GCSE German #001: Prep, specs and word lists.

Happy Monday, everyone! And, welcome to my new blog post series: a plethora of hints, tips and assistance to help you pass your GCSE German exam!

GCSE German 001

So I guess if you’re at school in the UK, this is most likely the beginning of your first proper week back. I hope you’re already off to a good start for 2015/2016!

Now, something that I’ve wanted to do for a while was to provide resources and assistance for those of you taking language exams. I did GCSEs in three languages: French, German and Spanish (well, four if you count Mandarin, but let’s not) and I did an A-Level in German too, though it feels like it was really long ago now. I remember some of my classes (vaguely) and I remember doing homework and stuff, but I was one of a handful of people who was really interested in languages at GCSE and one of three students in a consortium of schools who took German all the way to A-Level, so I know it can be kind of lonely sometimes.

I also know that there are lots of resources on the internet for you guys now. I didn’t take my exams that long ago, but as I’ve been researching for this post series, I’ve noticed a distinct upswing in both the quantity and quality of resources out there, waiting to be discovered.

What I am hoping to do here is two-fold:

  • I want to help you with the general task that are your GCSEs. These are the first major set of exams you have to take. They seem really scary. There are a lot of them. People will say to you that they’re not so hard, and while you may look back on them and think that – you are absolutely entitled to believe they’re difficult right now. But, they’re doable and your grades are achievable.
  • I want to help you specifically with your German GCSE. If you’re taking German at GCSE, then yay! In 2015 alone, the number of people taking a German GCSE exam dropped by 10%. There’s fewer and fewer of you every year – so you’re awesome. And, I believe you can do it. It might be difficult, it might annoy you or frustrate you, but you’ll also probably love it at points.

Now, down to the true introduction.

This post is about three things: preparation, specifications for your exams and word lists (among other resources).

My main point for preparation this week: start now.

I know that most of you won’t, and that’s okay. After all, you might not have even had your first class yet. I hope you’re looking forward to it. 😉 But actually, I think reading this blog post counts as prep.

If you’ve got this far, try and read through the rest. Save some of the links, especially the ones that relate to your specific exam. (Hint: If you don’t know the exam board that your school uses for German, take an opportunity in the next week to ask. Your teacher will love that you’re being so pro-active, so it’s kind of win-win.)

Preparation for these exams is a constant battle – and if you’re reading this and you’re taking your exams this year; or if it’s May already and you’re doing them next month, then don’t panic. There’s still time to do something. There’s always time to do something. (And I’m sure you’ll have already done something.)

Second: the specifications for your exams.

These may or may not be useful for you. For me, they were super useful because they gave me a handy little checklist that I could use to check I knew what I needed to.

If you don’t know what an exam specification is (and if you’re starting your GCSEs, don’t worry, you’ll find out!), it’s basically a document provided by your exam board that lists the topics you need to know for your exam. It also has a list of core vocabulary and grammar topics – some of which you need to be able to use, some of which you only need to be able to understand. It sounds complicated, but if you’re like me, then it will come to be your best friend.

You can see the AQA specification here, the Edexcel specification here and the OCR specification here. Let me know if I missed any!

Don’t worry about the specifications too much if you’re just starting out on your road to GCSE. They’re a good checkpoint for your revision – and they have some interesting information in them, but some people have already used that…

… To make word lists! (Among other resources I have for you.)

If you’ve looked around my blog at all, then you’ll know I absolutely swear by memrise – as do many other language learners. I’m not going to talk about it at great length here, but handily, some lovely people have already put together memrise courses for the word lists provided in the Edexcel and AQA specifications. (I actually found three good ones for AQA!) There are some for specific OCR topics too, if you do a quick search.

Now, what I discovered on my little research-fest last week, is that a GCSE should put you at around A1-A2 level on the CEFR scale (more about that here; basically if you do a foundation GCSE you should be at the A1 level, a higher GCSE – A2). What that means is that there are a variety of resources you can use that don’t just hang on the GCSE. That sounds like it might waste some of your time – but it actually adds some variety, which is something you’re sorely going to need when you’re trying to learn verb conjugations for the billionth time.

