Revising?  Get a schedule!

Revising? Get a schedule!

The GCSE and A Level exams are now approaching at a gallop.  It really is time to knuckle down and get a revision schedule sorted out so that you make sure you spend enough time on each subject and have a chance to look at all aspects of the curriculum.

Here are a few helpful tips to help you stay on the right path:

#1  Don’t revise for an exam within half a day of taking it.  Exam in the morning? Stop revising for it at lunchtime the day before.  Exam in the afternoon? Don’t revise for it that day. 

Revising at the last minute just leads to a lack of confidence as you convince yourself that you don’t know anything and will never get a good grade.  If you don’t know your stuff that close to the exam then spending the remaining hours cramming really won’t help!

#2  Little and often is key.  It can be really tempting to leave the final exams until much nearer the date.  However, after 4-5 weeks of exams you will be suffering from revision fatigue and you really won’t want to spend hours each day revising for the last one or two.  Besides, we can’t focus well for hours on end so that kind of revision is less effective anyway.  Schedule in a few revision sessions for those last exams earlier in the month so that you can keep things ticking over nicely.

#3  Take a break every 45 minutes or so.  There is a good reason why school lessons last 35-45 minutes – we cannot focus intensively for much longer than that.  Work hard and focus well for 45-50 minutes, then take a short break.  Not three hours of social media, but 5-10 minutes to walk around the house or garden, get a drink or something to eat, and stretch.  Then sit down for another session. 

#4  Vary your revision techniques. Reading and re-reading the same page again and again only works for a very small minority of people.  Try drawing mind-maps, thinking of acronyms to help you remember key info, summarising and re-summarising to get to the key points.  Get busy with the highlighter pens, add stickers to mark the important bits, see what works best for you. 

#5  Why not test yourself?  At the beginning of a topic, write yourself a quiz covering 5-10 key pieces of information.  When you think you have finished with that topic, try the quiz and see if you can remember the answers without looking in your notes.

#6  Tackle one or two past papers to check your timings.  Time management is an important exam technique as it is vital to leave enough time to tackle all of the questions on the paper.  Your teacher may give you some past papers, or you can usually find some on the website for the relevant exam board. 

#7  Successful multi-tasking is a bit of a myth.  If you are watching TV, listening to music, checking social media AND revising, then you aren’t concentrating properly on any of them.  Book time in your schedule to check email or messaging apps, tell your friends you are going off-line for a while, and allow yourself to really focus.

#8  Remember to leave some downtime in your revision schedule.  Not days or a whole weekend, but careful slots to allow you to exercise, meet friends, go to that party.

#9  Eat well.  Lots of fruit and veg, of course, but also proper good quality protein and carbs.  Yes to home-cooked stir fry, stew, bolognaise etc. Proceed with caution when it comes to doughnuts, chocolate and fast food.

#10  Sleep properly.  Although it can be tempting to revise late into the night you have to balance the likelihood of retaining something important read at midnight, with the probability of impaired thinking if you have been up that late!

Exam Tips – The Writing Exam

Exam Tips – The Writing Exam

Until this year (2018) the writing element of the GCSE language exams was essentially a memory test in the guise of a Controlled Assessment.  Students had a certain number of hours to prepare their answers in class time. Then the teacher would look at the answer and give some guidance, after which the student would take the text home and attempt to learn it by heart.  Finally, they would then try to regurgitate the text in a fixed period of time, under the supervision of their own teacher.  Being polite about it, this did not actually teach many people much about how to use the language they were learning.  It often benefitted those who were good at learning a script rather than showing who understood the language they were being tested on.  There was also quite a lot of scope for “confusion” about how much guidance a teacher could give.

