Studying for any GCSE exam can be challenging, especially when it’s a foreign language like Spanish, which is made up of multiple components.
There’s not just one thing to study for, but four.
Unfortunately, this means you will need to take a deep dive into past papers and familiarize yourself with each section of the exam. This is true of both the GCSE and A-level exam.
This is non-negotiable, as past papers provide the keys to success and allow you to predict to some extent what type of questions you will come up against on exam day.
Without further ado, we’re going to get into why you need to study past papers and then address the four language competencies and some valuable resources you can use.
If you want to do well in the GCSE Spanish exam, then you’re going to need to spend a lot of time with the past papers.
Once you’ve found out the exam board, you’ll take the exam with, go to the relevant website and hunt down the past papers for Spanish.
The key with past papers is to familiarise yourself with the types of questions they ask for each section and then to create similar questions and exercises for yourself.
That way, you can practise the exact skills you’ll need to call upon when you’re in the exam.
As you’ll be well aware, there are four language competencies you’ll be tested on at GCSE level, so we’ll get into each one now.
For this portion of the exam, you’ll be tested upon your reading comprehension skills. Usually, this means you will have to read a short text and then answer questions on it in both English and Spanish.
To revise for the reading section, you must get to grips with the GCSE Spanish vocabulary and develop a sound understanding of the various tenses.
To practise vocabulary, there are two very useful things you can do.
The first is to get familiar with the cognates shared by English and Spanish, and the second is to use flashcards. We cover both of these in the ‘valuable resources’ section at the end of this guide.
As for the tenses, there’s no substitute for textbook learning. You’ll need to drill exercises for the various tenses enough that you can identify each one confidently. An excellent way to test your knowledge of the tenses is to read a Spanish book or article, and highlight every instance of a word in a different tense and label that tense.
The section of the exam that will draw upon similar skills as reading is, of course, writing. Writing in Spanish is a whole different ball to reading, though. It is much more challenging since you have to be able to produce grammatically sound sentences while drawing upon a range of vocabulary.
Usually, for the GCSE Spanish exam’s writing section, you will have to write a response concerning a text you read and then choose between three different writing styles to produce your own text.
The best way to improve your writing is to work on your vocabulary (using the techniques outlined earlier) and to write as much as possible. Try to focus on topics that interest you, and that will make your life a lot easier.
While it is good to stick to topics that come up in the exam, you should also write on topics you are passionate about to keep it interesting. For example, if you love football, why not pen a match report or create a profile of your favourite player for the transfer window? If you like watching TV, you could write a short script for a TV show or simply write a summary of the show you’re currently watching.
Much like reading, listening is another of the passive Spanish skills that doesn’t require you to produce anything.
And much like with writing and reading, you can’t expect to get good at speaking without first mastering listening. If you aren’t able to correctly identify the sounds and syllables of Spanish then what hope do you have of accurately producing them in speech?
To practise listening, you have a variety of options.
The best is to see if your exam board provides audio recordings for previous papers, as this will give you a clear idea of what to expect. If this isn’t an option, then your best bet is to experiment with everything from music and the radio to podcasts and even TV shows.
To improve your listening skills in any foreign language, it’s important to tune your ears to the most common sounds.
You do this through repetition; there’s no shortcut for better listening.
That means find something you enjoy, whether it’s a podcast on a topic you enjoy, music from a group you like, or a great Spanish TV show (of which there are many on Netflix), and do your best to identify what is being said. To keep this form of learning active and to prevent it from turning into mindless entertainment, you can transcribe what you think is being said and then play the audio back to see if you’re correct.
Alternatively, you can stop the recording periodically and attempt to repeat what is being said to see if you can nail the pronunciation.
Once you’ve spent a lot of time listening to Spanish, speaking should come more naturally to you.
Honestly, until you’re comfortable pronouncing all the sounds of the Spanish alphabet, you should refrain from doing too much speaking. This is because it’s easy to learn the wrong pronunciation, but hard to unlearn it later down the line.
In the exam, you will have to talk about an image and then give a free speech, in which you riff on a certain subject.
To practise for both parts of the exam, you should talk as much as possible regardless of whether someone is listening. You can do this by singing, freestyle rapping, or simply talking to yourself in a mirror. You can even read Spanish text aloud, as this will help with pronunciation, but honestly it’s best to produce speech naturally as this is what will be required of you in the exam.
As well as studying for the individual skills associated with learning a language and practising for each part of the exam, there are some general resources you can use to help with your GCSE Spanish revision. These GCSE Spanish resources can round out your Spanish studies and help you connect with the language in more ways.
Here are the some of the best resources to lean upon when the studying gets tough or repetitive.
Cognates are words that share a linguistic root with words in other languages, which makes them a valuable thing to learn if you want to expand your GCSE Spanish vocabulary rapidly.
There are thousands of cognates between English and Spanish, some you will already have come across as they are practically identical like ‘inteligente’ perhaps, and others that sound a little more different such as ‘acción’.
You should focus on cognates for the reading exam because you can quickly build your vocabulary and by learning a few rules, enhance your ability to recognise new words.
The key is to focus on patterns.
Focus on the rules of Spanish words, and how they are similar or different to their English counterparts.
Learning the most common Spanish suffixes is a good place to start.
If you know that most English words that end in ‘-tion’ will end in ‘ción’ in Spanish, then you if you see a word you don’t recognise in the Spanish exam with that ending then you can make an educated guess as to its meaning or at least what type of word it is.
Flashcards might seem like old news, but they can be an extremely valuable resource for the GCSE Spanish reading exam if you go about it the right way.
We’d recommend that you download an app called ‘Anki,’ as it’s one of the most popular flashcard systems out there.
It works on a principle called spaced repetition, which operates on the idea that the best time to be shown a new word is just as we’re about to forget it.
This technique has been proven to be highly effective not only for vocabulary acquisition but also for retaining that vocabulary.
If possible, instead of having an English word on one side and a Spanish word on the other, try to use photos that you find online with the Spanish word you’re trying to learn.
Research shows that we’re more likely to remember something if we engage the senses the first time we come across it, so seeing a real-life photo of a dog is better for remembering the word ‘perro.’
Software like Anki can also be used to remember various grammatical elements that might be causing you trouble.