Reading exam

The reading exam is just like the reading exam that you had to do for your GCSE. There are extracts and information that you need to find in order to answer the questions. The content for your reading exam is covered in the class topics you study throughout your A-levels.


The format differs depending your exam board but the prep is still the same. You may have a translation to do, or answers in a text to pick out and respond to in English.The one lifeline you'll need is vocab! If you understand all the words then you understand the meaning and can answer the question so keep looking over it little and often to ace the exam.

Exam structure

You sit this exam at the same time as your listening and writing exam, so it's really important that you keep an eye on the time. You are expected to spend around 45 minutes on the reading part. There are normally 3-4 question groups to answer and they’ll progressively get longer (and harder!) The answer length may vary from one word to small explanations, but with the text right in front of you the answers are there too. Look at the number of marks available to give you an indication of how detailed your answer needs to be.

In this section of the exam you’ll be assessed on the quality of your language, the accuracy of your spelling, the correct verb conjugations and tenses. You’ll also be marked on the content of your answers – so make sure you have included all the details required.


It’s easy to revise for the reading exam as there’s so much you can do. Here are our pointers on how to revise for the reading section of the exam:

Top tip:

”Concentrate on understanding what you read rather than reading as much as you can in one go.”

  • Read something you enjoy! Use the internet to find an article or film review you like and interests you otherwise you’ll lose the will to live drudging through some boring topic.
  • Concentrate on understanding what you read rather than reading as much as you can in one go.
  • Don't look up vocab whilst you are reading - it’ll distract you and you’ll lose the gist of the text - use the context to work out what it’s about.
  • Review your vocab book little and often, especially topic specific vocab that is likely to come up.
  • Practice the translation part from past papers so you gauge what sort of content and language they use.
  • Borrow reading material such as stories from your teacher.
  • Try reading a book written in your foreign language. Aim to understand a few pages each revision session.
  • Go through past papers and get them marked by your teacher so you know which areas to improve on - look out for recurring topics and revise the vocab like mad!
  • Learn synonyms (the same) and antonyms (the opposite) of commonly used words so you don’t copy the words used in the extract.
  • Your reading skills can be perfected with time and constant practice.

In the exam

The best way to tackle the reading section is to read the questions to see what sort of things the examiners want and then skim read the extract to check you understand it and pick out any obvious answers - spend about 5 mins on this. Now follow the rest of our tips:

Super strategy:

”Learn a few phrases that you can use to lead with when answering a question and can add necessary information to your answer.”

  • Before you hand in the exam paper make sure you’ve checked the spelling of any words that have come from the reading extracts – there is nothing worse than incorrectly copying words which the examiners have given to you.
  • Make notes/underline/highlight as you go along and think of things so you don’t forget them later on.
  • Try not to copy the answer word for word from the text - you’ll get more marks for rewording it.
  • Write in the correct language. If the paper specifies which language to put the answer in then make sure you write in the correct one.
  • If you’re stuck on one particular question then move on to another! It isn’t a good idea to spend too long on each question without completing the rest.
  • Learn a few phrases that you can use to lead with when answering a question and can add necessary information to your answer. Such as - according to the text, because, therefore etc.
  • Check! Remember verb conjugations, tenses and plural/singular nouns – you may need to manipulate these in order for your answer to make sense.

Useful links

It’s all well and good us saying how great internet resources are, but for those disbelievers here are great links to improve your reading:

Useful links: dictionaries

Verbix can conjugate verbs in 86 languages.

Wikipedia doesn't just do English - it does almost every language you can think of!

WordReference is an excellent online dictionary that mainly covers French, Italian, and Spanish - contains many phrases as well as individual words. Also has Spanish-Portuguese, Spanish-French, English-only and Spanish-only dictionaries.

Useful links: French

Le grand dictionnaire terminologique includes many entries for scientific and technical French words.

Here is a dictionary of synonyms for French.

Le Conjugueur - conjugates verbs and is also available to download and use offline.

Useful links: German

LEO has dictionaries for German-English, German-French and German-Spanish. is also very useful as it gives you examples

Useful links: Spanish

Spanish Dict is a great online dictionary for English-Spanish.

Reading sites: French

French resources from the University of Adelaide contains a wealth of French links. It includes links to newspapers and radio/TV. is good for browsing and has some interesting lessons and audio files. They also put out a weekly newsletter featuring selected lessons and articles.

INSÉE, Ifop, Ipsos and TNS-Sofres are all good sources of statistics and surveys.