Given these considerations, it perhaps unsurprising that the Government has returned to a “final exam” style of assessment.  However, there are a couple of points which are causing some stress to students (and their teachers!). The first of these is the return of the translation test.  At Foundation Level this is a number of short sentences to be translated individually.  Higher Level Candidates have a short paragraph written in English, to be translated into the target language.  “Return?” I hear you say, questioningly.  Yes – the return.  I am certainly showing my age but I remember this section from my own GCSE language exams.  Translation is a key element of being able to use a language – after all, most learners at this level are essentially translating everything in their heads anyway before they dare to say it in the target language – so why be daunted?

In addition, students are asked to write a range of different types of language in the same time period (i.e. during the exam).  You may, for example, be asked to write an article for a school newspaper, or it may be a letter (formal or informal).  Make sure you know how to set out each different type of writing, and remember to include your town, the date, a greeting and a closing if it is a letter!

Enough then about the differences between this new curriculum and the old one – how to score maximum marks is what is of most interest to us. One key point is to answer the correct number of questions!  For some questions you will have a choice of which question to answer.  Don’t try to answer them all as you will run out of time, and some of your answers will be ignored.  Try to pick the question for which you have the most ideas that you can express in your target language, and be sure to cover each bullet point.

In order to score well you should also show a range of grammar knowledge and constructions.  GCSE examiners are very keen to give out points – it’s a bit like Tinkerbell and fairy dust! Sadly, if there is nothing there to see, then the dust won’t stick.  Higher Level candidates should try to include as many of the following list as possible:

– A range of tenses (past, present and future as a minimum, but for a higher mark then present, perfect, imperfect, future, conditional and pluperfect if possible);

– Complex grammatical structures – e.g. um…zu for German, après avoir +infinitive and avant de +infinitive for French;

– A range of people doing the verbs (to show you can use correct endings);

– Opinions (3 different ways of showing what you think);

– Modal verbs (can, should, must);

– Word order: especially for German but also with French (adjective order);

– Correct endings depending on gender (and “case” for German);

– Time phrases – not just “at 12 o’clock” or “tomorrow” but also “rarely”, “often”, “never”, “always”, etc.;

– A negative or preferably two;

– A question where possible.


Additional things for all candidates to think about:

– 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!);

– Pay careful attention to the use of tenses in the translation section.  Past, present or future DOES make a difference and you should be able to recognise which one is needed;

– 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, especially in the case of the translation passage.


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!

I want to learn a new language – how do I get started?

I want to learn a new language – how do I get started?

The first step to learning a new skill is deciding that you want to do so. Simple. What isn’t always so easy is deciding HOW you are going to learn that skill. 

Let’s take languages as an example (funny, that!) – should you go along to your local Adult Education Classes and sign up for weekly classes, or can you just download an app and get started? What about those self-study language programmes which promise to get you speaking a new language in 12 weeks? Here are a few of the options available to you, with some thoughts for you to consider when deciding which method or methods you would like to use:

1.     Adult Education Classes.

Many local councils have adult education classes during the evening or daytime, usually based at your local college or community centre. These can be a good option for the budget conscious and for those who like the dynamic of learning in a group. As you pay for the whole term in advance you may find that this is quite motivating when it comes to the evening when you are tired and tempted to bunk off! However, they can be prone to cancellation if there aren’t enough students. The group dynamic doesn’t suit everyone as some people will inevitably feel that the group is going more slowly than they would like and others may feel that it is all a bit of a rush. There can also be some difficulties with content as the group classes tend to follow a set text book and the content may not always be relevant to you – e.g. you may not want to spend three weeks talking about applying for jobs if you have just retired!

2.   Private Tuition

A good private tutor will tailor the classes to suit your level and also your needs/interests. You may be able to pay-as-you-go and also to take the odd week off for holidays or when work is too busy. The available times tend to be more flexible than in a group situation and you can, of course, set the pace of progress yourself by spending more time on the areas which you find difficult and speeding through the “easy” bits. Naturally there are two sides to every coin – private tuition can prove expensive and it is always a sensible idea to get some recommendations for private tutors in order to make sure you get a good one!  Do bear in mind that you can always engage a private tutor for a short burst of tuition, to get you over a particular block or explain a tricky grammar point or two, rather than on a long-term basis.

