How Do I Revise For Speaking Exams?

Speaking or oral exams can come in many shapes and sizes. They all have different mark schemes and criteria and a range of possible topics and styles. Below are my main tips for revising for a speaking exam.

  1. Actually Speak

This is something my language teachers would always say: make sure you are speaking aloud instead of practicing in your head. I think this is one of the most important things about revising for a speaking exam. It is vital that you hear yourself saying the words, so that you know which words to emphasise and how the speech with flow – there may be things which are great written down but when spoken seem stiff and unnatural.

I stress this point particularly with foreign languages. I believe that hearing yourself saying the words helps you to remember them, and even if you don’t memorise the entire speech, a lot of key vocabulary will stay with you. It’s also helpful for improving your pronunciation.

  1. Trigger Happy

By “triggers” I mean starter sentences or phrases, which lead to something else. These are particularly important for foreign language exams, because having triggers ready for every tense will mean that in the exam if you forget what you rehearsed, or the examiner guides the exam in an unexpected direction, you can still bring in the higher level language.

Even at A-level, I had key phrases for higher-level grammar points, so that I would ensure that I would get them into my exam and I could get the higher marks.

Trigger Examples (for any language):

When I was younger…

Last weekend I went to…

When I am older, I plan to…

In my free time, I enjoy…

Spanish higher-level trigger examples:

Es importante que

Si fuera profesor, haría

Me entristece que

  1. Record Yourself

Nobody likes listening to themselves back, but I honestly believe this is one of the best ways to practice for speaking exams. This mostly applies to foreign languages, when you have a set of questions which might come up. To practice these questions I suggest:

  1. Record each of the questions on a separate voice memo on your phone.
  2. Transfer the voice memos to your computer and create a playlist of questions.
  3. In a new voice memo, or even without recording yourself, play the playlist of questions and answer each one as it comes.

I normally record myself answering the questions, and then will listen to the answers to the questions which I found most difficult. I can answer the questions for about half an hour or so before getting bored, and I won’t listen to the entire thing back, but it provides reassurance about my answers.

  1. Time Yourself

Yes, I’m that person in the class that does their practice speaking exam and runs over by 20 minutes. But that’s because I’m a linguist. This has not always worked in my favour, because it means I try to give as much detail as possible, when actually I just need to show good vocabulary and grammar in the time given.

So, while revising it is vital to time yourself. If you can record yourself as well and see what you said during the allocated time, that is even better. But otherwise, just time yourself so that in the exam you don’t (a) have too much to say and keep being cut off by the examiner; or (b) have anything to say in the last 5 minutes of the exam because you had no idea the exam would be so long.

  1. Drama Students Rejoice

Unfortunately for the introverts of the world, no matter how word-perfect you are, or how excellent your knowledge of the topic is, you probably won’t be able to score full marks in a speaking exam if you aren’t dramatic and enthusiastic in your answers.

This is not one of my strong points – my teachers always told me that I needed to sound “more spontaneous” and “more enthusiastic” when I talk about as my hobbies or the environment. Even though I had prepared and rehearsed for weeks, they wanted “feeling” in the language. I would say that even for foreign language exams and even if it feels a bit stupid, try to inject surprise, shock and intrigue into your exam so that the examiner doesn’t mark you down for making him listen to another monotonous recital of “my dream holiday”.

  1. Practice Makes Perfect

A lot of people say “you can’t revise for a speaking exam”. This is completely ridiculous. Speaking exams are one of the easiest exams to prepare for because, ok, you aren’t given a textbook to learn from, but more often than not, you are given a topic and probably a set of questions to practice with. Knowing your topic and having your triggers prepared are the key points for a speaking exam, once you have them, it’s all about just continuously reading aloud from your preparation or just constantly talking to yourself.

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The Day Of Your Morning Exam…

A test day timetable is very different for whether you have a morning or an afternoon exam. Some people believe there is nothing more you can do on the day of the exam to prepare, but I disagree. I believe cramming and reviewing are essential, as are the rest of the rituals I do on an exam day. This timetable is for a 9am exam.

6:30

Wake up and have breakfast. Breakfast is essential and there will be a later post about what I eat on the day of an exam. The main thing is that it should be filling, as you don’t want your stomach to rumble during the exam.

7:00

Get dressed and do your regular morning rituals. I would recommend that you shower in the evening, even if normally you would in the morning. This will give you more time to review your revision and if you wake up late, you won’t be as stressed out.

7:15

Review. The night before my exam, I normally choose some flashcards or a few topics that I want to review. I will choose one that I feel confident about and then the hardest ones. I read through these and either highlight or make a few basic notes to jog my memory. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to cram too much in. Just read through a few things.

If you are doing a maths exam, I recommend selecting a few questions to do, perhaps which you have already done in previous revision. This will make you feel confident and means you are “warmed up” for the exam.

8:00

Walk to school. While walking to school (or being driven to school) I have a couple of note cards with me. For languages, these might contain key words, for maths, formulae, for English, quotes, and for science, key facts and notes. Although it may look strange to people on the street, just reading through this again and maybe saying a few things aloud will ensure you are preparing right up until you’re sat in the exam hall.

