How hard is it to get a 9 in GCSE French?
French continues to be the most popular modern language subject at GCSE, with 126,185 provisional entries in 2022, but it saw a fall in the top grades: 31.4 per cent achieved a grade 7/A or above compared with 32.9 per cent in 2021 and 23.7 per cent in 2019. The pass rate fell by 5 percentage points to 78.1 per cent compared with 83.1 per cent in 2021 and 69.7 per cent in 2019. Almost 12,500 students received the top grade of a 9 in French this year, representing the top 10.3% of overall entries. The plurality of students (almost 33,000) received a grade 5, just over 27.2% of the total. Interestingly, this is a slight decline on 2021 figures, where 9.3% of overall candidates received a 9 in GCSE French, when grades were teacher assessed due to the pandemic.
The number of students receiving top grades should only really be reviewed if you’re a bit of a polymath! Understanding these statistics will be of little practical use. While you’re technically competing with over a hundred thousand other candidates, you’re really competing with the exam paper or examiner (in the speaking exam) as to how well you can answer the question and demonstrate what they want to see. The next few sections will go into detail about how best to revise for your French GCSE, prioritising revision tips as you head into exams.
Where can I find GCSE French past papers?
All the past exam materials (including all past papers for reading, writing, and listening papers, their accompanying audio files, and the speaking cards used by examiners during the speaking exam) can be found on the exam board websites. These are accessible below according to their respective boards. OCR is not listed as they chose not to offer language GCSEs once the old specification came to an end.
- AQA GCSE French Past Papers
- Edexcel GCSE French Past Papers
- CIE French Past Papers
- WJEC French Past Papers
There you can find all those past examination materials, alongside mark schemes and exemplar answers showing you what previous students wrote, some with a mark for their answers and examiner’s comments across almost all components of the qualification. These are very useful to understand what to do, as well as what not to do!
Good Revision Techniques for GCSE French
As with all subjects, little and often in terms of revision is much better compared with infrequent and lengthy ‘cramming’ sessions in the weeks leading up to the exams. Language learning is different to other subjects as it isn’t simply facts to be learned or applied. You need to have a reasonably good grasp of the language itself to be dynamic in your answers and spontaneous in responses depending on what the examiner throws at you.
As soon as you’ve covered the first unit in school, plan to categorise each of your topics in this way. If you start early, it will be much easier down the line. The specification has been arranged with organisation in mind, so you cover topics logically. Keep your workbooks organised so when you come back to it almost 2 years later you understand what you were doing and it’s clear to you what you learned. It may also be useful to have a separate vocab book so you write down – with the gender – new words you come across to expand your vocabulary.
How to Get a 9 in GCSE French
In no uncertain terms, follow the mark scheme and specification to the letter! It is vital that you understand what is being assessed and what is expected from you, so knowing what they want to hear is vital. Once you have done this, you will most likely ask ‘yes, but how do I make sure my communication is of a high standard?’ Below is a series of key points examiners have given about candidates’ answers and what to focus on. Some are more specific than others, but they can largely be applied to each component.
- Stay focussed on the question (Speaking exam) Time and again, the examiner feedback critiques candidates’ answers as irrelevant or ‘going the long way round’ to answer the question, offering long-winded responses. As a result, time is wasted, or it compromises their answer. To avoid this, plan answers to potential speaking questions which clearly answer them immediately, proceeding to explain why this is with clear relevance to the question. For example, if you are asked about ‘things to do in the town’ in a role-play and you are someone working in the tourist information centre, don’t start talking about the hospital or which school you went to and why they should visit! The question is asking you to give examples of tourist attractions and the like.
- Read the Question (all exams) This goes for all examinations – reading, writing, listening, and speaking. If you don’t read (or listen to) the questions properly, you won’t know what is specifically being asked of you. This is often an issue in the listening and speaking exams when candidates are unsure what the question is specifically asking you to do because you can only identify some topic-specific vocab. This can lead to giving answers on the wrong part of the text you’re given, or answering a different question in the speaking exam. In the reading/writing papers, read all the text on the page – most notably the instructions on the front of the exam papers as these will help clarify timings. Also, don’t respond in the wrong language!! If it asks you to write your answers in French and you write them in English, it doesn’t matter if you get all of them right – it would still be in the wrong language and therefore no marks could be awarded. Teachers have seen this many times and it is upsetting for everyone involved, particularly if the content of your answer is correct!! So read the question, read it twice, try your best to understand it if you’re unsure, then let that guide your answer(s).
- Practise Intonation and Register (speaking exam) Intonation conveys the feelings/sentiments of the speaker. For example, when you ask a question, you usually create an upward inflection at the end which suggests to the listener that you are unsure of something, so are wanting confirmation. Register, meanwhile, is the type of language you would use depending on context. The best example in French is when to use ‘tu’ or ‘vous’, as this shows the level of appropriate formality. You can be more casual with friends or family (which would often use ‘tu’) whereas speaking to the monarch or in a more formal setting like a job interview or business environment may require ‘vous’. Look out for context which would require these and listen most carefully for which form of ‘you’ the examiner uses, as this will need to be used throughout!
