If you're a Scottish student, you may already be scoffing at this topic. Every student in Scotland - those who've been learning Spanish included, are absolved of sitting their Higher this year, thanks to the pandemic.

That being the case, why publish a series of articles on how to pass Higher Spanish... right?

No need to worry, your Superprof has not suddenly taken leave of their senses. There is a purpose to this series of articles.

For one, even though you won't sit Highers this year, you will still undergo assessment, namely through coursework. Your teacher will measure your classroom performance and participation, no matter whether your lessons were/are held online or in school. Also, s/he will assign you work; those grades too will contribute to your Higher marks.

If you're reading this article, you likely anticipated sitting Higher or Advanced Higher Spanish. Taking that thought further, we can infer that you know what your exams would have included: exercises to test your writing, speaking, listening and reading skills.

Exams notwithstanding, if you anticipate building your future around your knowledge of the Spanish language, you will have to master those skills. This information can help you achieve your goals.

We have to get away from the idea that things happen in a vacuum.

This year, a terrible pandemic interrupted life as we know it but that won't always be the case. Spanish learners who should have sat National 5 exams will sit Higher Spanish next year and those who should have sat that exam this year can look forward to sitting Advanced Higher Spanish next year.

There is no expiration date on the information in this article. The same advice will apply a year from now - or five years from now, for that matter. True, they may need updating to reflect the SQA's changing requirements but the core ideas, websites and encouragements are timeless.

In that spirit, let's proceed.

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How to Pass Higher Spanish

Most likely, from the second you started your Spanish course in high school or college, your teacher directed you to the SQA website to download past papers, audio files and exam marking information. Furthermore, s/he may have handed out a course syllabus with learning tips and links to revision resources.

So, you're all set to pass now, right?

Your teacher likely told you about SQA past papers and marking information
Your high school or college teacher likely told you to download past papers and marking schemes. Image by Ernesto Eslava from Pixabay

If you believe that too many resources spoil the study, you might consider yourself fully armed to revise for your Higher. On the other hand, if you believe that the more information and help you have the better your chances at success, you may consider:

  • gaining as much exposure to Spanish as you can
    • talking with native Spanish speakers, watching Spanish films (reading Spanish subtitles), listening to podcasts and Spanish radio
  • developing your Spanish writing skills by keeping a journal in Spanish
  • finding different ways to revise - using mind maps, creating study groups and so on
    • you may also consider engaging a Spanish tutor
  • creating (and sticking to!) a study schedule
  • diversifying your stock of learning materials

Let's expand on that last point.

Virtually every Scottish student knows about BBC Bitesize, a fantastic revision resource whose pages are adapted to the grade level you're studying and the country you live in. But have you thought of accessing England's, Wales' or Ireland's GCSE Spanish Higher pages? They are vastly different from the Scottish Spanish Higher resource page.

If you like to watch YouTube videos, you're in luck! There are entire channels dedicated to advice and conversation about Higher and Advanced Higher Spanish. We're not talking about SpanishPod101 - although that is a great learning resource. We mean other channels, wherein students discuss the difference between GCSE and Higher Spanish, interactive speaking practice videos and others.

Reviewing past papers and marking information you get from the SQA website or, if working from a book is more your style, the SQA revision paperback is only the start of your revision arsenal.

However, if you want the best shot at passing Higher Spanish, using multiple sources of information and diversifying your study methods is the way to go.

Higher Spanish Past Papers and Resources

To reach a goal or target, you have t know what that target/goal is, don't you?

Most likely, your goal is to pass Higher Spanish. That's a workable goal but undefined. Would you be happy with passing marks or do you want to excel - thus realising your second goal: a coveted spot at your university of choice's language programme and/or an internship in a Spanish-speaking country?

Diversify your study materials and methods for greater exam success
Get better exam results by drawing on innovative study methods and a variety of materials. Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

Likewise, committing to doing your best, while worthwhile, is not quite sufficiently defined. What if your best doesn't get you where you want to be?

That statement is, of course, a reflection of the current tension students in poorer areas feel at receiving lower marks than learners in more economically-advantaged areas.

So, what's the best way of ensuring your grades are as reflective of your performance as possible? In the famous words of comedian George Jessel (and a nifty song by Natalie Merchant), give them - the examiners what they want. The best way to do that is to know what they're looking for. 

Reading Segment

This portion of your Spanish Higher entails reading a fairly substantial text that explores complex social and/or cultural ideas. You will then be asked a series of questions about that text that, fortunately or not, depending on your perspective, you get to answer in English.

To determine what examiners want from you, turn to the marking information paper. There, you will find examples of expected answers as well as unacceptable ones.

To get a general idea of what constitutes an acceptable answer - or an unacceptable one, you will need to go over every past paper and marking scheme currently available on the SQA website.

Note also that you will have a translation component in this segment. If you translate the text to reflect its full meaning, you will receive more points than if you merely interpreted the general idea - or worse: did not attempt to translate the passage at all.

Directed Writing Segment

This part of your assessment is meant to test your ability to use the Spanish language correctly but at least some points will be awarded based on your thoughts about the topic you're tasked to write about. What's more important, though, is your accuracy in using Spanish to express your ideas and whether you use more advanced grammar constructions and syntax.

The prompt you'll write from will contain six bulleted points; you must address each one. Also, note that the first bullet contains two 'triggers' you should respond to in your writing; the others contain only one.

Be aware that if you do not address any of the bulleted points, you will fail this component, no matter how well you wrote or how knowledgeable you are in the subject you chose to write about.

Listening Segment

The way this part of Higher Spanish is graded, you might think the SQA likes to split hairs. That's all the more reason to keep in mind that examiners want as close to a literal translation of each listening segment as possible rather than paraphrasing or filtering the general idea of what the speaker describes.

Also, bear in mind that this exercise is not about putting your personal spin on things. For instance, if the recording discusses taking the time to consider one's options, that should be your answer - not 'keeping one's options open.'

Consider those two statements carefully and, even in English, they each mean something different! Recognising that is one of the most valuable tools to help you do better on your Higher Spanish.

Your Listening skills will be tested during your Higher exam
Learners will be challenged on their understanding of spoken Spanish during the listening segment of their Higher. Image by janeb13 from Pixabay

Oral (Speaking) Segment

Requirements for this language component are set by your school; the SQA sets forth no guidelines or recommendations for you to follow.

That being the case, Superprof can only make a guess of what you may have to do to satisfy this criterion, and it's a fairly easy one: speak as fluently as you can, using proper grammar and syntax.

Advanced Higher Spanish Past Papers

Advanced Higher Spanish is much the same as Higher Spanish, except that the texts are longer and more complex and more is expected of you.

As with Higher Spanish, you may use your dictionary for your writing specimen as well as the reading component, but not during the listening portion. Also, you will answer every question in the reading portion in English rather than in Spanish.

By contrast, marking is a bit more lenient than for Higher Spanish. There are fewer unacceptable answers indicated, most likely because the SQA assumes that, if you're testing at this level, your Spanish language skills are probably pretty good. That's no reason to rest on your laurels, though.

Continue to develop your reading comprehension and listening skills, practise writing in Spanish every day and speak Spanish every chance you get.

It may seem that your Advanced Higher ordeal will never get here - remember that 'happening in a vacuum' parallel we made earlier? However, it will get here soon enough so now is the time to get started studying for your Advanced Higher Spanish.

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Sophia

A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.