When I was in school, I had a mate who was a native Spanish speaker. She chose Higher Spanish, knowing she would get a good grade on the exam, which left her free to focus her study time and energy on all of the other subjects we have to sit exams in, like Maths and English and Science.

You have to admit, there is logic to that strategy. She gave herself one passing grade right off the top while the rest of us had to study hard to earn the grades we got.

My friend was an outlier, though. How many people in Scotland speak Spanish fluently - or even well enough to pass Higher or Advanced Higher Spanish, without the need to practise? Do you?

Or are you like the rest of the student population, having to knuckle down and revise like mad to earn our grades?

As it's likely you're not fluent in Spanish (yet!) but have plans to keep Spanish at the centre of your future, from studying that language at university to possibly living and working in a Spanish-speaking country, you obviously want to earn the highest possible marks on your National 6 and Advanced Higher.

Anticipating your learning goals, your Superprof presents this list of tips and tricks to passing Higher Spanish.

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General Guidelines for Effective Study

Usually, when people think of studying, they picture open textbooks, taking notes and memorising information. Superprof proposes that, rather than study harder, people should study smarter. One way to do that is by drawing on novel study tools and techniques.

Mind maps are just one example of a resource you can use to study for your Spanish Higher.

Use mind maps to organise information
Mind maps, hand-drawn or digital, are an effective learning tool for organising information. Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

A mind map helps you organise information so that it is visually immediate. By that, we mean that you can arrange various aspects of the Spanish language in such a way as to make it easier to focus on one aspect at a time.

Let's take gendering as our example. Grammatical gender does not exist in English so this is a particularly difficult aspect of learning Spanish for native English speakers.

Thus, if you create a mind map for Spanish grammar, one of the sub-headers could be 'gendering', under which you would write down all of the rules that apply. You could do the same for verb tenses and conjugation - particularly because the Spanish language has so many irregular verbs.

Whichever way you can use mind maps to help you retain aspects of Spanish, you will find they are an effective study resource. Another one is to set up and maintain a study schedule.

Learners often feel overwhelmed when faced with ordeals like sitting Highers because their entire future hangs in the balance. Poor grades will see your hopes for the future dashed so, of course, every student wants to do their best. One way to avoid the panic of your impending ordeal is to take things in stride... small, planned strides.

By setting up your study schedule, you're committing yourself to focus on one aspect of Spanish revision at a time. For instance, you might plan on building listening skills on Monday, hone your reading skills on Tuesday, practise your writing on Wednesday and so on.

Or, if you'd rather pivot through all four 'parts' of language study - reading, writing, listening and speaking, you could focus on each for 30 or 45 minutes at a time, each study session.

Of course, the crucial part of building a study schedule is sticking to it so designing it in a way that will not overly tax you is critical. So are the study materials and resources you draw upon.

The SQA website should be your first stop when searching the Web for revision resources.

There, you will find four years of past papers and marking schemes, all neatly packaged in PDF format and ready to download. Also, you will find MP3 audio files, the better to practise listening to the type and level of Spanish you will hear spoken on your exam.

While the SQA is generous in providing these resources, they should not be your one-stop-shop for all things Higher Spanish. As best you can, diversify your study materials and resources because the more input you get, the better your outcome will be.

Note that there is not much difference in the structure and components between Higher Spanish and Spanish Advanced Higher. However, Advanced Spanish Higher is more intense and encompassing, and the language level you are expected to demonstrate is higher.

How to Excel on the Listening Segment

Unless you've been learning Spanish just for the fun of it (or you're like my classmate, who spoke it naturally), you're serious about the language dictating the course your life will take. That means that you've given yourself plenty of exposure to Spanish by watching films, listening to podcasts and broadcasts, and revelling in lush Spanish songs. Maybe even singing along!

Those are excellent steps towards preparing you to test your listening skills but, now, you should drill down to specifics.

Let's say you enjoy a particular podcast, maybe Coffee Break Spanish or Audiria. Have a listen as you usually do, but then, once it's over, makes notes on what the podcast was about and choose one particular aspect of it to write about in-depth. Once you've finished, replay the podcast to see how close you are to reflecting what the subject of the podcast was.