- Tenses, tenses, tenses (all exams) Getting the wrong tense or improperly formulating tenses can cause serious issues in all aspects of GCSE French. Make sure you have your regular -er, -re, and -ir verbs nailed so you know how to conjugate these verb groups. Also ensure that your auxiliary verbs (être and avoir) are second nature, so you don’t have to spend any time conjugating them in your head. As these are irregular verbs, you need to learn these by heart, and know them in their appropriate tenses. This goes for all verbs on the vocab list. Sit and write out the rules for regular verbs, then work out which irregular verbs you need to know for your exams, and write them out in the present, past, imperfect, and future tenses. This is vital to achieve a top grade as you will have to refer to a minimum of three tenses.
- Leave time to check for simple errors (reading, writing, listening exams) This is regular feedback from examiners. There are numerous errors, for example wrong gender agreement, forgetting quantity agreement with adjectives, not conjugating a verb, even basic grammar of not putting a capital letter at the beginning of the sentence! Do not allow yourself to be downgraded because you made a small mistake which could have been easily avoided if you’d had a chance to go through your answers at the end. It could be the difference between an 8 and a 9.
- Plan your answer (all exams) Notably for the longer-answer questions and the speaking exams, give yourself a few minutes to plan your responses. This goes hand-in-hand with the pointer on reading the question! Make sure you know what you must do, then go through and address each point in turn. It may also help to connect your answer up, so it flows better, and reads more fluently. The longer-answer writing tasks are all on one topic with sub-topics as sections to address, so they are set up to encourage a fluent and logical response.
- Keep within the Word Limit (writing exam) Where there is a word limit, respect it! Whilst it can be seen as a rough approximation, going over by a few lines could compromise your answer as examiners will notice answers drastically over the word count. They will stop reading after the word limit is reached, so keep this in mind when writing your answer. Get an idea of how many words you write per line by looking at other past work and averaging out how many words have been written. For example, if it’s around 8-10 words per line, and the word limit is 130-150 words, you should aim to write around 15-16 lines.
- Le subjonctif (all exams) The subjunctive mood is something we don’t use as prominently in English but is quite clearly defined in French. In English you can see it in the phrase ‘If I were to do…’ instead of ‘if I was…’. The French, however, use it explicitly to indicate subjectivity, uncertainty, or unreality in the mind of the speaker. In French, feelings like doubt and desire require the subjunctive, as do expressions of necessity, possibility, and judgement. Make sure it is understood when, where, and how to use it, making a list of the easiest phrases you can pull out in response to questions. For example, ‘il faut que + subjonctif’ (it is necessary that…). Have a read of the link above as this should provide a good foundation.
- Respect Time Management Advice (all exams) Understandably, many students will spend more time on questions they’re uncertain about. But make sure that this doesn’t end up compromising your ability to answer the rest of questions which could be easy marks to pick up in areas you’re more confident in. The front of the examination paper (and the advice sheet in the speaking exam) tells you how much time approximately to spend on each section of the paper, so try to follow this. Move on if you’re completely unsure on a question or give it your best guess. At the end, come back to it when you’ve had some time to let your brain process it subconsciously. You might have a ‘eureka’ moment when you know the answer for certain after you’ve had some time to think it over.
- Do all the past papers & past questions It should be common sense, but in the years and months leading up to your language exams, you should aim to work through all the past papers and questions available. Try them initially without a time limit to see how you tackle them, then ease yourself into a full past paper in the designated time limit. If you’re someone who gets very anxious about exams, it might be worth trying to replicate the exam setting with the time limits and in a similar environment at the same time of day (when the exam dates and times are released) with a routine in the lead up to it. But ensuring that you have completed all the questions ensures that you know the format of the examinations, the type of questions they will ask, time management and planning skills, alongside knowing which vocab to use and which areas you most need to work on.
- Practise, practise, practise Finally, you need to go beyond the syllabus to guarantee you have the language competence to answer all components to a grade 9 level. Language qualifications are different to other subjects as they aren’t just about learning different facts or interpreting events. Of course, first make sure you have all the core vocabulary nailed, but then perhaps go through vocab lists on other examination boards for French GCSE to expand your knowledge. Read French language news publications or listen to French news or film/TV. This will help to tune you into French language and make it easier in the real thing. Have a think about what individual words in English in your daily life are in French, and write them in your vocab book mentioned earlier. Wordreference.com is an amazing, free online dictionary which gives you a range of answers and explains the context of each word and where to use it, helping to make your language as fluent as possible. Your school may already have access to it (so in this case use it) but Vocabexpress.com is a great language learning tool which has all the main exam boards’ topic-specific vocab lists. It makes you learn the vocab in groups and doesn’t let you pass the session until you get all of them right. It can be painstaking, but it’s worth it!
Hopefully, by putting all of these things into practice, you can optimise your chances of getting a 9 in your GCSE French. Good luck!
GCSE and IGCSE French Tuition
With tutors based in London and available online to families around the world, Keystone is one of the UK’s leading private tutoring organisations. Find out more about our GCSE French Tutors and IGCSE French Tutors.