 If you are looking for a tutor for your child then do take the time to make sure that the tutor has a valid DBS certificate (police check) and ask about their previous experience in tutoring children of the relevant age.

3.    Apps

Everyone uses apps for everything these days, don’t they? Well, yes… and no. There are so many language-learning apps available these days that it can be hard to keep track of them. One of the most popular is Duo Lingo which is very good for extending your vocabulary and encouraging you to practise. Many of the apps use gamification to persuade you to spend more time on your learning in order to gain points, credits, badges etc. They are a good way of revising vocabulary but tend to be weaker on the grammar side.

4.   Self-study programmes with book/CD/DVD

Michel Thomas, Rosetta Stone and even the BBC have all produced self-teaching courses for language learning. The main advantage of these is that you can listen/work at a time which suits you. Costs can vary widely from around £17 for the BBC Talk series to £180 or so for Rosetta Stone (October 2017) The better ones use a range of native speakers to provide exposure to different accents and a variety of reading/listening exercises to extend your skills. On the flip side, some of them are weak on grammar teaching and there is nobody there to ask if you don’t understand the explanation in the book/on the screen.

With these programmes the key point is time management. In order to make progress (any progress, not just fluency in 12 weeks!) you need to make time to sit down and study. Of course, you can “just” listen to the audio tracks in the car, but if you are driving then I hope you aren’t paying enough attention to the tracks to learn well! Much better to sit down and focus, regularly.

5.    Conversation with a native speaker

Practising with a native speaker is a really useful way to improve your language skills. However, if your pet native speaker is a friend or family member then it may lead to more problems than it solves! In the same way that many parents prefer not to teach their own children to drive, the frustration of trying to communicate with someone you know well, but in a different language, can cause frictions. Knowing how to correct the learner and when to do so is a skill that non-teachers may not find easy. Also it can be sometimes difficult to explain WHY something is incorrect if you have only ever spoken the language as a native rather than learning all the grammar rules.

6.    Move to the relevant country

It is often said that there is no substitute for living in a country to get you moving with the language. This is true, but not everyone can just drop everything and move lock, stock and barrel to another country. What about work? Family? A home?

A short-term immersion course may be a good option though. There are many companies which offer language tuition as part of a holiday and in some cases you can even add on a skill such as skiing or cooking to get the most out of your time.


As is often the case in real life, sometimes there is no single, perfect, solution. In many cases a blend of the above methods can be really quite effective. I am always happy to find that my students are using a vocabulary app or two to keep up their skills and those who plan a holiday where they get daily language practice usually return with new enthusiasm and some fantastic phrases!

Success story of the month – October

Success story of the month – October

How do you measure success when learning a language?  For some people success is measured in exams, certificates and qualifications, for others it is more a question of gaining confidence to be able to do things which you couldn’t do before, like ordering a coffee – or discussing your refurbishment project with the builder!  Today’s success story is about Liz.  Here is what she says:

“Owning a home in the Swiss Alps, I recently needed to significantly progress my working knowledge of French to cope with the redevelopment of our property there and so liaise with builders and suppliers.  I enjoyed fun and diverse learning sessions where all key language skills were addressed; vocabulary and scenarios relevant to houses and building really helped me specifically.”

It wasn’t all about the building project.  We also took care to help with grammar so that Liz could understand whether people were talking about things they had already done or what was to be done in the future. Liz continues: “For the first time too, grammar was understandable. Teri’s grammar sheets clearly showed how to construct particular tenses and the structure of sentences in terms of word order – something I had always struggled with at school.” 

Liz continued with classes after the completion of the refurbishment project and periodically returns for additional conversation practice.  She concludes “Language Learners lessons have definitely progressed my ability in French and I feel confident to liaise in a multitude of scenarios. I still have a lot to learn, but I know I can speak, read and write at a much higher level than ever before and my understanding, gained from a range of interactive listening exercises, has also progressed.”