The higher French exam in Scotland is made up of several components, and each one requires a solid amount of revision if you hope to pass with flying colours.

Like with any modern foreign language, this French exam is broken down into the four key competencies of a language: listening, writing, speaking, and reading. As a result, it isn’t enough that you can talk a good game in French or read texts without using a dictionary.

To pass the higher French exam, you’re going to need to tackle the language with a multi-faceted approach. If you can successfully combine a few of the competencies in every exercise you do, you should in theory accelerate your progress and optimise your revision.

Don’t worry if you’re not sure how to go about this, though, as in this guide we’re going to break down each section of the higher French exam so you have a clear idea of what to expect on exam day. We’ll also cover tips and tricks for mastering the separate competencies and combining them to get the best results.

Aerial view of Paris
Learning French is a great idea if you plan on travelling to France.
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How to pass higher French

If you’re sitting there scratching your head, wondering how to pass higher French, you’re not alone!

Languages are tough to learn, and extremely challenging to master. So while it may seem like everyone you know speaks a second language fluently, know that struggling is completely normal. Even if it doesn’t come to you naturally like it seems to for others, you can get to the point of proficiency with hard work and smart studying.

The first step to passing the higher French exam is understanding it.

Once you have a firm grasp of what you need to do for the exam, the anxiety surrounding exam day should lessen. Since you want to give yourself every advantage possible, studying past papers is crucial - but we’ll get to those a little later on.

For now, we’re going to focus on the two papers of the sqa higher French exam, and what to expect, which includes the four competencies that you’ll cover. We’ll also dive into a few useful resources you can draw upon, as well as tips for each competency.

Listening

The listening portion of the higher French exam will require you to tune your ears to the sounds of the romance language, and decipher several audio tracks.

These tracks will be a combination of monologues and dialogues, so you’ll be kept on your toes.

Listening is one of the two passive skills in language-learning (along with reading), in that it doesn’t require you to actively produce the language in any way. Instead, listening is an exercise in receiving information and correctly decoding it and translating it into your native language.

While listening to someone speak quickly in a foreign language can be intimidating, with practise, you should be fine.

To practise listening comprehension, we strongly recommend immersing yourself in the language. Whether it’s podcasts, radio, or even music - you need to listen to French as much as possible.

As you do so, take notes, transcribe the speech, or simply pay attention to each syllable and word that is spoken.

Reading

Kindle in French
Finding a book you like in French can be a great idea to boost your reading comprehension.

Reading is the other passive skill in language-learning, and for many it’s the easiest competency to master.

Reading comprehension requires you to have an extensive knowledge of common vocabulary and grammar structures.

To improve your vocabulary, we recommend a flash card app like Anki which uses spaced repetition to strengthen your connection to each word. We’d also implore you to find a list of cognates shared between English and French, since this will give you a head-start of words you will quickly recognise.

For grammar, there’s no substitute for a textbook - as boring as that might sound. Focus on the tenses that you need to learn for the exam, making sure you can identify present and past competently. To practise, you can find simple French texts or articles and highlight words or phrases and indicate which tense they are in.

Writing

Writing is one of the harder competencies, as you will need to produce French yourself.

Fortunately, in the higher French exam you will be able to use a dictionary. The piece of writing will be on a topic revealed only on the day of the exam, and usually between 200-250 words in length.

To practise your writing skills, get creative!

One of the biggest issues with learning languages is motivation, since a lot of students think the only way to get better is to repeat textbook examples and drill exercises.

This isn’t true, though, as you are free to write about whatever you want. That’s right, we encourage you to let your imagination run wild and write anything from a short story about aliens to a poem or a newsletter.

Exercises like this will be far more entertaining and motivating, so it should be easier for you to settle into a rhythm with your revision.

Speaking

Speaking is hands-down the toughest competency to master in any language. Not only do you need to know the language well to speak fluently, but you also need the confidence to express yourself without stumbling over your words too much.

As such, one of the things we would recommend you do (and this is especially true if you’re an introvert) is talk to yourself.

Yes, that’s right, one of the best ways to get better at speaking is to purposely talk into a mirror. Better still, you should record yourself as you do so.

By holding court with yourself in a foreign language, you can develop a rhythm with sounds, words, and sentences. If you only ever speak with native speakers, it’s going to take you a very long time to get comfortable unless you live in a French-speaking country.

That’s why we’re big believers in building confidence by freestyling off the top of your head, and this can be everything from singing, talking, or actually freestyling.

Resources

One of the best ways to skyrocket your success with your studies is to lean upon some of the excellent resources available.

BBC Bitesize - There’s a reason why BBC Bitesize is commonly brought up as a great revision tool, and it’s because the website is loaded with useful revision tools and resources.

Anki - Whatever language you’re learning, Anki is an excellent app for expanding and retaining your vocabulary. Harnessing the power of spaced repetition, this app brings words up for you at the moment which you’re most likely to forget them to reinforce the connection and cement it in your mind.

French in a Click - Specifically aimed at those learning French, this website has thousands of exercises, audio clips, and hundreds of lessons.

Where to find higher French past papers

Stack of papers
While it might seem like there an endless number of past papers, they are one of the best resources for revision.

The best place to find higher French past papers is the SQA website.

On the official SQA website, you can find sqa higher french past papers for every year going back all the way to 2016.

There are also marking instruction papers available on the website, so if you want to know exactly what the examiner’s will be looking for, you should check those out too.

  • Each higher French past paper will be divided into two separate papers.
  • The first paper comprises a reading comprehension exercise and a higher French
  • directed writing exercise. This paper counts for 50 points towards your overall mark.
  • While the second paper has the listening, speaking, and writing tasks. This paper is worth more points, with 80 in total up for grabs.

We highly recommend that you go through every single past paper available on the SQA website, and get familiar with every section.

Once you understand exactly what to expect in each section, you can optimise your revision by imitating the exercises and adapting them so that you can get effective practise in.

Generally speaking, it isn’t possible to predict patterns with the specific content of each section, but you can be sure that the format of each section will be similar. As such, you should do your best to practise exercises that adhere to the exam format.

Advanced higher French past papers

If you’re studying for the advanced higher French exam, you can head to the SQA website to find past papers to work through.

There are exam papers that date back to 2016, so you will have plenty of material to get your teeth stuck into to inform your revision.

The advanced higher French exam follows a similar format to the higher French exam, though there are some extra sections and the answers will need to be more in-depth.

In the advanced higher French exam for example, you will need to do a translation which is a skill you aren’t specifically tested on with the standard higher French exam. To succeed in this section, what you can do is throw in some translation practise when you’re working on your reading comprehension. So instead of just reading and making notes on a French text, you can be deciphering and translating the content as you go.

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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.