GCSE French exam - What to expect and how to pass it

What does GCSE French involve?

If you’re preparing to take the British GCSE French, the first step is to make sure you understand what you need to cover.

Here’s an outline from the AQA syllabus which is one of the main exam boards but the other boards follow a similar pattern. These were the changes for 2021.

GCSE French covers the four disciplines of listening, reading, writing and speaking. You need to show proficiency in each area to do well. Within that framework, there are two tiers - the Foundation Tier (grades 1–5) and the Higher Tier (grades 4–9). Once you’ve decided on the tier you’re going to follow, you must take all four question papers at the same level, in the same series.

The syllabus covers three main themes across all four question papers
  • Identity and culture 
  • Local, national, international and global areas of interest
  • Current and future study and employment

You’ll need to understand and provide information and opinions on any of these themes. Kwiziq’s reading and listening comprehensions cover many of these topics so are worth including in your GCSE French revision.

Listening

The listening exam assesses how well you understand and respond to spoken French in different situations. It’s worth 25% of your overall grade.

  • Foundation level - 35 minutes - 40 marks available
  • Higher level - 45 minutes - 50 marks available.

The first section asks questions in English, which have to be answered in English too. The second part asks questions in French, which have to be answered in French.

Listening tips

Train your ear. Listen to French radio, podcasts and music or watch French T.V. and films. Anything that gets you used to the intonation, speed and rhythm of the language. Listen out for numbers in the exam as they can be quite tricky.

Learn as much vocabulary as you can on all the themes in the syllabus from topics such as food and eating out to the environment or elections. Think about what words and phrases may come up so you’re more likely to pick up on them in the actual GCSE French exam. Here’s a handy list of what topics could be tested at each level.

Listening practice

We have a great selection of dictation exercises and audio articles so you can practise your listening skills as much as you need. Choose those at A2 level for GCSE Foundation level and B1 for Higher.

All the exercises marked free are free for registered users and the rest are available with any of our Premium plans.

Reading

The reading paper is a written exam designed to test your ability to understand and respond to different types of language.

  • Foundation level - 45 minutes
  • Higher level - 1 hour

The total number of marks available is 60 and it makes up 25% of your overall grade.

The first section asks questions in English, which should be answered in English, while the second section asks questions in French, to be answered in French. The third section is a translation from French to English.

Reading tips

In the exam, go right through the whole passage to get the general meaning, before you look at the questions. It’s always easier to understand what you’re being asked, if you know the context.

Go over your grammar so that you recognise which tenses are being used in the questions and learn as much topic-specific vocabulary as possible.

Reading practice

The best way to prepare for the reading section is simply to read as much as possible. Cover a wide variety of topics in whatever format you can find - newspapers, magazines, books.

We have a wide range of French articles and transcripts to help you practise your reading:

They’re a great way to practise your reading comprehension. Read the French first then click on any phrase to see the English translation with the related grammar points.

There are more exercises available to help your reading with one of our education partners - see A2 reading comprehension. Or sign up to Le Monde to follow current affairs in French. Children’s books or sites with simple language such as 1 jour 1 actu are also a good source of reading material.

Writing

The GCSE French written exam assesses how well you can communicate in writing for different purposes.

  • Foundation level - 1 hour - 50 marks available
  • Higher level - 1 hour 15 minutes - 60 marks available

The paper contains four questions at both levels. At Foundation level, you’ll be expected to write a 90-word answer covering four bullet points, with a choice from two questions. At Higher, in the open-ended writing task you’ll be expected to write approx 150 words in response to two detailed bullet points.

You’ll need to show you can use a variety of tenses, clauses and vocabulary in your writing as well as demonstrating accurate use of grammar. You may need to discuss a topic, describe something or tell a story so adapt your writing style to match.

Writing tips

Expand your vocab by using these lists of French words and phrases, all grouped by theme. Experiment with new expressions. It’s a good idea to get to grips with specific grammar techniques, such as the subjunctive - a sure way to impress the examiner!

Check out our full set of tips and techniques to perfect your writing here. 

Writing practice

We’ve put together a whole set of exercises to help you improve your writing skills at A2 for GCSE Foundation level or B1 for Higher level.

Another great way to expand your vocab is through our fill-in the blank exercises as they have tips and translations at various points and are linked to specific lessons.

And if you want some extra practice, there are weekly writing challenges and dictation exercises on our Premium packages.

Speaking

The speaking exam usually takes place with your French teacher rather than in an examination hall.

  • Foundation level - 7-9 minutes
  • Higher level - 10-12 minutes.

There are 60 marks available in total, and the test accounts for 25% of your overall grade. The exam includes a role play, photo card and conversation element.

Speaking tips

For the photo card part of your GCSE exam, practise as many topics as possible so you’ll be prepared for whatever comes up. Start off by preparing subjects you’re passionate about, for example, your hobbies and interests. Move on to social issues such as unemployment, homelessness and climate change. Keep a book with all the new vocab you’re learning.

A good way to build your confidence is by speaking out loud, so you can perfect your pronunciation and your accent. Record yourself on your phone so you can play it back and revise.

Speaking practice

Check out these ways to improve your speaking skills. It’s always best to practise with someone else - conversation is a two way thing after all. If you do have to practise on your own, try some of these techniques for solo French speaking which will help you get used to how the words sound. 

Getting ready for your GCSE French exam

We’ve put together a list of top tips for preparing for French tests.

Practise as much as you can by doing GCSE French past papers, which can be downloaded here. That way you’ll know the sort of questions to expect in the exam.

Research shows that testing regularly will help to improve your French but it’s important to focus on recall not just repetition. Log into or create a Kwiziq French account and work your way through your recommended Studyplan, practising your recall on particular topics!

It’s also a good idea to have someone to assess your written French so you don’t keep making the same mistakes. KwizBot can do this, highlighting where you need more practise and adjusting your Studyplan accordingly. And your Brainmap will show you what topics you’ve mastered and what you still need to work on.

Expanding your vocab as much as possible is vital if you are going to succeed in all four of the disciplines so create a vocab book with any new words and phrases. You can also use our Notebook facility to put lessons or grammar topics in if you want to revisit and test them again.

And finally, take a look at our study tips to check you’re setting realistic expectations and making the most of your revision time.

Good Luck!

 

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