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Don’t panic! How to ace your language exams

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

Revising for any subject can seem like a daunting task when you start thinking about how much you have learnt up to that point, or even how much you still feel like you don’t know. This is especially true of revision for exams relating to languages. The fact that you are tested across four different skills (speaking, listening, reading and writing) sounds scary, but it isn’t really. Here are a few hints and tips to think about when revising:


This is probably pretty universal and applies to all revision, but make sure you are in the right environment to be able to absorb information. Put your phone on silent! Cat videos are funny (who doesn’t love a cat video?), but not really that useful for exam prep, so avoid unnecessary distractions and time-zappers.

Know what you need to know

The teacher/tutor can provide you with a list of requirements for a particular exam, but you can also find out for yourself, thanks to the internet. If you know what exam board you are studying with, you can look up the specification for their exams which will have a list of everything you are expected to know for that exam. Verb tenses/topics/grammar, it’s all there. There is no point learning about the present subjunctive if you are not being tested on it!

There is luckily a wealth of online language resources too, you just need to Google them! BBC Bitesize has some good GCSE revision stuff and there are countless videos on YouTube for example. Cat videos, no. Revision, yes!


It goes without saying that you need to know a lot of words to be able to be proficient in a language. Rather than thinking “ooh I better learn ALL the words I need for my exam tomorrow”, which will obviously not be productive, why not try and learn a few words a day? Set aside a few minutes a day to do just this. Set a reminder in your phone and stick to it.


Practise makes perfect, especially with pronunciation. Try recording yourself and listening back to see how you sound. Use filler words (e.g. alors, euh, tu vois etc. in French) to sound more authentic in that language. Learn key words such as time phrases which will help the conversation flow.


In a listening exam, you usually get to hear the extract for each question twice. Don’t try and answer the question on the first listen unless you are 100% sure you know the answer. The first listen should be to zone into what is being said and maybe make a few notes to help you. The second listen should be when you answer the question. You are not expected to understand every single word, just enough to be able to respond to the question. Listen to everything that is being said as the first thing the person says may not be the answer you seek, especially in the more difficult questions towards the end of the exam.

The rest (Reading, Writing and Translation)

What you have been learning for the speaking/listening should put you in good stead. Use the words/phrases in the question to help you get started in your answer. If you have been given a mark scheme, this will show you how much (or how little) you need to write.

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