking more than 5 subjects in your 6th form or college. So, don’t waste the few time slots you have on ones that are too similar. Take the opportunity to explore different subjects that can teach you new things! Don’t get bogged down on English alone.

Why not try a foreign language like French instead? Or maybe history is more up your alley! There are loads of great choices out there for subjects that can teach you new skills and impress the unis. You have plenty of time to specialise in one thing when you’re doing your degree. Don’t shove yourself into a box too early on!

Happy choosing!

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