8:15

Go to the toilet at school. This sounds obvious and you may think you shouldn’t bother, but it’s worth it so you don’t have to worry about it during the exam.

8:20

Throw away your note cards. As hard as it is to throw away your last-minute revision, you have to do it. Then find your friends or your place in line before you go to the exam hall. Unless I have a burning question or something I am panicking about, I try not to speak to any teachers hanging around the exam hall. With my friends, I also won’t discuss revision, because they may have revised different things and comparing revision just makes me stress.

8:30

Enter the exam hall and find your seat. Get a few pens out and any equipment you know you will need (this will save you from loudly opening your pencil case during the exam).

9:00

As the examiner says “you may now begin”, take a deep breath. Tell yourself that you can do it and that you have revised, and only then should you open the exam paper. Taking a few seconds to reassure yourself may seem like you’re wasting time, but you will see the advantages when you get your results.

How do you get ready for a morning exam? Leave me a comment to let me know.

5 Ways To Procrastinate

Procrastination is probably a word you won’t have used before GCSEs and one you won’t stop using afterwards. It is inevitable that you will procrastinate during your revision, because to be honest, revision isn’t all that interesting.

I find when I start my revision, I can normally keep going until about lunch. At that point it is pretty much game over until mid-afternoon or dinner, and for about 6 hours I procrastinate. I will then start again and work into the early hours of the morning. However this work ethic changes on a daily basis.

These are five of my procrastination habits:

  1. Scheduling

It sounds strange that this is a way to procrastinate, but it is. Constantly scheduling and changing your timetable, writing each subject in a different colour, highlighting what you have done etc. can take up a lot of time. It is also bad as it feels like you are revising and doing something productive, but actually it won’t help in the exam.

  1. TV

This is a difficult one. I am a self-proclaimed TV, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video addict. I hate not being able to sit down and watch hours of TV with my family or just binge-watch the latest episodes of Pretty Little Liars. But, I have always tried to stop watching a new tv-show (particularly on streaming sites) before exams. This is hard – stopping at season 3 of One Tree Hill during AS-Levels was a bitter pill to swallow – but it gives you something to look forward to and won’t distract you.

I tend to be guilty of watching reality shows (Extreme Couponing is a favourite) or re-watching shows I know off my heart (Friends). This is still not great, but much better than getting completely addicted to something new and that you want to binge watch.

If you find yourself watching TV, try to do something useful while watching, like making some simple vocabulary flashcards.

  1. Baking

I love baking and when I am on study leave, it has always been tempting to cook something for lunch. However, this is a waste of time. Spending time researching recipes or considering your diet during exams is a bad idea. Just have what you would have taken to school, or have something quick and easy. If you are desperate to bake during exams, use it as a reward instead of a means of procrastination.

  1. Revision Websites

Surely, revision websites are for revision not procrastination? Wrong. I love revision websites and their many resources, however I can spend hours and days finding the perfect resource. It can be never-ending as you wait to find something better. I try to spend the first weekend of the Easter holidays or beginning of my revision period finding resources, so that I don’t need to spend so much time doing it while I am actually revising. Otherwise this can really take up a lot of time.

  1. Social Media

One of the reasons Facebook, Twitter and Instagram must have been created is procrastination. I honestly believe that. This is why over revision and exams I actually disable my accounts so that this method of procrastination is removed – otherwise I would honestly spend hours upon hours stalking celebrities instead of making flashcards.

I believe that everyone will procrastinate at some point or another during revision. It is impossible to revise 24/7 for 10 weeks, or however long you plan on revising for. No matter what accounts you disable or TV shows you cut out, you will find other ways to procrastinate. It is just important that you try to focus as much as possible and find ways to make your revising more bearable, so that you are less likely to procrastinate.

Do you suffer from procrastination? What are some of your tips to help get yourself back to revision? Comment below!

Colour Me Crazy!

Colour has always been central in my revision. In any method of revision I use, there is colour. In fact, the amount of colour I use surprises people, because in class I am quite conservative with my stationary: black ink, lined paper and plain notebooks. However, for me, colour makes revision a bit more interesting. The simple changing colour between paragraphs/sections gives you a mini-break. Here are my 7 main tips for revising IN COLOUR:

Treat Yourself

Investing in a set of nice pens can make a difference in revision. I love ordering new pens from Amazon and it gives me the motivation to begin revising, because I want to try out the new pens. It seems weird, but having nice stationary really can make revising just the tiniest bit better.

Big, Bright and Beautiful

I have found that using a lot of colour is best. Use a variety of colours and write in paragraphs of colour. This may go against everything you were told to do in school, but it will mean you associate the colour with the information. At least, this worked for me, because I could almost always remember the colour I had written the information in. This meant the information didn’t all blur into one.

