Do you have a GCSE language exam coming up? In this post, we cover everything you need to know about revising for your GCSE Modern Foreign Language exam. We look at the exam format, and each of the four assessed areas. We provide our top tips for preparing for each section of the exam.
If you’re taking a foreign language at GCSE and the impending revision is leaving you panicked, then look no further than this post. We have compiled our top foreign language revision tips to help you structure your studying.
Before you embark on a revision plan however, you’ll need to be aware of what your language exams entail, and what topics you’ll need to cover. Once you know what to expect, you can focus on how best to revise – hint: planning is key. A planned study schedule doesn’t need to be complicated, but it should outline what you’ll be studying and when. A study schedule can be anything from a wall calendar to an Excel spreadsheet. Either way, it’s an indispensable part of your GCSE revision.
The Foreign Language GCSE Format
As outlined on the AQA website, foreign language GCSEs consist of four different elements, which are:
Paper 1: Listening – For the Foundation level paper, this is a 35-minute exam with a maximum of 40 marks. At Higher level, the exam is 45-minutes long, and awards 50 marks. The first section contains questions in English, with answers to be given in English as well. The second part asks questions in the target language, which have to be answered in the target language as well. The listening exam contributes to 25% of your overall grade.
Paper 2: Speaking – Unlike the other elements of your language exam, the speaking part will not take place in an exam hall, and will usually be taken with your language teacher. At Foundation level, the test lasts 7-9 minutes, whereas for the Higher level exam, it will be between 0-12 minutes. There will be a role play or photo card and conversation section to the exam. There is a total of 60 marks available, and the test accounts for 25% of your overall grade.
Paper 3: Reading – This is a written exam that lasts 45 minutes at Foundation level, and 1 hour at Higher level. The first section of the test will ask question in English, which are to be answered in English too. The second section asks questions in the target language, which need to be answered in the target language, and the third section will be a translation from the target language to English. There are a total 60 marks available, which contribute to 25% of your overall grade.
Paper 4: Writing – The written exam for a language GCSE lasts for one 1 hour at Foundation level and 1 hour 15 minutes at Higher level. There are 4 questions in the paper at both levels, covering a variety of topics. There is a total of 50 marks available at Foundation level, and 60 marks at Higher level.
Language GCSE Listening Paper Advice
The best resources for language listening revision are past papers and related audio recordings, which you can find and download on the AQA website.
Before you listen to the recording, read the question on the past paper and think about the topic it covers. What words or phrases could come up? What is some related vocabulary that you know? If you already have some idea of what could come up, you are more likely to pick up on those words or phrases in the recording.
The trickiest part of the audio usually involves numbers, so listen very carefully as they are easy to get wrong. You’ll have two chances to listen to the recording in the exam, so use the second hearing to clear up any words or phrases you may be hesitant about.
With the practice papers, you’ll also be able to access the audio transcript. Once you’ve listened to the recording and decided upon your answers, listen to the recording again with the transcript, noting anything you may have missed.
Other great ways to hone your listening skills are to listen to the radio in the target language, so that you get an ear for it. You could also listen to podcasts, or use website such as News In Slow French, which is geared towards intermediate language learners.
Language GCSE Speaking Exam Practice
There are two parts to the speaking exam – a roleplay or presentation based on a photo card, and a conversational section based on the topic areas you presented upon in the first section.
One of the best ways to practice for the presentation section is to have a look at the past papers on the AQA website, to get a feel for the photocards or roleplays that are in the exam. It’s also useful to have several presentations written out and practiced, which cover different topic areas. Making topic-specific vocabulary lists is also useful, as you will be prepared no matter which topic areas arise on the day.
Practising your presentations with another person, even if they don’t speak the language, is very useful. It will help to improve your confidence, and you can work on your pronunciation and accent. You could also record your presentation to help you pick up on any pronunciations that may need work.
Language GCSE Reading Exam Practice
The first section of the reading exam requires you to answer in English, whilst the second part will ask you to answer questions in the target language. For both sections, it’s crucial that you read through the comprehension text carefully, and ideally more than once, before answering the questions. This will give you the topical context needed to respond to the questions.
Revision for the reading exam requires a lot of grammar practice, especially tenses. It’s important that you’re able to identify the past, present and future tenses. You should also be familiar with all question types, such as what, why and when questions.
Past papers are a great way of revising for the reading paper, as they will familiarise you with the words and phrases used for different topics. Other forms of reading practice include reading language blogs or newspapers and blogs in your target language.
Language GCSE Writing Practice
The writing component of a language GCSE will involve two tasks. The first will ask you to write about a topic related to a reading passage, whilst the second will require you to choose a task from 3 separate options, each with a unique style - discursive, narrative, descriptive, etc.
In both sections of the exam, you’ll need to employ different tenses, sentence structures and demonstrate that you have a wide vocabulary. Accurate grammar use is also essential to gain good marks.
Besides grammar and vocabulary revision, practicing the two separate tasks and having someone check them is the best revision you can do. You can use the past paper questions to familiarise yourself with the style of writing required for each task. Be sure to ask your language tutor to check your approach, so you can identify any areas that you may need to improve on.
How to Improve Language GCSE Vocabulary
When it comes to improving vocabulary for a language GCSE, the more words you know, the better. It’s important that you place emphasis on learning vocabulary from an early stage, making lists of important words and phrases. Every time you learn a new word, add it to your list or vocabulary book, and also try to make topic specific vocabulary lists.
In order to expand your vocabulary, be sure to read target language texts that are written in different styles, again noting down any words or phrases that could prove useful.
When it comes to revising, use the lists to go over the words and get someone to test you. If, however, you are more of a visual learner, you could try sticking post-it notes of useful words and phrases around your workspace or house (if your parents allow!).
Practice with Language GCSE Past Papers
Whilst it is important to be familiar with the content of an exam, mastering exam technique is also key to success. Using past papers as a revision tool is a great way to get to know the layout of each paper, as well as the types of questions you could be asked.
Past papers are also useful as they can help you identify any weak areas in the languages you are learning, and show you where you need to improve. You’ll also be able to monitor your progress by checking your past paper answers against the provided marking schemes.
As your language exam gets closer, try to complete your practice papers under exam conditions, i.e. timed and with no additional resources, as this will improve your time management skills. This will also help to show you where you are spending the most time on the papers, and help you to get quicker at answering the questions.
Past papers for all language GCSEs can be downloaded directly from the AQA website.
For more advice on revising for GCSE Language exams, check out this useful YouTube video from Revision With Eve:
Please note that these revision tips should not be used as a substitute for advice given by your school and the AQA website