What are your thoughts on this year’s GCSE exams?

9-1 exams

We asked Rebecca Nobes, Head of Spanish and #MFLchat on twitter to share her reflections on this year’s AQA GCSE Spanish exams. We’d love to hear your thoughts too, so please share your thoughts in the comments below.

The general consensus

The general consensus among the MFL teaching community seems to be that this year’s exams were about what we would have expected them to be. The main thing we seem to agree on is that the writing paper was the best of them. For both tiers the questions were on good topics, worded in ways that the students should’ve been able to understand and didn’t include anything designed to throw them. As for the picture task on the foundation, there seemed to be plenty going on in the picture that the students could write about. Altogether, quite pleasing really. The translations on both the foundation and higher papers seemed fair, with the higher translation being easier than any from the specimens or last year. The speaking was on similar lines and whilst there were a couple of issues related to role plays, on the whole the exam was as expected.

The challenges

Of course, the listening paper was as challenging as we would have expected. Speaking to students, they felt that the listening was much harder than the reading and whilst the more confident students aren’t bothered by this, it is enough to make some students lose their confidence. I think most MFL teachers would be in favour of seeing a reduction in the difficulty of this exam to make it feel less like the exam board are trying to catch students out with so many distractors. A glance at the paper and transcript showed that there were definitely a few tough items of vocabulary that student’s may have found it hard to work out from context if they didn’t know them. The use of the word ‘suspender’ on a multiple choice question may have led students to answering that they were excluded/suspended from school as opposed to failing exams, a good example of something some students will have tripped up on. That said, it is a word they should have seen during the school topic and so the question is good for separating out those who know their vocabulary from those who don’t. 

Teaching resilience

When it comes to the reading paper, I think we mostly agree that it was as we would have expected. The only thing that has struck teachers as unfair was the poetry question. Looking at the question now it doesn’t seem so hard if you know what you’re looking for. However, in the heat of the exam I think this will definitely have thrown a few students off course, in fact a quick search of the related Twitter hashtag on the day of the exam suggested that it had. For each part of the question students only needed to recognise a few words in order to work out the answer, but hiding these key words were poems with lots of unknown vocabulary. The key takeaway from this style of question is that we need to prepare students to be resilient in the face of questions which include lots of unknown words. If students are used to this type of task and just picking out the key words that they need, they wouldn’t be so put-off during the exam. That said, this is only one question that was worth relatively few marks, are we better focusing our time elsewhere?

Issues from last year

Reflecting on the examiners report from the 2018 exams, two of the key points made were that students had issues with time frames and understanding the questions. I’m sure time frames will continue to be an issue, as this is just the nature of learning a language and something that some students will always find a challenge. As for the the understanding of the questions, I think there will be fewer issues with this related to the writing paper as they seemed more accessible than previous papers. This may still be an issue where it comes to the reading and listening papers, but again, this is something that separates our more and less able students.

Overall, this year’s exams seem to have settled and teachers are more aware of what we are preparing for. Rather than sparking lots of new changes I think these exams will have confirmed the changes that many of us have begun to make, and will give us confidence to continue to do so. Of course, only time will tell, let’s see how we feel in August.

Rebecca Nobes – Head of Spanish

Rebecca Nobes is Head of Spanish at The Boswells School in Chelmsford, Essex. She runs #MFLchat on Twitter on Monday evenings from 8.30pm-9.00pm She is a council member of the Chartered College of Teaching and is due to be awarded Chartered Teacher status in July 2019. She can be found at @BexN91 on twitter or www.learninglinguist.co.uk

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