There are some ways that you can prepare yourself before you even read a word of the actual paper.  Make sure that you know how long each exam is. What are the requirements of that paper? What will you need to do for each section and how long should you spend on it? Which paper is to be taken on which day? Be sure to prepare for the right one!

Time management is key in exams.  Take your watch off and put it on the table in front of you. Make sure that you don’t get so involved in one section of the paper that you forget to leave enough time to do the rest!


So, now let’s look at the reading exam itself.  Extracting the important information from a text in your target language is a key skill and probably one of those that you will use most in real life – from menus to museum leaflets.  A few key tips could make a significant difference in the way you approach this part of the assessment and also in the score that you receive.

The reading paper presents a range of text types from picture-heavy “adverts” to extracts from works of literature.  One of the first things I would say is that you shouldn’t allow yourself to be intimidated by the literature component – the extracts have been chosen very carefully and the key parts will be using the vocabulary and grammar that you have already been taught.

The main hints that I have for the reading exam are these:

  • When it comes to the reading paper, make sure you read the questions BEFORE you read each text! It may sound odd, but the questions will give you a good idea of what the text is about. Then you can read the text and already have in mind which information is likely to be important.
  • NEVER leave an answer blank. An intelligent guess is more likely to gain marks than a blank, which is guaranteed not to score at all!
  • Watch out for the little words that can make all the difference. Words like “not”, “already”, “never” etc. can change the whole meaning of a sentence and provide the key information for answering the question successfully.
  • Check WHO is doing the action in the sentences. It is not uncommon to find that someone does the action mentioned in the question, but not necessarily the person you might think.  For example, if Jenny is talking about her weekend and says that her brother tidied his room, then tidying the room is NOT an activity that Jenny did!
  • Practise question words and question formation. Some of the tasks may be explained in your target language rather than in English, so do be sure that you can understand what you need to do.
  • Remember to answer the questions in the language in which they are set. So, if the question is written in English then answer in English.  If it is written in your target language, then answer in the target language.
  • Look carefully at the tenses! There will probably be occasions when an activity in the question is mentioned in the text, but in a different time frame.  For example, don’t get confused between what a character did last weekend and what they plan to do next week.
  • Likewise with the section which requires translation into English. The text itself is quite short but it will be full of little details which make all the difference.  Tenses are important again, as are negatives, time phrases and prepositions.  Try to fit in all the little bits of information in order to gain maximum marks.

Try to get as much practise of the reading paper skills as you can.  BBC Bitesize offers a range of resources to help you and there are also revision books that you can get which have the answers in the back so you can check how you are doing.  As with so many things, little and often is key, so start revising soon!


Teri Fleetwood is an experienced language tutor with over 10 years experience of tutoring to the GCSE and A Level curriculum.  For more information please look at the rest of the posts in this blog and also check our Facebook page  If you would like to discuss 1:1 or small group tuition, whether for exam preparation or pleasure, then do get in touch!