Zut! is a compact site that offers online activities, however, you can only get free access before 9am and after 4pm.

IE languages has some great info on lots of aspects of French with exercises too.

Ado Doc is a flashy looking site that provides interactive exercises for "intermediate" students.

l'argot français is a great introduction to french slang with exercises.

Le Monde- this is quite a difficult french newspaper but try skim reading the front page stories to improve you knowledge and understanding of French and France.

Voici! - This is a fun magazine site giving you the gossip 'sur les stars'!

Gala - This also has news about the stars but also film reviews and cookery. All quite short pieces, which are easy to follow even if you don't understand every word.

Midi Libre - this is a great little site which features regional news stories.

Langauges Online - Great for exercises and refreshing you memory. There are also specific resources for A-level students.

A Tantot is great for building vocab through online games and covers a wide range of topics.

My French Resources is an amazing site for resources based on the Edexcel syllabus. It also has great grammar explanations.

Reading sites: German

Gut! is a cool site that offers online activities, however, you can only get free access before 9am and after 4pm.

The Goethe Institute has loads of materials for learners of German and more links.

The German Tutor has some German lessons, particularly grammar and it’s available in both English and Spanish.

There’s an entire beginner's course produced by the University of Portsmouth which is great for brushing up on skills.

Languages Online is a great one-stop-shop for refreshing your memory.

Sixth Sense - Produced by Oldham Sixth Form college, this site’s got loads of materials focused on A-levels.

Fairy Tales! This site has lots of popular fairy tales in German with an English translation available too.

Die Welt - A quality German daily newspaper (similar to le monde) that are great to look over a couple of times a week.

Die Zeit - Another great German daily newspaper with interesting articles - not as complex as Die Welt.

Spiegel - Selections from the German current affairs magazine.

Juma - This is a German language magazine intended for English teenagers.

Sowieso - This is an enjoyable online newspaper edited for younger readers making it easier for English students to read the news. You can practise giving opinions by sending feedback comments.

Quia - this site has lots of online games and puzzles. You get a 30-day free trial but after that you have to pay for a subscription.

The German Way - Great site for reading about the language and culture of the German-speaking world.

Eleaston - This is a comprehensive site that's great for tests, courses, grammar but also culture, film and much more.

Schulweb - This is a network of German school’s homepages with loads of interesting stuff.

About German - This is a great comprehensive site about many aspects of German.

The Internet Handbook of German Grammar is an advanced guide to all things grammar.

Spelling reform - Finally! An amusing and fun way to learn all the new spelling rules.

Süddeutsche Zeitung is the online youth magazine from the Jetzt newspaper with up-to-date and interesting articles.

A Tantot is great for building vocab through online games and covers a wide range of topics.

Reading sites: Spanish

BBC Mundo - Your Language Bible! Set this as your homepage and you’ll be reading something everytime you’re online. 

Oye! is a website offering online activities, although you can only get free access before 9am and after 4pm.

Study Spanish - this brilliant website has sections on pronunciation, grammar, vocab, daily word and verb drills. Each section explains things really clearly with examples in both English and Spanish, you can print off flash cards to remember the key points and test yourself on what you’ve just learnt.

El Mensual is a great learning resource - there are listening exercises and reading comprehension and the topics featured are similar and relevant to what you’re learning in class.

Languages Online is a great website for improving your vocab and revising what you learnt at GCSE. There's an A-level section where you can go over grammar and reading comprehension.

Español Extra - This website has podcasts to download; worksheets to fill in for reading, writing and listening; games; crosswords; tests; key vocab lists (Spanish-English) on topics you’ll cover in class.

Asise Hace is a great website for improving your reading skills and grammar skills - there are exercises to fill in the missing accents, words and focuses on topics that you’ll learn in class.

Languages Resources - Fun games on different topics, PowerPoints for easy learning and revision of all the grammar you could ever need and worksheets to practice reading comprehension. There is even a section on literature with a summary of different novels, key quotes and what sort of things you may need to include in a literature question.

Sunderland Schools have a good website for working through worksheets on the topics that could come up in the exam, there is also a role play section for preparing for the speaking test, gapfills and key word lists.

A Tantot is great for building vocab through online games and covers a wide range of topics.

Spaleon - Once you know the verbs you want to include- use this website to practice and really drill in the different endings for each conjugation in each tense.

Quia has 7223 activities. Games, quizzes, battleships, gapfills, hangman, jumbled words! You’ll never be bored again!

Spanish Language Exercises - This really helped me whilst studying for my A-levels and I still use it now!