Unseen Text: How to Analyse a Poem for GCSE English Literature


  1. How to analyse a poem in an exam for GCSE?
  2. How to write a great poem analysis for GCSE English?
  3. Quality vs quantity
  4. What if I don’t understand how to analyse some parts of the GCSE poem?


Your GCSE English Literature exam is coming up and you might be wondering, “How can I effectively analyse an unseen poem in exam conditions?” 

Not knowing what you might be asked in an exam is one of the scariest parts. We’re here to give you a clear, and easy to use guide that you can apply to any unseen text for GCSE.

First of all, you need to be prepared to practice GCSE poem analysis so that your first time, under exam conditions is not on the day of the exam. 

Turning over the exam paper and faced with the unseen text, your first reaction might be to panic! Practice can help minimise the panic so that your first reaction is “I know what I need to do.”school_test_exam

How to analyse a poem in an exam for GCSE?


  1. Read the poem all the way through, beginning to end. Resist the temptation to write anything on the poem itself. Right now you are trying to focus your mind, and absorb some of what you are reading.
  2. Read the poem a second time. This time, you can make some marks to highlight any techniques that are really jumping out at you. You can read stanzas again if you wish, by the end of the second reading, you should feel that you have got a handle on the poem and what it’s about.
  3. Let’s read it again- yes, a third time! Now we are going slowly stanza by stanza. You need to mark every technique that you come across. Move on to the next stanza only when the previous one is sufficiently covered in annotations and you can’t identify any more techniques.
  4. After you’ve identified all of the techniques, we need to go back to looking at the poem as a whole. Let’s consider the effect of those techniques and how they influence your poem interpretation.
    To understand the effect, we can ask ourselves questions like:
  • Why did the author use that word/image?
  • How does this poem make me feel? 
  • How does the poem make me feel that feeling? (yes lots of feelings are discussed in literature!)
  • How does the poem look on the page? 
  • Is it one block of text or broken up into stanzas?
  • Are the lines uniform or a bit erratic?

Jot down your answers around the poem itself, this will help to formulate a plan to write your analysis in a clear and effective way to get top marks.


How to write a great poem analysis for GCSE English?


So let’s recap, we’ve read the poem at least three times, we’ve covered the poem in annotations identifying all those techniques, we’ve looked at the poem as a whole and asked ourselves ‘Why’ and ‘How’ the author has written the poem in that way. So let’s get it down neatly on the page. 

Follow this acronym: P E E D

Yes, you need to PEED in every paragraph of your analysis to analyse a poem for GCSE. So what does PEED mean?

  • P-Point
  • E-Evidence
  • E-Explain
  • D-Develop (Link your point to the effectiveness of the poem as a whole)

How does this work in practice? Let’s take a look at this version of our poem analysis example to see.

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Let’s pretend that this is one stanza from a poem in a GCSE English literature exam that we will now analyse using PEED.

  • P- Point: AABB rhyming scheme
  • E- Evidence: ‘all’ rhymes with ‘school’. ‘Wow’ rhymes with ‘now’
  • E-Explain: It is a simple and straightforward rhyming scheme, reflecting the upbeat message of the poem.
  • D-Develop: AABB rhyming scheme is a satisfying and predictable pattern that allows the reader to focus on the positive mood of the poem overall.

Now we’ve planned one great paragraph using PEED, which we just need to rewrite formally (without writing PEED in the analysis itself!)

We strongly suggest planning out all of your points using PEED before you start writing.

Planning ahead of time will ensure that you do not get mid-way through your written analysis and realise that you’ve run out of things to write about or that your analysis is too repetitive. You should try to cover a variety of strategies to show all of your knowledge of poetry techniques.

To ensure that you get the balance of time right between planning and writing, you must practice analysing unseen poems for GCSE under timed exam conditions beforehand.


Quality vs quantity


GCSE poems for critical analysis are thought out ahead of time by exam boards. They’ll consider carefully a good poem to analyse for the exam paper. If you’ve studied all of the poetry techniques and have them memorised, there will likely be too much in the unseen text to write about within the time provided. So this is where you should focus on quality over quantity. 

For example, it’s better to write out four pages of very thoroughly explained ‘PEED’ points, than eight pages of points that are rushed, without much evidence or explanation. 

While you are planning your essay you can number your points. This ensures that your answer will include a good variety of points covering different techniques. Plus you can plan your essay to start and ends on strong points.


What if I don’t understand how to analyse some parts of the GCSE poem? 


Be sure to recognise and accept that, there may be some things about the poem that you don’t understand- that’s ok! Move on, focus on the elements of the poem that you do understand.

As we know, a great poem interpretation is about quality, not quantity. There will not be the time in the exam to write about absolutely everything, even if you did understand it all!