Keep the Colour and Carry On

While it is important to change colours, you should not write every word or even every sentence in a new colour. Otherwise you will never focus on what you are revising but instead on writing one thing and then stopping to switch pens, meaning there will be no flow. Sometimes I will write for pages in the same colour, if it is about the same specification point. Just use one colour until you have ended that aspect.

Order!

Create an order for your pens. This stops you from um-ing and ah-ing over which colour to use next and also means that when you go through your work everything is neat and organized. The order could be the one the pens come in, or you could rearrange it. Just stick to the order you decide on.

(Side note: This tip is mainly for notes. If you are doing a mind-map or flashcards, the order is not as important because you may want a certain colour to go with a certain topic.)

Highlight Happily

I love highlighters. Highlighters allow you to read blocks of mundane information and pick out key parts and keep you going a little bit longer. However, don’t highlight coloured handwritten notes or it may make it difficult to read (if you want to go through it use a pencil to underline). Highlight books or articles you’ve printed before you copy the information to notes – it will then make it easier to search through everything when you’re copying down the information.

Fade Away Pale

Pale colours are not great for revision. The yellows, baby blues and powder pinks may look pretty, but when you go back to review everything, it is going to make the revision even harder. Also, if someone is quizzing you, they may find it difficult to read the paler colours. Unless you are only writing a quick note or heading, I would  put the pale colours aside.

Back to Black

While colour is great, a standard black pen will still be your best friend. For making a key word stand out, writing the title/specification for the area of notes, for chart headings, underlining, numbering, outlining etc. etc. black saves the day. It stands out against the others and makes it clear that you are beginning a new section.

What are your thoughts on revising in colour? What is your favourite brand of pens? Let me know in the comments.

How Do I Make A Revision Timetable?

Making a revision timetable is the first step in any exam period. I’m a planner and although this step can be stressful, I actually enjoy it.

First you need to ask yourself these questions:

  1. How much time do I have?

This is definitely the first question to ask. Later, I will do a longer post on how much time I would recommend, but for the main summer GCSEs and A-levels I would start in the Easter holidays. However, I have known others to wait much later and others who began in February. In the time, include weekends and study-leave – basically from when you begin until when your final exam is. When you know how much time you have and how many days you can dedicate to revision, take a breath. It will look like A LOT, but the more time, the better.

  1. How many subjects do I need to revise for?

Write down every subject you are studying and, for each subject, the different exams. Each type of exam will require a different form of revision, so while it may be great to schedule “German” as a whole, in fact “German Speaking” and “German Reading” require very different skills and so need to be scheduled differently.

  1. What topics are in each subject?

This part of the planning can take the longest. You need to go through every subject, either from the exam board websites or by talking to your teacher, and get the specification for each topic. The way you approach this differs for each subject. (There will be a post on specifications in general at a later date.)

For example, I did GCSE Edexcel triple science. In each science, there were three levels. Each level had different modules and each module would have a list of specifications.

Print this list of specifications. If you don’t have one, create your own list of topics, which will be on the exam – even if you think you could recite the topic, still write it down.

Now that you have all the aspects necessary to create your timetable, print off a calendar (or draw one by hand). I like to do monthly calendars.

Write down all the exams and mock exams you have to revise for.

Many teachers say that you should timetable your revision hour by hour, or in 50 minute sessions. I have never found this achievable. Instead, I find it better plan what I will do day by day. Then I can decide on the day, when I want to do the revision.

Write in the topics you are going to revise each day. You can either do one subject per day and several topics from that subject, or you can mix the subjects up. This depends on personal preference.

It can be tricky as you will have a lot of different topics and it will seem very difficult to cram everything into the timetable. You must count the number of topics you have and then schedule them. It involves a lot of juggling and thinking how you will spread everything out and achieve everything, but it is possible.

Be realistic with what you plan on revising everyday. It may be tempting to just write ‘biology’ and think in one day you can revise everything biology-related, however this is simply not the case. You will maybe do one module, or even half a module. You should also write down the type of revision you will be doing for that module. For example, “Core Biology Topic 1 Notes Booklet”.

I normally try to include “catch-up” days for revision periods during holidays. While I try to be realistic with my revision, I always fall behind. This means that a catch-up day allows me to do what I didn’t achieve the other days without getting even further behind.

If you get to a day and you think your revision is too far behind to catch-up, then re-plan. Go back to the start and make a new timetable. You shouldn’t do this too often because otherwise you will just let everything pile up and the new timetable will be a week before the exam with 50 topics to revise. But, don’t let yourself get 3 weeks behind schedule and continue following the original plan – it’s obviously not working.

Below are my GCSE exam timetables, so that you can see how I planned everything.

April GCSE Revision Timetable
These are my actual GCSE timetables, when I needed to schedule revision for 13 exams. The green shaded boxes show school holidays or weekends during school time, whereas the pink show days during study leave.

May GCSE Revision TimetableJune GCSE Revision Timetable

Making a timetable can take a lot of time and it can be quite complicated to explain, so I hope everything is clear, but feel free to comment any questions below if you’re not sure.

Also look out for my similar posts on how to use specifications.