“That was so hard!”
“The reading was impossible!”
“Did anyone get the answer to the last question on the listening paper?”
Does this sound familiar? With Year 11 students just about to sit for their GCSE exams now, British teachers are now facing that part of the year when their jobs are all about assessment and reflection. What can we do better next year?
The Complete Guide to Spanish GCSE Mastery
If you’re new to the Spanish GCSE, the first thing you should know is how the exam works and how your students will be graded.
The truth is, if you’re an overseas trained teacher or your school is just getting their first Year 10 cohort next year, you’ll probably find it quite difficult to prepare your students for that most desired A. Finding good guides or tips to actually understand how the whole exam works can be really complicated.
Worry not, we’re here to help!
How Does the Spanish GCSE Work?
Well, first things first, no matter what board you choose, students will be tested on all four major language skills. No, there’s no way to escape that dreaded listening exam. The good news is that, at least for now, some parts are assessed through controlled assessments, which are tasks that are carried out under exam conditions within the school.
Have a look at how each exam component is weighted below:
- Listening exam: Students sit a final exam at the end of Year 11. It’s worth 15% of the overall grade.
- Reading exam: Students sit a final exam at the end of Year 11. It’s also worth 15% of the overall grade.
- Speaking exam: Students have controlled assessments throughout Years 10 and 11. They need to have two marks for two different tasks. It’s worth 30% of the overall grade.
- Writing exam: Students have controlled assessments throughout Year 10 and 11. They also need two marks for two different tasks and it’s also worth 30% of the overall grade.
So what does a controlled assessment look like and how do you prepare your students for it?
The process of preparing students for controlled assessment has three parts which are all carried out in the school by the teacher.
This is actually great news in terms of getting students to pass the exam because we can basically train them to just tick the right boxes. However, there’s a lot of talk out there about whether it’s actually the best way to learn a language or not.
1. During Stage 1, the teacher introduces a topic. All the work and preparation takes place here. The key idea is to have your students producing as much written material as possible while clearly understanding the next steps.
It’s at this stage when we must guide our students to help them create the best possible work, which will then feed into the next stage. By the end of this part, they should have enough good written material to use in the following stages.
2. At the beginning of Stage 2, the task is given out and explained. This task can be something like, “write a magazine article about…” or “write a letter to…” for the writing-oriented controlled assessment, or maybe “you have a job interview…” or “you have been asked to talk about…” for the speaking-oriented controlled assessment.
The task should contain some bullet points to guide the students when they’re preparing for the assessment. If you’re going to be in charge of creating the tasks, make sure you check some out before to get some inspiration!
Students will then have around 4-6 hours worth of lessons to prepare for the controlled assessment. In our school, this means two weeks between the day we give out the task and tell them the date of the exam. However, at this point, there’s little more we can do! Students can access any previous work they’ve completed in class, notes, revision guides and/or dictionaries to prepare a draft of their written response or to prepare some answers to the questions that they’ll be asked in the speaking assessment.
3. Stage 3 is the actual controlled assessment:
For the writing assessment, students are given an hour to complete the actual written response, which they should have drafted already during Stage 2. During the assessment they may have access to dictionaries, but make sure you advise them not to rely on them solely! Depending on the board, they’ll also be allowed some words of their choice to support them in the task.
For the speaking assessment, the actual assessment lasts around 4-6 minutes. Students aren’t allowed dictionaries, but again, depending on the board, they can have some chosen words with them.
What’s the real gem hidden behind controlled assessments? Well, you need to send two marks for speaking and two marks for writing, but that doesn’t mean that you can only do two.
On the contrary, my friend! The majority of students aren’t able to shine in their first speaking or writing controlled assessments. Most of them are so nervous that they’re shaking, especially when it comes to speak. Some of them even go completely mind blank.
So, how can we make sure we get the two best possible grades for them at the end of Year 11? By doing more than two, of course! This doesn’t only give them more opportunities to make the most of the assessment, but it also trains them on how to properly deal with these kinds of tasks.
These are the basics. If you want to learn more, have a look at the following resources from the different exam boards. You can find teaching materials, specifications and vocabulary support!
- AQA Spanish GCSE
- OCR Spanish GCSE
- Edexcel Spanish GCSE
- CCEA Spanish GCSE
- Cambridge Spanish IGCSE
- WJEC Spanish GCSE
But, how can you help your students actually ace their Spanish GCSE? Read on!
Help Your Students Score an A* in Spanish GCSE
If you’re starting with your first GCSE class next September or you’re eager to up your game with your current classes, have a look at these award-winning techniques to make the most of class time for developing each skill area!
