Updated: Jun 19
With GCSEs now in full flow, here are some practical tips to help you really smash your Italian exams!
Remember that if you’re lucky enough to be studying GCSE Italian and are also studying (or have ever studied) another foreign language, you’re already set up to succeed with top marks - as many of the skills you develop in one language will transfer seamlessly to another! So, in today’s blog, we need to really try and nail all four skill areas (listening, speaking, reading and writing) as they’re each worth 25% of your overall mark.
The Listening Test for Italian GCSE: how to bag top marks
For some students, the listening test can be the most daunting part of the GCSE and this is completely understandable. Perhaps because you’re having to listen, process information and write down your answers all at the same time and under time pressure. Add in the fact that you can’t interact with the speaker or get any cues from their facial expression or body language and you can see why this isn’t the easiest part of the exam to master. But there’s plenty you can do to help yourself!
Here are three key tips for best marks: firstly, remember to use any reading time wisely so that you can anticipate what you might hear in the audio. Secondly, read the questions carefully as they will contain hints on what to listen out for. And thirdly, scribble some key notes as you listen to the recordings. 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
Speaking a foreign language can also be a challenge, especially for those of us who are less outgoing or worry about sounding daft or making mistakes! And everyone will experience exam nerves to some extent. Try and remember that the examiners are looking for you to speak confidently and coherently. They want to reward natural, spontaneous language with variety in vocab and grammatical structures.
So, let’s focus on how to excel! First of all, remember that if you don’t understand what you’ve been asked, it’s perfectly fine to ask the examiner to repeat the question, or explain it in a different way (and they’ll try to help you by doing this!). Non ho capito, potrebbe ripetere, or if that’s too much of a mouthful, potrebbe ripetere will do the trick!
Make sure you include a range of verb tenses in your answers, so consider making a list of useful phrases … mi sono divertito/a tanto …mi sono annoiato/a … vorrei/mi piacerebbe etc and committing them to memory. The weather is an ideal opportunity to include the imperfect tense. Who can’t think of an occasion when you can’t weave in faceva bel tempo, il sole splendeva, tirava il vento, or è piovuto continuamente?
Aiming to replicate a native speaker’s pronunciation and intonation will help you reach top marks. People often say that Italians sound excitable when they’re speaking so try to emulate that and really exaggerate (to your ear) the musicality of the language when you’re practising for your speaking test. Consider recording yourself and listen back to the recording – does that sound like an Italian? If not, emphasise your accent and intonation even more until you could pass for a native speaker!
The Reading Test
This part of the GCSE is generally considered the easiest skill to master so let’s aim for full marks here!
Careful time management and keeping an eye on the mark scheme are key. Start by reading through all the questions relating to a text before you write anything as this will give you some context. Next, give answers which reflect the number of marks available and, finally, make sure that you allow enough time to scoop up maximum marks for the more valuable questions!
Practice skim reading and scanning text and remember that you’re not expected to understand all the vocab in the paper. Don’t waste time labouring over individual phrases or words; try and understand the gist and move on. You can always revisit later if you have time!
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 GCSE Italian, this truly is your opportunity to shine so take the time to plan and construct the perfect answers. It’s easy to forget things in the pressure of an exam so write yourself a little list of the elements needed to hit those top marks and the standout phrases that you’ve worked so hard to acquire. Remember that the examiners are just waiting to award marks for complex structures and inspiring vocabulary so try and avoid the mundane. Instead of grande, would enorme work? Instead of interessante, divertente or affascinante? Include a range of tenses (here come past, present and future again!) and if you can weave in a si dice che, a conditional or a subjunctive, so much the better!
Finally, on the day of your exam, try and warm up your Italian brain. Listen to a podcast or an audio book, play on an app or read something online - it’ll all help to get you into Italian mode! Enjoy yourself and In bocca al lupo!!
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!