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How to pass the French Common Entrance exams
By Nigel Pearce
22 Sep

The first part of this guide is a series of general points about French exams at 13+. The second is a bit of advice on how to make the best of your knowledge, especially if you, the student, don't like exams. Everything here is based on many years' experience both as a student and teacher of French.

If you come to the exam thinking of it as a chance, at last, to show what you can do, you will be fine. If you think the exam is set to catch you out, and find out what you don't know, you will not find it so easy. Common Entrance French is carefully designed to give the student the opportunity to demonstrate what level of French they have reached. This is why the questions and sections are graduated, from quite simple through to quite demanding (to make sure you have a good command of the basics), to open-ended (where you can bring in more advanced or ambitious language).

Clearly, the highest grades will go to those who show good understanding of the listening and reading material, but (and this is more in the control of the student) especially those who confidently show a wide range of vocabulary and good grasp of verbs in the speaking and writing tests. Knowledge of verbs means knowing how to form the past, present and near future tenses in a good range of useful verbs, including the main irregular verbs.

To improve your chances in listening and speaking tests, it helps to practise, if possible, outside the classroom. Always remember that, in the listening tests, the clip is played more than once, and the speaking tests include short talks that you get to choose and prepare in advance. Level 2, with its additional, 'spontaneous' conversation, gives you a chance to show off a bit more, of course, as does the longer writing task.

Preparation, as usual, is the key to success! There is so much you can do to increase the chance of getting a high grade, just by being organised. Here are some suggestions, mainly for revision:

  1. If you haven't already, access, download and READ the ISEB French syllabus. It even shows you how points are awarded.
  2. Decide how much time is left to revise before the exams start. 
  3. Make sure you will be able to give revision time to the topics covered by the syllabus, by seeing how they will fit into the time remaining. Each topic will have a range of essential vocabulary, but lots of them overlap, of course.
  4. With each newly revised topic, don't forget to remind yourself of the earlier ones.
  5. Check that all the grammar you have covered is properly known. Practise giving the same information in different tenses.
  6. In written work especially, do not repeat yourself. You won't earn any extra marks!
  7. Remember that the exam is a chance to show off your best French. If you prepare well, you will feel confident. If you feel confident, you will stay calm and see all the opportunities the setters have given you.

Finally, it's important to bear in mind that the best impression will be given by those who sound natural, whatever their level, and do not simply reproduce pre-learnt phrases which might not be appropriate in a certain context. The point of learning a language properly is to be able to adapt and manipulate words and phrases depending on the circumstances, in order to get your message across the way you meant it.

Nigel Pearce is author of our French for Common Entrance textbook and revision resources. Learn more about Nigel here.

Galore Park offers a series of essential French revision resources (which have all been endorsed by the ISEB) for students preparing for the Common Entrance French exam, including:

  • French for Common Entrance Revision Guide:
    • Essential reading for students approaching the French for Common Entrance exams at Levels 1 or 2
    • Consolidates key information across reading, writing, speaking and listening
    • Arranged by topic for focused revision with Level 2 clearly marked
    • Exam style questions with helpful hints to improve exam technique
    • Grammar section with verb tables and diagrams
    • Now available as a digital eTextbook
  • French Exam Practice Questions and Answers:
    • Exercises are differentiated by Levels 1 and 2 and are modelled on ISEB past papers, covering a variety of topics
    • Answers to every question and marking guidance
    • Provides comprehensive practice
    • Builds students’ confidence and helps identify gaps in knowledge
  • ISEB French past papers
    • Practice with real ISEB French past papers – the best and most targeted preparation for pupils looking to secure a place at their chosen school

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Tags: 13+, 13+ Common Entrance, 13+ French, 13+ Revision, 13 plus, Common Entrance, Entrance exams, Exam Preparation, Exam tips, French, French Common Entrance, Independent School Examination Board, revision prep, Revision Tips

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