GCSE Macbeth Revision

In this guide we’ve taken all of the advice from our expert English teachers and collated the top 5 revision hacks to ensure you ace your GCSE English literature exam question on Macbeth. This guide is focused specifically on the AQA exam, but is still useful for students working with other exam boards. Macbeth is one of the most famous of Shakespeare’s plays and one of most studied plays by GCSE English students. If you’re reading this guide then you are probably one of those students (you lucky thing!). Whether you love Shakespeare, or can’t wait for the exams to be over, this guide – and our revision materials linked throughout – will provide you with shortcuts to success in the exams. 

Your mantra should be to revise efficiently and effectively, rather than wasting hours doing the wrong sort of revision. Don’t worry about endlessly re-reading the play, just work hard and follow the simple steps below and all of a sudden your marks will shoot up. So if you’ve got “vaulting ambition” to do well in your exams then let your marks “o’erleap” themselves with our help and read on.  

Macbeth revision for GCSE
William Shakespeare

1) Learn the plot 

Make sure you are confident with what happens in each Act of the play. You should be able to summarise all of the key parts of the narrative and put them into your own words. To do this, ensure you’ve read the play a couple of times (yes, all the way through!) and use a good summary of the plot – from somewhere like BBC Bitesize or the Royal Shakespeare Company – to make your own plot summary that you an refer back to. 

Keep coming back to your plot summary as you start to go through the rest of your revision. You’ll be an expert in no time at all. 

2) Focus on the characters

Your exam question could be focused on how Shakespeare presents aspects of one of the characters, so you need to be clear on the key traits of the main characters and the important quotes which back these up. Obviously Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are the most crucial characters, but you should know your stuff on others as well: 

  • Macbeth
  • Lady Macbeth
  • Banquo
  • Duncan
  • The Witches 
  • Macduff
  • Malcolm

Take a look at our revision guide on characters for everything you need to know, including key quotations. Then fill in our characters worksheet to make sure you’ve come up with your own ideas to use in the exam. Once you’re feeling confident try some of the practice exam questions from AQA.  

3) Focus on the themes

If your exam question is not focused on a character then it will be on a theme from Macbeth. Again, you need to be familiar with: the key themes; how Shakespeare presents and develops them; and the main quotations for each theme. In the exam they might be worded slightly differently, but in general the main themes in Macbeth are: 

  • Ambition
  • The supernatural
  • Guilt
  • Order vs disorder
  • Power – Kingship vs Tyranny

Use our Macbeth Themes Revision Guide to get up to speed on everything you need to know about the themes in Macbeth. Then complete our themes worksheet as well to develop your own ideas.

4) Remember the right quotations 

Be smart with learning quotations. You don’t want to be the student who tries to memorise whole sections of the text because it will take up a lot of your time, it won’t lead to good marks and basically you just don’t need to. Instead, be smart. Learn the key quotations from our characters and themes revision guides (you can find them on our resources page and linked above). You will notice that a lot of the quotations can cover multiple themes and characters. This means you simply need to focus on learning these important quotations. You can then be confident that the quotations you’ve memorised will allow you to answer any question the examiner might throw at you. 

5) Practice lots of exam questions and mark your own work

As with all exams, the most important element of your revision is practicing a lot of exam style questions. We’ve linked to AQA’s past and specimen papers above. Try all of the questions available and mark your own work using the mark schemes provided. You can then see what the examiner is looking for and get a really good idea of where you can improve your essay answers. After you’ve marked a question, take a break and then try writing an even better answer based on what you’ve learnt from the mark scheme.

If you would like any further help with your GCSE English Literature revision then please do get in touch to see how one of our expert English tutors can help you. 

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