Revising for and taking exams in GCSE Modern Languages

by Stephanie
A PGCE qualified tutor, experienced in teaching Modern Languages, and an ex-examiner
Posted April 2024

This post provides tips and ideas for how to approach the revision and exams for GCSE Modern Languages.

Blog Contents

Revision: Modern Language GCSE Exams (Writing Papers)

Practise exam questions.  The following questions are based on those used by the AQA exam board.  When revising, you do not have to do all of these activities, ie: question styles i), ii) and iii), at the same time.  Revise at the pace that works best for you.

i) Find a few photos, from a newspaper, magazine, or your family photos. In the language you are studying, (French, German, or Spanish etc), write four or five short sentences about what you see in each photo.

The descriptions you get marks for, in the exam, are as straightforward as: ‘There are three people;’   ‘They are in the garden.’

ii) Think about these topics: your school day, your home, nearest city, weekend activities, shopping, and the pros and cons of using IT. Make some lists of the vocabulary you need, and write about five sentences per topic (in French etc).

iii) Next, practise writing about your favourite: TV show, sport, hobby, celebration (eg: birthday parties), and a real or imagined holiday.

What job do you want to do, when you leave school?  Practise using vocabulary about this job, even if it is not the job you really want to do.

iv) Look at the examples you wrote, in the language you are learning, and underline the conjunctions you used, (and, or, but, because, etc*).

Per example, per topic, how many conjunctions have you underlined?  How much variety is there?    

If there is not much variety, for example there are a lot of ‘and’s, think about how you can rephrase what you wrote.  For example, replace: ‘I use IT a lot, and it is useful,’ with: ‘I use IT a lot because it is useful.’  Why?  Because you get more marks when you show the examiner that you can use a variety of conjunctions and (particularly in German) sentence structures.

* If you want to make sure what conjunctions are, I recommend you type ‘conjunctions’ into your computer and click on the website’s option. 

These are the conjunctions you will probably use most often, (in the writing paper for French etc): and, or, but, when, because. 

Use your language dictionary to check you know what those words are in French or German etc.  To check how you use these conjunctions, see if you can find examples of them in your marked homework. 

If you are studying German, your homework will probably have examples of when – in the present and past tenses (wenn, als), and because (weil).  These words send the verb to the end of the phrase. 

Practising writing longer sentences, using conjunctions, will help you get ready for the exam.  Then you can get more marks for showing the examiner you can write sentences using more advanced grammar.

v) Look at an example of ten lines of script, in your own writing. Count all the words, and divide that by ten, to calculate your average word count, per line. Repeat with a few other examples, to check  if your average word count varies.

Knowing your average word count, per line, will help you in the exam to check if you are writing answers that are long enough.

Taking Exams: Modern Language GCSE Exams (Writing Papers)

Do not rush!  Read the questions carefully: what is the question, does it have a) or b) options, and does it say how long the answer should be?

Foundation Question 1) For AQA, you write four short sentences, to describe what is in the exam paper’s photo, with at least one verb and one noun per sentence.  You can plan, in advance, that your answer includes:

1) how many people there are;

2) where they are;

3) a description of their location; and

4) an activity that is definitely happening in the photo.

Here is an example, in French:

1) Il y a une femme et deux hommes.  2) Ils sont dans un jardin.  3) Le jardin a beaucoup de fleurs.  4) La femme boit une tasse de thé.  (If you cannot see, in the picture, what is in the cup, you do not lose points for guessing if it is tea or coffee.) 

If you say: ‘J’aime la foto,’ you cannot get marks, because the question is not asking: ‘What do you think about this photo?’  If however you say: ‘J’aime cette foto parceque le jardin a beaucoup de fleurs,’ then you can get marks.  This is because saying ‘le jardin a beaucoup de fleurs’ describes what is in the photo, and that is answering the question.

An example, in German, is like this:

Es gibt zehn Kinder.  Die Kinder tragen eine Schuluniform.  Das Klassenzimmer hat zwei große Fenster.  Die Lehrerin hält ein Buch.

‘Ich mag das Foto’ is not a description, and will not get any marks.  If you say: ‘Ich mag das Foto, weil das Zimmer groß und ordentlich ist,’ you will get marks (as long as your description of the room is accurate – within reason).

Foundation and Higher Tier longer questions. If there is an option of eg: 4.1), or 4.2), answer the one you feel most confident about.  Remember that you do not answer both options.

Per chosen option, answer all of its bullet points, as grammatically correctly as you can.  Try to use different conjunctions and structures (eg: the verb goes to the end of a sentence, or a pronoun goes before the verb), to get more marks.  As long as your grammar is good, and you answer all of the bullet points, (you do not need to write an equal, or even similar, number of words, per point), you can get full marks.

If the exam paper tells you to ‘write about 40 words,’ calculate how many lines long your answer should be.  If your average word count, per line, is 11 words, you would write about four lines. However, if your answer is 15 words, instead of 40, it will get fewer marks, because it is too short.  (It does not need to be exactly 40 words long.)

You will not lose marks if you write more than 40 words, but you do not get extra marks for writing long answers, or for comments that are ‘off topic.’  Instead of writing longer answers, give yourself time to check them, for relevancy, accuracy, and a variety of conjunctions.

Check your verb endings, eg (French): elle a, not elle as.  Did you use any adjectives?  Do they have the right endings to match gender and number (and, in German, check if the adjectives are the subject or object of the sentence).  Check too that the nouns are spelled correctly.

One final check: your name/candidate number etc is on your answer booklet and any extra pages you used.