So here are some more resources that you may or may not find to be of use:

  • Memrise: Beginner’s German A1 – created by the people at memrise, this covers a lot of the vocabulary and sentence structures you’d need at a beginner’s level.
  • Memrise: Beyond Beginner’s German A2 – after you’ve finished the course above (you can do it!) then you can move onto this one. It covers a lot of the vocab/sentences you’d need at A2 level.
  • Deutsche Welle: Level A1
  • Deutsche Welle: Level A2 – this and the link above are from the Deutsche Welle website, which deals in German news but also in teaching German. Explore the links: there are interactive courses, web series, podcasts, etc.
  • Duolingo – Duolingo is a great companion to your studies as it takes you through grammar and vocabulary bit-by-bit. You don’t just have to use it  for German either; currently if you’re an English speaker, you can use Duolingo to learn: Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Swedish, Danish, Turkish, Norwegian, Esperanto and Ukranian, too.
  • Goethe Institut: Lern Deutsch – Die Stadt der Wörter – This is an interactive course/game provided by the Goethe Institut. It looks kind of fun and should help you to grasp at least the basics.
  • FSI: German FAST – FSI courses are something I’ve talked about before too; they’re courses that were used by the Foreign Service Institute in the USA to help bring their staff up to a good level of language quickly. This is perhaps a little grammar-intensive (and a little intensive in general) but might be good for a summer refresher before you go back to school.
  • Deutsche Welle: Deutsch Interaktiv – A free online German course aimed at learners from level A1-B1. They do a test at first to determine your German level; you do have to sign up to their website though when you click through for the course (it’s free!).
  • Deutsche Welle: Deutsch – Warum nicht? – This is an audio course, again aimed at levels A1-B1. There are 26 lessons all in all, each with audio and a pdf which covers the audio transcript, grammar and some exercises.
  • Twitter: dw_learngerman (Deutsche Welle) – If you have twitter, this is a good account to follow. Again from Deutsche Welle, the account tweets links to their lessons and questions for you to answer. It’s a fun and low maintenance way to practise when you don’t feel like serious studying.
  • Nachrichtenleicht – This website is really aimed at A2-B2 level learners, but it seemed worth adding, particularly if you’re interested in improving your reading level. They provide news stories, but in easier German for you to understand.
  • GCSE Bitesize: German – A staple of GCSE revision (I used it for mine!) but it doesn’t seem to have been updated in a while. Still, there will be useful sections.
  • S-cool: GCSE German Revision
  • GCSE.com: Revising German – Both these sites are ones I found on a cursory search for ‘GCSE German Revision’. There appear to be lots of exercises on these sites though, so they should be useful.
  • Tumblr – Tumblr is a really good place for language learners – there’s a big community on there and you’ll probably find lots of other students who know exactly what you’re going through. Search for: German, Deutsch, learn German, langblr and other related tags to find entries or people to follow.
  • Lang-8 – This is also a site that’s not really specific to any language. What’s good about lang-8 is that you can post your writing and get it corrected by native speakers. I find that for German it takes anywhere from 4-24 hours to see a correction, but it’s definitely worth it.

Right: long post is long! This may have gotten a bit out of hand. HOWEVER, if you made it to the end – well done! I’ll be back next week with another post (related to procrastination and motivation) and then the language-specific posts will begin after.

Let me know any thoughts you have on this post/post series, especially if there’s something you’d like me to cover! You can post a comment here or email me – or even send me a message on tumblr, if you’re over there.

I have just one thought to leave you with. While this post series will focus specifically on your GCSE exam and on exams in general, remember that they are not the be all and end all, especially when you are learning a language. I will talk about this in more depth at a later date, but there will be times when you think the things you have to learn for your exams are strange (they are!) or useless (sometimes, and at the point where you’re learning them, yeah, maybe) and it might put you off that language a little. Try and find something to enjoy. That’s going to help you more than any revision guide or game or anything like that. You have to learn a language for school right now (maybe? I know some of you will be doing it because you want to, as well), but learning any language is not a detriment. It’s very difficult to separate the ‘learning for fun’ and ‘learning for an exam’ mentality, especially while you’re at school, but try not to let the exams get you down.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this. I hope you found it useful. I’ll see you again next week! 😀

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