GCSE German: How to Revise for Confidence and Success

GCSE German students often get overwhelmed by all the long words and seemingly confusing rules. It can feel like a daunting task to get your head around the grammar and vocabulary and be able to walk into your exams with confidence

Magdalena Ewan is a qualified German teacher and a full-time German tutor. She’s helped countless students set themselves up for success in their GCSE German exams. This week, I talked to her about her advice for students preparing for their own GCSE German exams. 

Magdalena is also going to be teaching the How to Revise GCSE German Masterclass that’s happening at 7 pm on Thursday the 10th of March. 

Read on for a summary of my conversation with Magdalena or listen to the full conversation using the podcast player above. You can also listen on The School Success Formula podcast on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

How can students prepare themselves for GCSE German exams and where should they start? 

Start early 

When it comes to revising GCSE German vocabulary, the trick is to start early. The earlier you start, the more vocabulary you will be able to learn to use in your exam. If you haven’t started your revision yet, don’t panic. There’s still plenty of time to fit in lots of German revision but you should start now. 

Revise little and often

In this instance, often means every day. When it comes to learning a language, five minutes of revision every day is more effective than longer, less frequent revision sessions. 

Magdalena suggests fitting in at least five minutes every day. You could even do this on the way to school by recording words and phrases, along with their English translations, on your phone and listening to them as you walk, take the bus or take the train etc. If you feel comfortable doing so, you can also repeat each phrase or word aloud. That way, you're also practising your pronunciation. 

Keep a ‘vocab book' or ‘vocab sheet’

Keep a sheet or a book where you can write down any new word or phrase that you come across that you're not familiar with. It can be a piece of paper, a little booklet, or you can create a Google Docs document, which many students find handy as it can’t get lost. 

Divide it into three parts: verbs, nouns and everything else. The ‘everything else’ category can include adjectives, prepositions, phrases, etc. You can even go a step further and create separate vocabulary sheets/books for each German topic you study. 

How should you approach topic-specific vocabulary? 

GCSE German specifications are broken down into themes. 

The AQA GCSE German specification includes: 

  1. Identity and culture
  2. Local, national, international and global areas of interest
  3. Current and future study and employment

The Edexcel GCSE German specification includes: 

  1. Identity and culture 
  2. Local area, holiday and travel 
  3. School 
  4. Future aspirations, study and work 
  5. International and global dimension

The best way to approach vocabulary learning is to learn it by theme. 

At the end of each theme/topic in the textbook, there is a list of vocabulary specific to that topic. Read it, cover it up then repeat each word that you’re not already familiar with. You can also read a text from the textbook, underline all unknown words, look them up then write them down in your vocabulary sheet/book and revise them. 

However, don't just copy every single word that you can find about the topic. It’s likely that you already know more German words and phrases than you realise, so only copy the ones that you are not familiar with. 

How should you prepare for the listening GCSE German exam?

Most people consider listening to be the most challenging part of learning a new language. The only way you ever get good at it is to practise. The good news is that practising can be really fun. 

When listening to German being spoken aloud, many students feel as if they can’t understand a thing that’s being said. Firstly, don’t panic. Just stay quiet and listen out for keywords. When you’re able to identify some keywords, you’ll likely find you can understand parts of the text, which you can then piece together to answer the question. 

A nice way to get into German listening is listening to the German radio. You can also listen to the German news. There's a German news channel called slowly spoken German news (Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten), which even comes with the transcription. It’s really beneficial to be able to listen to it, look at the transcript, and figure out a few words here and there. 

Netflix is also a really great resource. There's lots of quality German programming on Netflix. Type ‘German’ into the search bar and it will bring up lots of German content to pick from. Alternatively, search for “Audio in German” for English language content that allows you to listen with a German voice-over.

Another option is to watch an English-spoken film with German subtitles on. If you want to stretch yourself a tiny bit, put on the German language and German subtitles. In the beginning, it might seem a bit confusing because there are so many things happening, but eventually you’ll be able to pick up some words here and there. 

There’s also a great Channel 4 series called Deutschland that anyone can watch for free on demand. Most of the show is German-spoken and it’s really good TV, so that’s another great choice, especially if you don’t have access to Netflix. 

Listening papers

Past listening papers are available online. You can get the MP3 file with the audio and you often also get the transcript.