Note that, as you're not allowed a dictionary for this portion of your Higher, you should not use one as you practise, either.

This exercise follows the exam's format so practising your listening skills this way will work particularly well to prepare you for your exam.

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What to Expect on the Directed Writing Portion

The most important thing to remember is that this exam segment tests your ability to use Spanish, not your critical thinking skills. So, when you see your writing prompts, don't worry about penning a logical flow of ideas, just make sure that you follow all grammar rules and have a broad enough vocabulary to express what you want to say.

The discursive essay focuses on your Spanish writing ability, not necessarily content
SQA is interested in your ability to use Spanish to communicate ideas, not the ideas themselves. Source: Unsplash Credit: Green Chameleon

It's comforting to know that you will be allowed to use a dictionary for the writing segment and having a choice of topics to write about also helps. Even more generously, your exam paper provides you with guidelines for what your writing specimen should contain, such as:

  • what you did during the event you're writing about
  • the people you met and how you interacted
  • what you thought about the experience you had
  • the ways you found to use your Spanish speaking ability
  • how your Spanish speaking improved
  • whether you would recommend such an experience to others

Considering you are expected to write only 150-180 words, it should be a snap to come up with things to write about... but what if you're not naturally inclined to write?

Keeping a journal is an excellent way to practise writing and, if you do so in Spanish, you'll fairly have this element whipped, considering much of what is expected of you on the exam mirrors what you'd write in a diary.

If you need more help - or simply want to see an actual sample of the exam's writing component, SQA's past Spanish Higher papers and marking information give you examples of good writing and provide you with the information you need to maximise your grade.

Preparing for Your Oral Exam

Of course, using Spanish every day, whether you sing Spanish songs into your hairbrush or chat with a native Spanish speaker is the best way to nail this portion of your exam.

The more comfortable you are using your language skills, the better you'll do. It's really that simple.

However, some learners get nervous at the idea of being recorded, of facing a formal assessment of their language skills or simply being put on the spot with questions they didn't anticipate. Again: the best way to be prepared is to speak Spanish at every opportunity.

There is one more way you could prepare, though; you might call it advanced training. Today's smart devices come equipped with a wonderful feature called talk-to-text.

You might download an app designed especially for that purpose or simply talk into an online translator. If you speak clearly, the app will type out what you meant to say and, if you don't you'll get some strange, garbled non-words that may give rise to insane giggling fits.

If you'd rather not download an app, you can use a web-based application or simply set your phone or tablet to accept Spanish voice input.

Get used to working under a time limit as you prepare for exams
Your Spanish Higher is a timed exam so, as you revise, set yourself time limits so you can get used to working fast. Source: Pixabay Credit: Free-Photos

Acing the Spanish Higher Reading Test

If you've spent time reading Spanish literature, novels - graphic or text, or film subtitles - a thoroughly underrated learning resource, you must be pretty confident about passing the reading portion of your Higher.

Note that you will be allowed to use a dictionary for this portion of your exam so, even if you feel your vocabulary might be lacking, rest assured that you won't be left without a helpline. Also, it's comforting to know that you will answer these questions in English, so there's no need to worry about having to formulate answers to unknown questions in Spanish.

Still, just because it's available, your dictionary shouldn't be your go-to move for understanding the text you're assigned to read. Try this tactic, instead.

Read through your text to get the general feel and tone of it. Next, read each question carefully: what is it asking, specifically? Now, read the text again, underlining possible answers to those questions.

During this second reading, try to understand the words you don't know through context or association. If their meaning still escapes you, only then you should access your dictionary.

Remember that you don't have to answer the questions in the order they appear; if you're certain of the answer to the last question, by all means, write it down, first.

Finally: remember that you're working under a time limit.

You shouldn't spend too much time agonising over your choice of words or trying to figure out words you don't know. You should also leave yourself a few minutes to review your answers before turning your paper in.

Now, discover more tips, tricks and information in our complete guide to 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.