How to revise for language exams

French, German and other languages on blackboard
The key to success in your GCSE and A level language exams is to space out your vocabulary learning and to test your listening and speaking skills in your revision.

French, Spanish, German and other GCSE and A level language exams involve reading, listening and speaking exams. To help you effectively tackle your revision for these exams, we’ve split up our best tips for each exam.

Getting started with your foreign languages revision (French, German, Spanish etc)

Before you begin your revision, you should print off your exam board specification to make sure you know all the contexts and topics that could come up in your language exam, such as leisure or holidays. This allows you to tailor your vocabulary to the specification when you are looking for new words to learn. If you mind-map or list these ideas, you can get an idea of what you need to learn and what could come up in the exam.

Compile your class notes and exercises and start off by making an essential vocabulary list (this list can also be used for speaking and listening revision) for each topic. Include phrases as well as individual words, especially opinion phrases such as ‘I think that’ or ‘I want to’ as including these in your exam answers can give you more marks.

Also make a cheat sheet with any important grammar and punctuation rules and past, present and future tense hints. You can refer to this cheat sheet when you’re practising your speaking skills.

Preparing for your foreign language reading exam

To prepare for your foreign language reading exam, you should make sure you revise and practise your vocabulary. There are a host of useful websites and resources you can use to test yourself on your vocabulary. You should use your vocab lists and resources such as flashcards and apps with interactive games and exercises. You can read our list of revision resources to find links to the best language websites and apps to help you.

You should practise your vocabulary for short bursts of revision over several days or weeks in-between other tasks and revision for different subjects to help you remember the new words and phrases. This is more effective than spending a whole afternoon focusing on French, for example. Try to read and translate as much of the language as you can before your exam.

You should also try to do past papers. These can help you practise your timings in the exam. They will also give you a good idea of the types of reading you will get and should be practising as a part of your revision.

Preparing for your foreign language speaking exam

Revision for your speaking exam will involve learning (and practice pronouncing) key phrases. You can make a tentative list of questions based on your syllabus that you could be asked in the exam and create model answers to these questions. You won’t have to try to memorise long paragraph answers to your made-up questions, but getting into the habit of understanding how to construct more detailed sentences and including more than one tense is very helpful.

Get your friends, parents or siblings to test you on your speaking skills by asking you the questions. Getting used to constructing sentences in response to questions will help you improve the complexity of your sentences and this helps you get the highest marks in the exam.

Remember to say what you liked/disliked about a particular topic and include why this was case – for instance if you disliked your holiday to Spain last summer was it because the weather was too hot? Giving and justifying opinions helps boost your grade; for instance the OCR French A level mark scheme gives the highest grades to answers which include ‘well-chosen relevant information to develop a range of ideas and to justify points of view’, but different points of view are also important at GCSE.

It is also a good idea to learn and use your foreign language’s hesitations rather than ‘umm’ during the exam. These can make your responses seem more natural, while also giving you more time to answer the questions. It can also be helpful if you learn a few key phrases that you can say without pausing too much to help with the flow and natural sound of your speech. Both of these tips can help you sound confident, and this is one of the marking criteria in the exam: the top marks for communication in the AQA GCSE French mark scheme are for ‘information, ideas and points of view that are presented and explained with confidence’.

Practising for your speaking exam with friends and family can help to calm your nerves when you get into the real exam so you can perform better!

Preparing for your foreign language listening exam

Listening exams are structured differently than the reading and writing exams. For instance, during the AQA French GCSE foundation and higher tier listening exams, you will get to listen to the recording twice and you will also get the chance to read the questions on the paper for five minutes before the recording starts. By practising your listening skills beforehand, you will be well prepared for the exam.

There are great online video and listening resources that you can use to practise listening to native speakers at your fluency level. Try to listen out for similar sounding words and practise trying to distinguish between them, for instance ‘ship’ and ‘sheep’ in English.

In your language exams, your translation does not have to be perfect. The mark scheme gives the marker guidance on the accepted answers. For instance the GCSE OCR German mark scheme in this example allows a range of answers for being near to the shopping centre: ‘(near / close to / next to / in) shopping centre(s) / mall’ rather than only allowing one specific set of words.

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