If you struggle to discern what’s being said in the audio, take a look at the transcript. Underline words and phrases that you don’t understand, look them up, then redo the exercise. If you still struggle to understand, listen to the audio whilst reading the transcript. You’ll be able to pick up so many more words doing this. 

When should you start practising GCSE German past papers? 

The simple answer is to start practising past papers as soon as you can.

However, Magdalena suggests using past papers from another exam board to begin with. There are only a certain number of past papers out there. When you first begin practising past papers, your focus will likely be on revising the language component rather than exam technique. As the topics are very similar across exam boards, it’ll be more beneficial to save the limited number of past papers from your own exam board until later in the revision process.

Magdalena suggests starting to practice past papers from your own exam board at the end of March/start of April for a May exam. That way, you’ll get a much better idea of what your current level actually is. 

What’s the best way to prepare for the GCSE German written exam?

Keep it short, sweet and simple. This is what Magdalena calls the triple S rule. 

It’s far more beneficial to your exam marks to be able to perfect short, grammatically correct sentences than it is to rush into attempting long sentences. 

How can you make sure your sentences are grammatically correct?

There is a clear word order required for grammatically correct German sentences. Firstly, remember that German is a V2 language so, if a sentence uses a verb, the verb should be the second idea in the sentence. 

After that, you should apply the TMP rule, which stands for time, manner, place. 

For example, in the sentence, ‘Tomorrow, I'm going to town with my friends’…

  • Tomorrow is the time phrase 
  • Town is the place phrase 
  • Manner is basically everything that is not a time or place phrase

Not every sentence will have all three but the order still needs to be in place. 

Once you've gone through your written sentences and you’re sure you’ve applied the V2 rule and the TMP rule, you can then expand your sentence. You can add any of the three different connective types, coordinating subordinating and inversion connectors. 

If you follow these steps, your sentences will be correct in about 90% of the cases.

Magdalena also suggests writing down 3-4 sentences for each topic and thoroughly learning them so that you can reuse them in the actual writing exam. 

What are typical mistakes students make when preparing for the exam?

1. Students can often get overwhelmed with German

There are so many long words that can intimidate students. However, German is actually quite a logical language. Many of the nouns are compound nouns, which means they're made of short words that you might already know. 

So try not to get overwhelmed by those long words. Instead, try to break them down. You’ll likely find that there’s at least one word that you already know and then you can try to figure out the rest. 

It can also seem that there is a rule and many exceptions to it. For example, words that end in ‘heit’ tend to be feminine and therefore require a feminine article. There are exceptions to that rule, though; not all words that end in ‘heit’ are feminine. However, if you focus on learning the rule, you’ll find that it will apply in 90% of cases. 

A lot of students also panic when they read through a text, such as a reading comprehension text, because they don’t understand all of the words. However, you don’t need to be able to understand every single word in order to answer the comprehension questions; understanding the keywords and the context is often enough. 

2. They try to answer the oral questions in an overly-complicated way 

This goes back to sticking to the triple s rule  (short, sweet and simple). Though it can be tempting to answer oral questions in a fancy way, it’s best to keep it simple. Again, if you learn some sentences for each topic beforehand, then there will always be a sentence from your list that you can “recycle” and use in your answers for the oral questions or written questions. 

3. They don’t revise little and often

The key to success in language learning and GCSE prep is little and often. You will be able to retain much more information if you study in short regular sessions rather than longer sessions once or twice a week. 

Would you like more help with GCSE German?

If you’ve found this useful, join us for the How to Revise GCSE German Masterclass on the 10th of March at 7 pm inside The Extraordinaries Club. This masterclass has been much-requested and I’m so glad we’re finally getting to run it. 

During the masterclass, Magdalena will be sharing all of her advice for GCSE German students that are aiming to get the best grade they possibly can.

You’ll discover how to: 

  • Learn new vocabulary so it sticks
  • Prepare for the reading, writing, speaking and listening papers so you get the best marks possible
  • Improve your exam technique for German GCSE
  • Avoid common mistakes students make in German GCSE
  • And more…

Would you like to join us? Click here to find out more and register for the masterclass. If you can't make it on the day, the recording will be available to watch in The Extraordinaries Club at any time after the masterclass.

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