Chapters

The advanced higher French is an exam put on by the SQA exam board, and it’s on the website of the SQA that you’ll find all the past papers you can handle, along with higher French papers.

Dating back to 2016 and covering every year up until the present day, the sqa advanced higher French past papers are there for you to use to your advantage. If you are at a loss and don’t know how to pass the a French exam, past papers are an excellent resource to start with.

In this guide, we’ll let you in on some of the best tips and tricks for making the most of the advanced higher French past papers and give you an overview of what to expect on exam day and how best to revise.

The main difference between the advanced exam and the higher French exam is the longer translation section. Plus, each language competency will be tested more thoroughly. As a result, you will need to come up with a study schedule that works well for you.

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Exam Breakdown

The advanced higher French exam is broken down into four different sections, each focused on a single skill associated with the language.

As a result, this advanced exam will test you on different skills, and due to the more complex nature of the questions for each section will require a more focused approach to revision.

The exam is separated into two different papers, the first covering reading and translation, and the second covering listening and discursive writing.

Paper 1

The first paper of the advanced exam comprises a reading comprehension activity and a translation exercise.

While the reading section accounts for 30 marks, the translation section is worth 20 marks. This should inform your revision strategy for this paper.

Since both activities conveniently require sound reading comprehension skills, you can use this to your advantage when studying for the exam. You should do your best to incorporate elements from both sections into your revision, for instance, coming up with your own comprehension questions for a text you read while also translating it.

That way, you can kill two birds with one stone, and you don’t have to overcomplicate your revision schedule by dividing your time evenly between translation exercises and answering reading comprehension questions about a text you’ve read.

Section 1: Reading

Reading doesn't have to be a chore, to revise for this section read articles and books that you'd want to read in English.

The first section of the first exam paper is reading comprehension, which is as simple as it gets.

In the exam, you will find a medium-length text in French, and you will have to answer a series of questions about it. The questions are batched together to focus on different portions of the text, so you can be flexible in how you go about answering them. You can either read the entire text through first to get a gist of what it’s about before you head to the questions or go straight to the questions and read them to locate the relevant section of the text.

Both approaches are fine, but we recommend you do a quick read-through of the text before tackling the questions since they might refer to the text as a whole and the author’s argument.

To revise for this exam, the best thing you can do is become familiar with the past papers and the type of questions that tend to come up. Beyond that, though, it’s a good idea to read from a variety of sources, be it magazine articles or blog posts, and think about what questions could arise.

You’ll also need to brush up on your vocabulary knowledge, but we’ll discuss this more for the translation section next.

Section 2: Translation

Language dictionary
A language dictionary can be a great aid for translation.

Section 2 of the first paper of the advanced higher French paper is translation. This translation section won’t present you with a new text, but simply ask you to translate four or five lines from the text you read in section 1 of the paper.

This is why we recommend that you combine reading comprehension and translation in your revision. The two are interconnected in the exam, so it makes sense to study for them both at the same time.

Translation is a skill in itself that requires more than just the ability to read and understand a text. You’ll have to convey the meaning while also being careful not to translate too literally, since sometimes this can sound odd in English.

One of the best things you can do to prepare for the translation portion of the exam is develop your vocabulary. While you can infer the meaning of words from context in the reading comprehension exam, you don’t want to rely on this for the translation section where every word is vital to the sentence’s overall meaning.

It’s essential that you have a broad vocabulary and a good understanding of common suffixes that can give you an indication as to what part of speech you’re looking at, whether it’s a verb, an adverb, an adjective or something else.

We advise you to check out the Anki flash card app, which uses spaced repetition to help you retain new vocabulary just before it slips from your memory.

Paper 2

The second paper of the exam involves two very different competencies, so you can’t combine them in your revision as well as you can with paper 1.

Section 1: Listening

The first section of this paper is listening comprehension, in which you will listen to two audio tracks and then answer several questions.

As stated on the paper, it’s important that you use the minute before the audio tracks play to study the questions, so your mind is prepped for the relevant information. Often times the audio tracks are long, and it’s almost as if the exam board wants to throw you off the scent of the useful information.

It requires discipline to train your ears to focus in on the information you need. Listening may seem like one of the easier language skills, but to truly decipher what someone is saying in real time can be tricky, especially when they have a heavy accent or speak quickly.

To best revise for this section try to listen to audio from a variety of sources. Maybe a slow-speaking French podcast would be a good place to start, but don’t shy away from the fast-speaking radio hosts or music lyrics as these can be really helpful for tuning your ears to the sounds of French.

Section 2: Discursive Writing

Pen on paper
A blank page might be a familiar sight, but filling it with French words will come with practice.

Section 2 of the second paper is discursive writing, in which you have to write an essay on one of the topics provided.

Although the word ‘essay’ is used in the exam paper and it can be intimidating to write an essay in a foreign language, you’ll only have to write 250-300 words. If you write in French a little every day, this honestly won’t seem like much come exam day. The only reason it might sound daunting now is if you don’t ever write in French, in which case 300 words can seem like a novel’s worth.

It’s worth knowing that you’ll have access to a dictionary in this writing section, which can be useful for those moments when your mind goes blank and you’ve forgotten a word. Be careful when using one, though, since if you’re just looking up new words because you think it’ll be impressive you might not know how to conjugate it or write it in a different tense. We recommend that you only use the dictionary as a safety net in the instance that you forget an important word that will help drive your essay’s narrative forward.

As for how to revise for what many would consider the hardest sections of the advanced higher French exam: write, write, and write some more.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of practice when it comes to learning the active skills of a language, such as speaking and writing. You can learn all the theory in the world, but that won’t make you good at writing or speaking the language.

We’ve all had that experience before of reading an article or book and thinking we’ve stumbled upon a revelation that will change the way we do things. The trouble is, it takes time to internalise lessons, and unless you dedicate time to practicing what you learn it won’t sink in.

So if you read that it’s important to sprinkle in some different tenses to your French writing, it isn’t enough to just know it; you have to try it for yourself. Sit down and write about a topic of your choice, each time incorporating a different element of the language such as adverbs, tenses, or connectors.

Generally speaking, what you write about isn’t important. In fact, you should try to write about activities and hobbies you enjoy. If you like basketball why not write a match report or a preview of an upcoming game? While this might not prepare you for the subject you’ll have to write about on exam day; it can give you a fun testing ground to practise writing regularly.

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Samuel

Sam is an English teaching assistant and freelance writer based in southern Spain. He enjoys exploring new places and cultures, and picking up languages along the way.