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 Reading Exam

Exam Tips – The Reading Exam

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!

Exam Tips – The Listening Exam

Exam Tips – The Listening Exam

The second part of our blog series on the GCSE language exams looks at the listening paper.  Sometimes students can get quite concerned about this paper, or can be left wondering why they missed out on marks when they thought they had understood what was being said.  These tips will help you to prepare well, and also give you some idea of the little examiner “tricks” to look out for.

What can I do to prepare for my listening exam?

When it comes to the listening exam, there is one way to prepare which you can start now, which only needs to be done for 10 minutes or so at a time, but which should be done consistently to get the best results.

What could it be?

  • – Listening!

Specifically, listening to as much of your target language as possible, in as many different accents as possible, and as many different contexts as possible.  While the exam board is not going to present you with an impossible accent, getting practice with as many native accents as you can will prepare you better than if you have only ever heard your teacher speak.

What should I listen to?

Pretty much anything.  To get you started, here are some ideas that we have used with past and current students:

  • Try a music radio station using your chosen language. Make sure that it is one which plays music in your target language rather than just American music!
  • Alternatively, use the internet and look for “Extra!” in the relevant language – it’s a great little sitcom aimed at language learners and available in French, German, Spanish and English.
  • Use BBC Bitesize – this revision website has a range of activities together with the answers. You can choose Foundation or Higher Level.
  • You could try looking for TV shows online as well. There are many clips on popular video sharing websites.  Or you can see if your favourite show is also available in another language.
  • If you are reasonably confident, then you could try using the news. Deutsche Welle have the “news read slowly” in German and there are several sites offering something similar in French. Alternatively, Euronews can be good (although rather fast) as you can read the text at the same time.

What else can I do to prepare?

Try some exam papers, which can be found on the exam board website. As you are aware, this year there is a new curriculum and some new question styles, but the exam boards have put up some sample material which should be available if you look.  Your school teachers may want to use it too, so you can always look for past papers from other years – all practice is good practice and most of the topics have remained the same, despite the changes.

Do you have any tips for the actual exam?

Of course!  Here are some helpful pointers:

  • You will be given some time to read the questions before the test starts. Do use that time wisely and get some idea of the different types of question and what you have to do. It may sound odd, but the questions will give you a good idea of what each extract is about.
  • Remember each extract will be played twice, so you don’t have to get ALL the information the first time you hear it.
  • Also, make sure you have put some sort of answer for every question, even if you are not sure it is right. A blank answer is guaranteed to get zero points, but if you put something logical and sensible then you have a better chance.
  • Listen carefully for the “stretch” questions. You may think that you have a good idea of what the extract was about, but did you hear the words “not”, “often” or “rarely”?  Sometimes the different options for a question will all be mentioned in some way, but there will be other words like these which change the meaning of the answer.  Here is an example in English:

Q: What did Ben do at the weekend?

Extract from Ben: “I wanted to go to the cinema at the weekend but I didn’t have any money so we played football in the park instead”.

If you answer “went to the cinema” then you won’t get the point as this is what he WANTED to do, but couldn’t.  The correct answer is that he played football in the park.


If you found these tips helpful then please feel free to share them with your friends.  There will be more useful hints like these in the next few weeks as I cover the Reading and Writing papers.  If you are looking for information about the Speaking test then please look for my earlier blog post on the oral exam.


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!

GCSE tips – the Oral Exam

GCSE tips – the Oral Exam

This month I am kicking off a series of blog posts on exam tips and techniques with the Oral exam.  GCSE Oral exams will be taking place in April, which leaves a scant three months of revision and preparation time.  This year it will be causing particular concern to some students, parents and teachers, as the recent curriculum changes (bringing in the 9-1 marking scheme) also saw the abolition of the Continuous Assessment (or “have as many goes as you need, with lots of preparation, until you get it right” option). 

So, if you have just 10-12 minutes or so to wow the examiner and get the best possible mark, what preparation can you do?

1.    Firstly, be sure to look at the specification for the exam board that you are doing.  They are all freely available online, and your teacher may have given you some information already.  In general, there will be a picture card section, a role play and a conversation – do you know how long each one lasts?  How long do you have to prepare?

2.    Use your preparation time wisely.  You will have a few minutes (10 or so) in a room with an invigilator.  During this time you won’t have access to a dictionary or smartphone.  The idea is that you look at the picture topic and prompts and plan the role play.  For the Edexcel board you are allowed to write notes on up to one side of A4 paper.  You must not read out full sentences from your notes, so use keywords only – maybe past participles or verbs to remind you to use them – even a simple list of the things to remember like tenses, adjectives, smile etc.

3.    Your teacher has probably given you a list of likely topics/questions. Ensure that you understand ALL of them and that you can recognise them quickly.  If you have been encouraged to write sample answers for each question then accept that you may not remember each answer in full – that’s like learning a script.  Instead, try to learn keywords for each area and if necessary be willing to stretch the truth in order to demonstrate your language skill, rather than stick rigidly to what you really think/did.  E.g. if you spent last weekend windsurfing in Cornwall but can’t remember how to say so, then tell the assessor that you went to the cinema with your friends to see a comedy!

4.    Your assessor will give you a chance to demonstrate past, present and future tenses. So make sure you recognise the clue in the question (ie “What did you do last weekend” = past, “What do you like to do at the weekend” = present, “What will you do next weekend” = future).

5.    Learn some panic vocabulary. Swapping from your target language into English to say “I don’t understand” will lose you marks – doing it in French/German/other target language will lose you fewer marks and may gain you some for effective communication!  Remember that for some parts of the exam the assessor is only allowed to repeat what they said, not to change the words at all.

6.     When it comes to the picture prompt, it is always a good idea to have practised a couple first.  Do remember to try to link your description of the photo to the topic where possible.  So if the topic is “Work” and you have a picture of a young man serving an elderly couple, try to include the words “waiter”, “restaurant” or “hotel” in your answer as well as describing what they are wearing/doing/eating.  Remember that the prompt words are there to give you an idea of what will be asked.  The assessor will not use those exact words during the conversation, but will formulate a question around each (from their script).

7.    Know how to formulate questions in your chosen language. For example, does the word order change when you make a question instead of a statement? What are the different question words and what do they mean? Can you recognize them all?  You will have to ask a question as part of the role play, so do practise relevant questions for each topic.

8.    Consider your choice of conversation topic carefully.  For example, for Edexcel you can choose one of the two topics and have a minute or so to talk about it before being asked questions on other themes in that topic.  You could select one of the themes you are LESS confident with so that you have the maximum amount of time possible to prepare, or you could just hope that it doesn’t come up in the exam and choose one that you know really well instead.

9.    Grammar!  In order to get higher marks you will have to demonstrate a range of grammar knowledge.  See how many of these you can include in your conversation…

– A range of tenses (past, present and future as a minimum, but for a higher grade add imperfect, 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 two

 10. Take time to take a deep breath or two as you go into your oral. Remember to smile. And when you run out of things to say, stop and smile confidently rather than trailing off in the middle of a sentence…

I hope that these tips are helpful.   For more hints and techniques, check out the rest of the blog series on exam preparation for GCSE, coming 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!