10 Top Tips to Ace Your Language Exams

revise for language exams

Today, I've got an amazing guest blog post for you about how to revise for language exams, by German tutor extraordinaire, Karin Raffa. There's so much good stuff in here – whether you're studying a language or not. You can also check out the recent article about how to revise geography and history.

Over to Karin…

Learning a foreign language is incredibly useful because you can go out and use what you’ve learned in the real world. However, when it comes to exams, studying a foreign language will be quite different from any other subject because you simply can’t revise in the same way you would for a maths exam. The I’ve-learned-this, let’s-move-on approach won’t work very well. The reason is simple: You need to practise for a language exam. And the more you practise, the better you’ll be.

Languages exams will always present you with some surprise questions. These are questions you won’t be prepared for and will have to answer on the spot. Like in a real-life situation, you will be tested on your ability to manipulate language to express your ideas. However, this shouldn’t scare you! There’s a lot you can do to be well prepared for your exam and actually enjoy showing off your language skills.

How to revise for language exams

1. Don’t leave your exam practice until the last minute!

Your brain needs time to create the neural pathways to store the new information. Practise every day: Speaking and writing the new structures and vocabulary daily for 20 minutes. The more you practice, the easier the words will roll off your tongue in the exam. Use mini-habits or the five minute revision challenge to turn this daily practise into a regular habit.

Language exams: The more you practice, the easier the words will roll off your tongue in the exam. Share on X

2. Practise exam style questions.

If you have to complete a gap-fill style task, practise gap-fill exercises. If you have to write a short letter on a particular topic, practice writing. If you have an oral exam, role play it with a friend, memorize it, act it out and exaggerate! The stranger the better! You’ll be surprised how much you’ll still remember after your performance. Use the Revision Power Hour technique to get the most out of doing past papers.

3. Use a model answer

Get a model answer which achieved the grade you’re aiming for and find out what makes it a great piece of work. Note down all the features and use it as a model for your own work. Then you’ll have a good idea what examiners are looking for. Make sure you can show off these skills in your own exam.

4. Extend your vocabulary

All language learned is relevant! Remember, I told you that you can’t simply ‘revise‘. Here is why: it really doesn’t matter if the topic didn’t come up in last year’s exam. You will be able to use almost any structure, vocabulary and expression in one way or another. There’s always more than one correct way to express an idea. The more language you have the better. The truth is it’s totally up to you how you express your ideas as long as you address the topic. And remember it doesn’t have to be true!

5. Use internet resources

Immerse yourself in the language! There is a wealth of resources at your finger tips: Youtube, Podcasts, websites, games.





6. Use all the clues

Look at the headings, subheadings, pictures. They’ll all give you clues for understanding, the topic and type of vocabulary you can expect. If you come across a word or phrase you don’t know, please don’t panic! You don’t have to understand every word to understand a text. Often, you can guess the meaning of a word by reading its context.

Language exams: You don’t have to understand every word to understand a text; you can guess the meaning of a word by reading its context. Share on X

7. Use music when studying vocabulary

No, not the TV! I´m talking specifically about Baroque music, which was composed between 1600 – 1750 and has a tempo of about 60 beats per minutes (bpm). Baroque music can cause anywhere from 25 – 400% increase in your learning. Up to 400%! Each frequency has a different effect on your brain. The optimal brain frequency for learning is Alpha. So, how to you get into the alpha state? The easiest way is to use Baroque music, which has a frequency of 60 beats per minute (bpm), harmonizes with your body and will help you get your brain into the alpha state. And keep it in this optimal learning state.  

8. Revise in the same place

Do your exam practice always in the same area to use what cognitive scientist call context-dependent memory. Because the best place to remember something is where you first learned it. So in your exam, do a mental walk around the area where you practised for your exam. Or even better, do some practice sessions where you’ll sit your exam.

9. Use colour to aid your memory

Help your brain remember more by using different colours, e.g. verbs pink, prepositions yellow, nouns with articles on blue. When you’re thinking about it in the exam, you’ll be able to automatically recall the colour of the card and the matching vocabulary you need. Make sure you organize them appropriately.

10. Record yourself speaking

Firstly, to listen to yourself speaking the foreign language, and correcting your pronunciation when necessary, but also because you can listen to and read your notes at the same time. This way you’re using two modalities – listening and reading – at the same time, which will increase your retention. Use forvo to check the pronunciation of words you don’t know: https://de.forvo.com/

With these ten tips you’ll be very well prepared for your languages exams. And on the test day, don’t see it as a stressful test, see it as an opportunity to show off your language skills – see the test as a joyful experience and you'll pass the exam with flying colours!

Karin Raffa is a German teacher and certified Neurolanguage Coach® who works with students who want to learn the German language and get ready to take a language exam. She helps them get organised, troubleshoots to erase misunderstandings and clarify doubts, teaches them not only content by also exam techniques and how to deal with languages in a brain-friendly way. Sign up for free daily German language tips and get the eBook Your Master Plan for Language Learning Success – So You Can Use the Tools and Strategies You Wish You Knew in High School.

If you need more help with your revision and study skills for all your subjects, get a copy of The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take.

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