If you want to pass the higher French exam, you’d best head to the sqa website to make the most of the higher French past papers.

It may seem like low-hanging fruit, but past papers are indeed the best resource you have when it comes to preparing for an upcoming exam. Just looking at them might not be enough, though; you should really try to engage with them and spot patterns regarding the types of questions that come up in each section.

In this guide, we’ll talk you through what you can expect with the sqa higher french past papers, so you can get a clear idea of what you’ll be working with. We’ll also try to provide some suggestions and tips on how you can study for each section of the exam, using the past papers for guidance.

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Exam Overview

In this section, we’re going to breakdown the exam according to the past papers available online, so you know exactly what to expect when exam day rolls around.

There are three sections in the exam, each one focusing on a key competency of the French language: reading, writing, and listening.

The reading section accounts for 30 marks, while both the directed writing and listening sections have 20 points each up for grabs.

Reading

Stack of books and coffee
Reading in French can be a lot of fun if you pick out subjects you're interested in.

The reading portion of the exam requires you to read a short text before answering several comprehension questions and completing a translation. You will be allowed to use a dictionary for this section of the exam, although you shouldn’t think of this as a crutch to lean on, but as a safety net in case your mind blanks and you forget an important word on exam day.

To do well in the reading comprehension part of the exam, you need to focus on your understanding of French text, vocabulary, and ability to scan a text for important information.

The best way to practise, then, is to read from as many different sources as possible. Magazines, newspapers, blogs, or even instructional manuals if you want. If you read broadly, you will likely come across common expressions in French and key vocabulary that will serve you well in the exam.

To get more out of your revision, though, don’t just read a text but dissect it and imagine you are being interrogated about your knowledge of what has been said. You should also use every text you come across as an opportunity to work on your translation skills, since you’ll need to translate after you’ve answered the comprehension questions.

Directed Writing

Fountain pen
Writing in a foreing language isn't easy, but practise does indeed make perfect.

For the directed writing portion of the exam, you have to write between 150-180 words, and again, you will be able to use a dictionary if you need to. You will have to choose between several topics given to you in the exam, and write a short text covering the main bullet points provided.

This is the most difficult section of the exam for most students since it requires you to produce the language actively. Don’t worry, though; if you head into the exam with adequate preparation it should be a breeze.

Hands-down the best thing you can do to prepare for the writing section is write, write, and write some more. If you don’t, then it doesn’t matter how well you understand the grammar and vocabulary, because you likely won’t be able to string together a coherent sentence or paragraph.

The only way to get better at writing in a foreign language is to do it regularly.

We’re not asking you to write essays in French every day, though; in fact you don’t even need to write more than a few sentences. The important part is that you sit down every day, or at least regularly, and write in French trying to incorporate different verb tenses and other grammatical elements. To know exactly what to include for the higher French exam, head to ‘Marking Criteria’ below where we discuss what to do for top marks in the directed writing section.

Writing doesn’t need to be a chore. You can write on any subject, as long as you work on your grammar as you do so. Since you can’t predict what the subject will be come exam day, why not have fun writing about activities and hobbies you enjoy?

Listening

The listening part of the higher French exam can be deceiving. You might go into it thinking that you’re going to ace it, since it’s just listening after all. However, with the pressure of exam day as well as the potential accent and quick speed of the speaker, it can soon turn into a challenging portion of the exam.

To best prepare for the listening exam, try to immerse yourself as much in the language as possible. Yes, that means we’re giving you permission to go and watch Netflix, listen to music, and play video games - as long as there is French being spoken by native speakers.

Just like with reading, the more different sources you use for listening, the better. If you tune your ear to the sounds of French radio, but also listen to slower podcasts or TV shows, then you’ll put yourself in a better position to understand what is being said in the audio clips on exam day.

Listening to a wide variety of audio will also allow you to hone in on the cadence and rhythm of the French language. You’ll know when they raise the pitch of their voice they are probably asking a question, and other useful information like this.

Marking Criteria

Tick on phone
Make sure you know how the examiner is going to mark your work before you go into the exam.

It’s worth knowing exactly how the sqa exam board will determine your mark if you want to do well on the day. While you shouldn’t worry too much about the marking criteria on the day, it can be a valuable tool for helping you optimise your revision. If you know that to get top marks for the writing section the exam board expect detailed language, then it’s worth getting to grips with different grammatical elements as you practise writing.

Positive Marking System

Both the sqa higher French and advanced higher French exams use a positive marking system, as opposed to a negative marking system.

What this means is that you will be awarded in the exam for satisfying certain criteria and demonstrating relevant skills, rather than penalised for every error you make which is indicative of a negative marking system.

The main benefit of a negative marking system is that it encourages you to go back over your work once you’ve finished with a fine tooth comb to iron out any mistakes you may have made. But you should endeavour to be just as thorough with the positive marking system, and with this system it’s imperative that you know what criteria the exam board want you to hit.

If the exam board expects a detailed written response for the writing section complete with past, future, and comparatives for example, then you need to know that before you sit down to do the exam. If not, you can write a perfectly good response but not achieve full marks because you failed to demonstrate the skills the exam board was looking for.

Directed Writing

The directed writing section of the exam is one of the only ones in which the marking criteria plays an important role. If you want to ace this section, you should consult the marking criteria and use that information to advise your studies.

For the reading and listening sections, the marking criteria isn’t as necessary for you to know, because the answers are generally clear and there isn’t much nuance to it. However, with the directed writing section you are solely responsible for what you put on the page. You’ll have to write 150-180 words that have come from your brain alone, so to give yourself the best shot of getting a good mark, check in with the marking criteria.

To give you an idea of what to expect, you will need to use ‘detailed and complex language throughout’. This includes a ‘wide range of adjectives, adverbs, and prepositional phrases.’ You should also try your best to ‘use a comprehensive range of verbs/verb forms, tenses, and constructions.’

If you hit these three main criteria in your directed writing task, you’re bound to score highly and earn points with the examiner. This doesn’t mean you should go out of your way to throw in as many adjectives as possible, though, so don’t start describing how a city is excellent, wonderful, and technologically-advanced all in the same sentence. You don’t have to jump back and forth between verb tenses either.

In fact, perhaps the best way of making sure you’ve ticked the boxes of the various marking criteria is to write what you’re going to write, and then go over it. When you read over your writing, cross off in your head every adverb, form tense and different construction, and see whether or not you have included everything the examiner will be looking for.

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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.