Spanish is one of the most exciting Romance languages and pleasant on the ears - depending on who you ask!
It’s the language behind flamenco, reggaeton and is becoming increasingly popular in hit pop songs.
It’s also becoming much more prominent on large streaming platforms like Netflix, with countries like Spain putting out hugely successful shows such as ‘Las Chicas del Cable,’‘ Elite,’ and ‘La Casa de Papel.’
All of these are great reasons to study Spanish and improve your listening and speaking proficiency, but often the reason for studying Spanish is less glamorous. More often than not, you have to study Spanish to pass an exam, whether it’s at A-level, GCSE, or a general speaking exam.
Regardless of your reasons for studying, to pass a Spanish exam, you’ll need a structure to your study sessions and a host of resources to draw upon when your motivation begins to wane.
In this guide, we’ll go into what we believe are the best ways to practice for each type of Spanish exam and provide our recommendations for resources along the way.
How to revise for the GCSE Spanish exam
The first exam you’re likely to come across in your academic career is the GCSE Spanish exam. This is an exam that will test you on your proficiency in reading, listening, and writing at either a foundation or higher level.
There are several ways to go about GCSE Spanish revision, but first, you must familiarize yourself with the content that’s likely to come up.
Since you can’t predict exactly what’s going to be on the paper (and your teacher can’t tell you), you’re going to have to rely on what has come up in past papers.
Past papers are an excellent resource that you should absolutely make the most of.
In our view, you can never do enough past papers.
Even if they go as far as 2015, for example, we recommend that you work through each and every one of them.
We know this sounds tedious, and most people detest the idea of so much as looking at an exam paper before the big day but trust us when we say it’s one of the most valuable ways to revise for Spanish.
To find the right past papers, you’ll need to figure out what exam board you are going to take the test with. If you don’t already know, then this is something you can easily find out from your teacher.
Once you know the name of the exam board, a simple google search should bring up the relevant website, on which you should be able to locate the past papers for Spanish.
You might want to print out the papers, so you have an easy offline copy to work from, or you can simply grab a notepad and have the paper open on your computer.
Make sure you familiarise yourself with all the question types and look for patterns.
Exam boards don’t often change the style of questions or format of exam papers, as it would be very time-consuming, so you’ll find that by looking at a few past papers, you can get an idea of what type of questions come up.
When you know this information, you can use it to your advantage and practice coming up with your own questions to test your knowledge.
How to revise for the A-level
The A-level Spanish exam approach should be more or less the same as the GCSE exam, in that your main priority should be seeking out past papers and doing as many of them as possible.
However, since the exam at this level will be a lot more complicated, there are some other resources you can turn to for effective A-level Spanish revision.
While the word ‘flashcard’ may make you think of a simple image on a laminated piece of paper used to teach children about basic nouns, they can actually be an extremely useful tool for retaining vocabulary at any age.
The key is to find the right software since paper flashcards can be very time-consuming and not very practical.
Our recommendation would be to give the popular flashcard app Anki a go. Anki works on a system of spaced repetition, which means it will prompt you to revisit a word after enough time has elapsed that it might be slipping from memory. This sophisticated system has been shown to improve vocabulary retention, making it a valuable tool for revising for a Spanish exam. You can even get creative and use it to remember grammatical constructions too.
Sometimes learning a foreign language can seem a little forced.
Watching a video that is clearly intended to help you learn said language can, of course be effective, but sometimes you want to be entertained as you learn.
This is one of the most exciting aspects of learning a foreign language: you can literally consume anything in the target language.
Say you enjoy reading sports articles; you can find a Spanish newspaper such as ‘Marca’ to get your fix. Or maybe you enjoy listening to pop music; why not check out some popular Spanish songs? Or perhaps even you just like tuning out and watching some Netflix, well, we’re pleased to tell you that there are a whole host of incredible Spanish shows on Netflix.
Of course, revising Spanish it isn’t as simple as reading a magazine or watching a TV show, but if you do enough of these activities in your spare time, they can help you immerse in the language.
How can you revise for a Spanish speaking exam?
Speaking a foreign language has the potential to be extremely rewarding as well as immensely embarrassing.
It’s by far the most challenging aspect of a language to learn, as you’ll need to think on your feet and produce coherent sentences in the moment.
To best prepare for a Spanish speaking exam, here’s what we would advise:
Interestingly, one of the best ways to improve your Spanish speaking proficiency is by listening to others speak it.
The reason for this is simple: you need to nail the pronunciation.
If you start speaking out the gate without taking the time to really hear how words are said in Spanish, then you might feel like you’re doing a good job, but you could be mispronouncing some words or letters.
There are several tricky consonant sounds in Spanish, including ‘r’, ‘d’ and ‘ll’, and it’s crucialthat you spend time listening to native Spanish speakers talk to understand how to pronounce them well in sentences.
To listen, you have many options. You can turn on Spanish radio, watch TV shows in Spanish, or even head to a website like Forvo to hear native speakers pronounce different words.
Talk to Yourself
Yes, that’s right, we’re suggesting that you talk to yourself to improve your Spanish.
At the risk of sounding crazy, one of the best things you can do for your Spanish-speaking is chat away to yourself in the mirror. Even better if your record yourself doing so.
Well, if you aren’t super confident in your Spanish-speaking ability right now to chat with a native speaker via webcam, or anyone else for that matter, your best bet is to talk anyway.
There’s a reason why those who have studied abroad often come back speaking the language with some level of fluency, and it’s because they have had to utter the same letters, words, and phrases time and time again.
When you’re in Spain, for example, every interaction no matter how mundane, is an opportunity to practice and cement the pronunciation of words and phrases in your mind. Since you’re probably not abroad right now, the next best thing other than talking to others is to read Spanish text aloud or simply deliver a stream of consciousness speech to your mirror. That way, you are training your brain to become more comfortable with the sounds of Spanish so that during an actual conversation or exam you’re less likely to trip up on certain words or letters.
This type of practise can be especially useful for tricky consonant sounds that always seem hard to produce in the moment.
The more you try to say the letter or word, the more easily it will come out, until one day it just rolls off the tongue.
To make things more interesting, you could even try to sing or freestyle rap in Spanish, to give yourself an even greater challenge.
Freestyle rap is especially useful even if rap isn’t your favorite music genre since it forces you to think on your feet and quickly draw words, phrases, and sentences to mind.
This type of fast-thinking will really help when the heat is on in the Spanish-speaking exam, and you are expected to come up with a response to a question.