Writing and Speaking
Once you’ve chosen the topic for your next writing controlled assessment, provide your students with a set of questions linked to the topic and ask them to work on them as part of their homework or within lessons.
When you get their responses back, mark them and have a quick look at what each student needs to work on in order to improve their writing. This could be including a range of tenses, making their answers more personal (less textbook-based) or adding more complex sentences.
Give your students clear next steps so they know how to make their answers even better! You can even put your students in groups depending on their target grades for this so they can help each other out.
Collaboration is key in both writing and speaking. During Stage 2, they won’t be able to get your help, so if they trust each other and know how to pick each other’s brains, you’ll be on to a winning strategy.
I have a fantastic GCSE class this year. The students all have a great dynamic between them. The group is quite small and there’s a very wide range of abilities present, from a student that’s already working with A-level materials to those that still struggle with conjugations. So far, we’ve had two controlled assessments and all of them have smashed their target grades. How? By working together!
At the beginning of the year, I started making it a point to tell them where each of them excels in Spanish. Some are amazing at adjective agreement and are able to spot mistakes really quickly in anyone’s work, while others are just great at finding random synonyms and expressions to boost up the language in their writing and speaking tasks. Some are great at making their work personal, while a few just have a way of infusing others with their confidence in speaking. So during Stage 2, they spontaneously started going to each other to get their classmates to check stuff for them or to practice specific parts. It was such a nice surprise!
During Stage 2, you can put your students in groups and give them roles. For example, someone can check tenses, while someone else can give some feedback on the content or the variety of opinions. Peer assessing each other’s work with a clear role in mind will help others, but it will also help them develop their own drafts.
When practicing for the speaking controlled assessment during Stage 2, remember that it’s all about getting your students babbling away! Find games and activities to get them speaking in different ways. This will keep them excited and enthusiastic.
Before our first controlled assessment, I did a whole lesson on making our spoken Spanish sound natural. I gave them clear success criteria: it was all about Spanish expressions, tone and interaction. They had been practicing the answers they had created for weeks, so that lesson was all about the drama! The key is to get them to loosen up a bit, have fun with the language and embrace the Spanish passion! They get lots of marks for these sorts of things, so don’t overlook them.
Finally, a key part of the speaking controlled assessment is to be able to deal with unpredictable questions. Make sure you spend some time doing mock assessments with your students, asking them questions they aren’t prepared for. Teach them how to anticipate them and how to effectively deal with them. This will ensure that they won’t go mind blank on the day!
If you have very capable students in your class, the kind of students that’ll definitely score an A*, get them to go around asking others unpredictable questions to put them on the spot. It’ll also help your A* pupils to develop their interaction and have a more fluent conversation in Spanish.
Reading and Listening
The reading and listening exams hold a massive risk: Some students (and teachers!) get so carried away with the controlled assessments, they completely forget about the reading and listening exams.
Aim for at least a listening and reading exercise a week, even if it’s as part of their homework. Remember, these skills are all about picking out the correct vocabulary, so reinforce vocabulary learning and have regular vocabulary tests if you need to!
One great idea is to provide your students with vocabulary booklets at the beginning of the year in which they can write new words, and encourage them to be independent and responsible for their own learning.
Doing past paper questions is a great way to practice and learn the necessary techniques to shine in the exams. I have now started practicing the questions in two different stages to allow my students to reflect on their mistakes.
First, I give them the reading or listening task and ask them to complete it under exam conditions. It doesn’t need to be a whole paper—maybe you could just pick out some appropriate questions for the topic you’re covering in class at that point.
Then, ask them to get a different color pen and give them a dictionary (and the transcript for the listening activities) to re-do the questions with extra support. It’ll give them the chance to uncover false friends and spot exactly where the exam is trying to trick them.
If you want to find past papers for your students to practice, check out the following links!
- AQA Past Papers
- OCR Past Papers
- Edexcel Past Papers
- CCEA Past Papers
- Cambridge IGCSE Past Papers
- WCEJ Past Papers
Upcoming Changes to the Spanish GCSE
In two years’ time, the Spanish GCSE will change quite a bit. The most important change is that the controlled assessments will disappear and everything will be assessed through a final exam. Each of them will be worth 25%.
Other important changes we need to have in mind are that grammar and cultural aspects of the language will be in the new exams, as will literary texts and translations. All of these will be introduced to the exam.
Preparing our students for the new GCSE is really complicated, because there isn’t much guidance provided for us yet. If you have to face that challenge now, make sure you keep up to date with all the news that will most probably come up in the next few months!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach Spanish with real-world videos.