Writing exam

The writing exam is the place to let your language skills shine by expressing your ideas and using all the grammar and vocab you know. As there is no coursework, your written communication is based solely on how you perform in this exam. Don’t fret though, in this exam you’ll only be expected to write about topics you’ve covered in class and include vocab and grammar you’ve learnt, used and perfected throughout the year.

We've covered all aspects of the writing exam, right through from how it's structured and how to revise to what to do in the exam and practice papers.

Exam structure

This exam is sat at the same time as the reading and listening exams. You are expected to spend about 45 minutes on the writing section and write between 200 and 300 words. The whole exam will be between 2 and 2 and a half hours long.

Insider info:

”The marks for this exam are split evenly between the content that you include and the quality of the language you use.”

You’ll need to write a short response to the given topic. There will be a little introduction written in the foreign language talking about the topic in question - basically setting the scene and introducing the task. You may be given bullet point information of what sort of things to include in your answer. The task itself will be to write an essay of some sort. Depending on the exam board it could be discursive (eg about current affairs), creative (eg a newspaper article) or task based (eg writing a letter).

The marks for this exam are split evenly between the content that you include and the quality of the language you use. To get top marks you need to show full grasp of the task, give a convincing and well developed answer, be grammatically accurate and use a wide variety of vocabulary.

Revision

Revision for the writing exam is split into different parts to help you get the most from it. 

Vocab learning

You’re in a great habit of listing vocab under each topic from GCSE so make sure you don’t slip out of this during your A-levels; this is when you’ll need your vocab book more than ever! Revise a little vocab every day for only around 5 mins, for your brain to really remember a word it needs to ‘meet’ it at least 20 times. This doesn’t seem like much but it’s enough to keep it fresh in your mind and ready to use in the exam.

Grammar

This is what the writing exam’s all about; expressing yourself correctly and accurately in another language. Know your tenses and conjugations so you’re able to write exactly what you want in the exam. Keep them fresh in your mind by reviewing them regularly, going through your textbook and doing online exercises. Learn high scoring phrases and which tenses go with them.

Learning the format

Go through practice papers and get to know the format. These are a great tool for getting used to how the questions are asked and what the examiner wants from you in the answer. Ask your teacher about the mark scheme, and what you need to do to get the grade you’re aiming for. Why not look at the marking criteria for above the grade you're aiming for to keep aiming high.

Exam tactics

Go through a few past papers in timed conditions and always give yourself time to check through at the end - it’s invaluable for picking up on the little mistakes you might have made along the way. Look over what your common mistakes are so you learn not to make them.

Immerse yourself

Surround yourself with the language! You don’t have to go abroad to feel like you’re there. Get plenty of regular practice at writing. Write emails to a friend or create a homework to-do list in a foreign language. Change the language of your myspace, facebook or bebo or your mobile phone - this is great for learning new vocab. Set your homepage to the BBC news in your foreign language so you automatically read a little bit every day.

Read

The final top tip is to read in the foreign language. You’re probably thinking ‘why? this is a writing exam’ but you actually learn a lot for your writing by reading authentic material in the foreign language. It gets your brain used to seeing how sentences are formed and how the grammar works to convey the meaning of the sentence. This really reinforces your grammar and vocab learning as they all link together in your exams so you’re killing 3 birds with one stone.

In the exam

To do well in the exam it pays to be exam-savvy and know how to use your time effectively. Here are our top tips to get you through:

Exam tip:

”In your answer, give examples, include personal opinions and experiences that will enhance your writing - this is what the examiner wants to read.”

  • Keep an eye on the time. Allocate roughly how much time you want to spend on each section and keep on track in the exam.
  • Plan!!! When you write your essay, make sure you do a plan first, this will give your essay a good logical structure and ensures you fit in all the points you want to make.
  • Write a heading for introduction, paragraph 1, paragraph 2 etc. and conclusion.
  • Under each heading make bullet points of what you want to say. Jot down top scoring phrases or idioms that would fit in - having them here means you won’t forget to write them in later.
  • Conclude! Don’t forget to write a conclusion summing up the main points you’ve made and make sure you answer the question. Without it is like taking out the last page of a book...and you don’t want to leave the examiner left wondering.
  • In your answer, give examples, include personal opinions and experiences that will enhance your writing - this is what the examiner wants to read.
  • Use the stimulus bullet points in the question to remind yourself what you have to include and tick them off as you go along.
  • Keep an eye on the word count. Be concise in your writing and use a wide range of language. You don’t want to lose marks by going well over (or under) it.
  • Check thoroughly. After all the hours and effort you’ve put in, don’t throw it all away by not reading through your writing. It might be the last thing you want to do at the end of a long exam but it’s the silly mistakes which are the most costly. Look out for:
    • tenses
    • conjugations
    • spelling
    • gender
    • word order
    • ...and anything else we might have missed off!

Past paper weblinks

AQA Past Papers
OCR Current Past Papers
OCR -Pre2009 Past Papers
Edexcel Past Papers