Updated: Aug 5, 2021
Our resident French expert reveals some strategies for acing your French Speaking exam!
How to ace the GCSE French Oral
Exam season is drawing near, and for many of you it will kick off with a Speaking exam. I’ve always found Speaking exams particularly daunting, and I can understand the added stress of having to be tested on a foreign language.
However, the key word is preparation — if you have worked on your language skills throughout the year there’s no reason why it shouldn’t go well. In addition, the exam follows a very specific pattern, so knowing what to expect will also mean you’re in a position to score top marks. If you are not sitting the exam yourself but you are a parent or sibling trying to understand what is going on with “photocards” and “roleplays” are, read on!
In order to be specific and give practical advice, I’ve decided to focus on one exam board, AQA, which is very often used in MFL departments, and I’ll also focus on French. However, there are obviously similarities for the Speaking exam across exam boards and languages.
The format of the test is the same for each tier and consists of three parts, which must be conducted in this order. The student is given the role-play card and the photo card at the beginning of the exam, and then has 12 minutes to make notes and prepare for the speaking exam.
Part 1 – Role-play (15 marks)
The role-play is likely to start like this: “Your teacher will play the part of your French friend and will speak first. You should address your friend as tu”.
My first tip would be to play along: I know it’s tricky as it is difficult to try and pretend you are chatting with a French friend about your favourite type of music or your hobbies when you are clearly in exam conditions, but try and get in character and focus on communicating your ideas in French in the best possible way.
Also remember that the teacher is here to give you an opportunity to showcase your skills, not to trick you, so there’s no reason to be shy and intimidated (so trust them when they say “je suis ton ami(e)” at the beginning of the exam!)
The role-play card itself will look like this:
« Tu parles avec ton ami(e) français(e) de la musique et des loisirs.
• Concert hier – avec qui.
• Une soirée typique (deux activités).
• Musique – ta préférence et une raison.
• ? Goûts musicaux. »
When preparing, pay particular attention to the sections in bold, which are instructions about what is expected of you:
! means you will have to respond to something you have not prepared. In this example, the teacher will ask: “Pourquoi aimes-tu aller aux concerts?”.
When there is a number in bold, make sure you take it into account: in this case, you will not get full marks if you only give one activity out of the two that are expected in point 4.
? means that you will have to ask a question: in this case, it would probably be something like “Et toi, tu écoutes quelle sorte de musique?”
One thing to remember is that it is always the teacher who starts the conversation and they will guide you through it, so listen carefully and refer back to the bullet points. If you do not understand a question, it’s totally fine to ask the teacher to repeat — in French, say “pardon, peux-tu répéter s’il-te-plaît?” for instance. You will NOT lose mark for asking for clarification, so do feel free to use the opportunity to double check you understood the question.
There will be only one role-play, and it will last approximately two minutes in total.
Part 2 – Photo card (15 marks)
The exam then moves on to the photo card. Once again, the material is given to you at the beginning of the preparation period: you are given a picture and three questions.
Here is an example:
· Qu’est-ce qu’il y a sur la photo ?
· Tu préfères aller en vacances avec ta famille ou tes amis ? ... Pourquoi ?
· Où es-tu allé(e) en vacances l’année dernière ?
The picture will be related to one of the themes you covered throughout the year: technology in everyday life, social issues etc. In advance of the exam, make sure that you have learnt the relevant vocab and try and practise speaking about the topic as much as you can. Once again, preparation is key! If you look at the questions themselves in this example, you’ll realise than they’re not so much about the picture itself, but rather about the theme of “travel and tourism” in general. This is good news as it means that you can really prepare in advance: work on past papers and use your favourite revision techniques to make sure you minimise the unknown element in the exam.
Finally, the teacher will then ask two questions that you haven’t had a chance to prepare, but they will be on a similar theme. Again, feel free to ask for clarification and try and develop your answers as much as possible. In the example I chose, the questions were:
• Comment seraient tes vacances idéales ?
• Selon toi, est-ce que les vacances sont importantes ? ...Pourquoi/pourquoi pas ?
My advice to answer these questions, especially if you’re not confident speaking French, would be to go step by step: try and answer the question in a simple and direct way first (for example “Mes vacances idéales seraient à la montagne”). This means you score marks straight away, and will give you a confidence boost! But do not stop there: expand as much as you can step by step by giving examples or justifying your answer (“J’aime beaucoup faire du ski” etc.) to score higher marks.
The conversation will last a maximum of two minutes for Foundation Tier candidates and three minutes for Higher Tier candidates.
Part 3 – General conversation (30 marks)
Almost there — there is only one task left, the general conversation. It will be on the two themes not covered in the photo card. In our example, the photo card covered “Theme 2: Local, national, international and global areas of interest”, so the conversation will be on “Theme 1: Identity and culture” and “Theme 3: Current and future study and employment”. You will decide which one you want to start with and this conversation will last between 3 and 5 minutes at Foundation and 5 and 7 minutes at Higher. A similar amount of time must be spent on each theme. You are expected to discuss several aspects of the theme as a whole, so the conversation will indeed stay quite general. Examples of questions could be: “Quels sont les avantages d’une famille nombreuse ?”, “Que fais-tu normalement avec ta famille le week-end ?” (in Theme 1)
It is worth noting that you’re expected to ask the teacher at least one question during the General Conversation. This can happen at any time during this section of the test. If, towards the end of the General Conversation, you haven’t asked any questions, the teacher will prompt this by asking you in French, “Is there anything you want to ask me?”. Don’t be shy, and if you are worried about not being able to come up with questions, make sure to prepare a couple that could work in several contexts — “Et toi, que penses-tu de …?” for instance. If you’re running it out of ideas, you could even just use “et toi?” at the end of a statement to turn it into a question!
At the risk of sounding repetitive, once again the key to success in this part of the test is preparation and practice: the more you speak throughout the year, the least daunting it will be on the day of the exam. Also remember that the test will cover themes you have worked on throughout the year, so the exam is also a chance to prove that hard work pays off!
The next post in this series deals with the GCSE French Listening Exam — see you there.
Blog Post Crafted by Adeline
Adeline manages the staff on our Admin Team, liaising with tutors, clients and applicants. She is responsible for processing the ID, Qualifications, DBS Check and References for all our newly joining tutors, as well as taking tuition enquiries, matching tutors to clients, and supporting tutors and clients throughout the process of tuition.