Updated: Jun 19
GCSE French is a compulsory subject for many and an optional subject for some, so whether you’re a gifted linguist who relishes the opportunity to chatter away in a foreign language or a reluctant learner who’d rather the earth swallow them up, we have lots of great tips to help you perform at your best on exam day and bag those top marks!
We know that many factors can influence how easily and successfully anyone is likely to learn a foreign language. Motivation is a big one, but personality, memory skills, the ability to recognise patterns and even the ability to distinguish sounds are relevant too. Wherever you fit on that spectrum, remember that everyone can succeed and there’s plenty you can do to help yourself.
Let’s take a look at the four key skill areas and consider how to excel at them all! Each one is worth an equal 25% of your overall mark so it’s important that you try and nail each of them!
The Listening Test
For some students, the listening test can be particularly daunting and this is completely understandable. You’re being asked to listen, process information and write down your answers all at the same time and under time pressure. You can’t see the speaker or glean any cues from their gestures or facial expression. But there’s plenty you can do to help yourself!
Firstly, use any reading time wisely so that you can anticipate what you might hear in the audio. Read the questions carefully as they will contain plenty of hints on what to listen out for. Scribble down key information as you listen to the recordings. And don’t forget that you’ll receive marks for communicating the correct information even if there are errors in the language you use so don’t worry too much if you can’t remember a word perfectly. Just make sure you write something down that conveys the information you want to share!
The Speaking Test
Perhaps you feel self-conscious when you speak a foreign language, or anxious about making a mistake? If that’s the case, you’re certainly not alone. Try and calm your nerves by thinking about what you already know and the time you’ve already invested in your revision as this will help you feel more confident. Once the test starts, make the most of your preparation time, remember that communication is key and have a plan for how to improvise if you get stuck. Perhaps you can use a simpler form of grammar (eg "je dois partir" instead of "il faut que je m'en aille") or paraphrase a word ("Elle n'est pas mariée" instead of "Elle est célibataire"). And don’t be afraid to ask the examiner for help if you don’t understand something they have said - "Comment s'appelle ….?” or "Ça s'écrit comment ?" You’ll still be rewarded for maintaining communication!
The Reading Test
In GCSE French, many students find this skill the easiest to master - so why not boost your grade by aiming for full marks? Careful time management and keeping an eye on the mark scheme will be critical. The questions will contain lots of clues so start by reading through everything relating to a particular text before you begin writing. Next, make sure your answers reflect enough information to gain all the marks available and, finally, allow yourself sufficient time to scoop up maximum marks for the more valuable questions!
Remember that you won’t be expected to understand all the vocab in the paper so don’t waste time labouring over individual phrases or words. If you get stuck, just try to understand the gist and move on. Practise skim reading and scanning so that you don’t get bogged down in the longer texts. And as before, don’t worry if your grammar isn’t perfect. Make sure you have a go at every question and take an educated guess if you need to!
The Writing Test
In your GCSE French Writing Test, you should ensure you take a moment to plan and construct the perfect answers. What do you need to include to hit top marks? Clear communication, expression of opinions (“à mon avis”, “bien entendu”, “ça depend”) and high levels of accuracy are a given but the examiners are also keen to reward the use of more complex grammatical structures and vocabulary. Consider writing yourself a little list of your killer punches so that you don’t forget any in the heat of the moment and jot down any supercharged verbs or phrases that you tend to forget. And if you can weave in some pronouns (“y” or “en”, for example), a conditional or a subjunctive, so much the better!
And finally …. just as you would include a warm-up or stretches before sport, it’s a great idea to do the same with a foreign language so that you’re really “up and running” when your test starts. Find something fun and relaxing to watch or listen to online – BBC Bitesize is definitely worth a click!
Above all, enjoy yourself and bonne chance pour ton examen!
Blog Post Crafted by Sue
Sue co-manages our Admin Team, and has a strong school teaching background.
Sue graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Italian and Latin from the University of Hull and subsequently completed an MA in Language Teaching while teaching at Westholme Upper School in Lancashire (where she also set up the Italian Department). As well as her passion for languages and ancient history, Sue loves discovering new countries and cultures. She completed the London Marathon in 2012 and keeps intending to lace up her running shoes again!