How hard is GCSE German?

In GCSE by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

Taking a language at GCSE level, for example, German, French or Spanish, is very common for students in the UK. In fact, several schools will make it compulsory for their students to take a modern foreign language as one of their GCSE subject choices. Speaking another language is a great skill to have, opening up the possibility of working abroad, in jobs like translators or teachers. Even knowing a little bit is useful for travelling! However, although they are useful, these subjects can sometimes have the reputation of being really difficult, and you may be wondering how true this is.

This article will focus in particular on GCSE German, going through the way the course and exams are set up for the main exam boards, as well as the language itself, to discuss how hard it really is.

Disclaimer: this article is just one perspective, from a student who has done GCSE German themselves. Of course, everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, so might have different experiences with the subject.

How hard is it to pass GCSE German?

We’ll talk more about the German language itself, and what different people find hard about it, later in the article. To start with, though, one of the clearest ways to decide the difficulty of a subject is by looking at pass rates.

The table below shows the percentage of students getting a pass grade (a 4 or above) in GCSE German over the past few years, compared to the overall GCSE pass rate.

Note: The years 2020 and 2021 aren’t included, because the COVID-19 pandemic meant exams were cancelled, so the grades for these years are less representative. The data is from FFT Education Data Lab – you can have a look at this here for German, and here for GCSEs overall.

  2017 2018 2019 2022 2023
German 74.8 75.5 76.0 83.8 77.2
All subjects 66.3 66.9 67.3 73.2 68.2

As you can see, the pass rate for German is consistently higher than the overall average. This might suggest that it is one of the easier subjects.

That being said, we’ve mentioned that GCSE German (and languages in general) have a reputation of being difficult, which contradicts this. There are different factors that come into this, such as how the language itself is organised, which we’ll talk more about soon.

How hard is it to get a top grade in GCSE German?

You might also be interested in how many students are getting the top grades in GCSE German. A ‘top grade’ normally refers to a 7, 8 or 9, equivalent to the old A and A*. This Think Student article has more of an explanation of the GCSE grading system.

This table shows the percentage of German GCSE students getting a 7, 8, or 9, compared to the overall percentage, with data from the same sources linked above.

  2017 2018 2019 2022 2023
German 23.5 24.0 24.7 35.6 28.2
All subjects 20.0 20.5 20.8 26.3 22.0

Once again, there’s a pattern where the German results are slightly higher than the average overall. But keep reading for more discussion about why some people find this subject harder or easier than they expect.

One final thing to note before we move on is that for GCSE German, you can do either a foundation or higher paper. These higher grades are only accessible if you do the higher tier, but the foundation tier has less content.

Foundation tier is therefore easier and more accessible if you think you will struggle with the normal GCSE course – but it does limit the grade you can get. You can read more about foundation and higher tiers in this Think Student article.

How hard is GCSE German compared to other languages?

If you have to choose a language for GCSE, but know that foreign languages aren’t your best subjects, you might be looking for the easiest one to pick. Or you might simply be curious!

Students have different opinions about which language is the hardest, normally one out of the three most common languages taught – German, French and Spanish. It really depends on your personal strengths and how you best learn.

Is GCSE German harder than GCSE French?

Generally, people find the pronunciation and spelling of German easier than the other languages. In most cases at GCSE level, the way you say a German word is very similar to how it is written.

In contrast, for French particularly, you may notice that the language sounds completely different to how it looks written down! There are a lot of silent letters, or just more letters for a single sound than you are used to in English.

That being said, people often find the grammar rules in German more complicated. There are new things like cases and word order to think about, which are less of an issue in French. You’ll have lots of rules in German to follow, while French is more variable, but with less set patterns to learn.

For instance, one of the key things people struggle with in German is that the verb goes either second in the sentence, or at the end. In English, we normally have the verb right after the subject.

So for instance, rather than saying ‘Today I will play in the park’, the German word order is closer to ‘Today will I in the park play’. While these rules stay consistent, learning them can be confusing at first!

As Babbel puts it, ‘Long story short, German is easier if you do better with a lot of structure and predictable logic. French is easier if you’re comfortable with a little chaos.’ You can read the full article here, which compares learning German and French in general, not just at GCSE.

Is GCSE German harder than GCSE Spanish?

Personally, I have studied German and French, but not Spanish. However, from what friends taking Spanish have said, the comparison is similar to German and French. German has more complicated grammar rules, but easier spelling and pronunciation, and is a little more logical.

You can read the Babbel article comparing German and Spanish on their website here. It notes that as a beginner, the rules in Spanish are often less intimidating, but this gets harder once you get more advanced, so the languages are of a similar difficulty.

Overall, if you do really well with logic and lots of set rules, German might be the easiest for you! On the other hand, if you know you prefer learning specific examples and words rather than using a new set of rigid rules, you might find another language easier.

Personally, I liked the structure of German as a language. Once you get used to the rules and word order, I found it easier to then apply this to new words and sentences. It really depends on what you prefer!

GCSE German also has a slightly higher pass rate than French and Spanish, although only by a couple of percentage points. If you’re interested, you can find out all the specific statistics from FFT Education Data Lab – click here for German, here for French, and here for Spanish.

Generally, though, none of these languages is significantly easier than the others. Don’t feel like you will put yourself at a disadvantage by taking your favourite one, even if other people seem to think it is harder.

What is the course structure like for GCSE German?

Much of the GCSE German course is what you’d expect – learning how to talk and write about a range of topics in German. AQA and Edexcel are the main exam boards, and they both organise this into topics like hobbies, travel, and school.

There’s also sections on talking about aspects of German culture and daily life. You can find the syllabuses for AQA and Edexcel respectively.

Within these topics, you’ll learn not just new words, but the grammar rules of how they fit together into sentences, and how they are actually pronounced when having a conversation in German.

What is the exam structure like for GCSE German?

This then sets you up for the way the exams are organised. You’ll have 4 exams for German – writing, reading, listening and speaking.

You can have a look at the specifics of how the exams are set up, including timings and exact marks, on this page of the AQA website – it compares both AQA and Edexcel.

The listening and speaking sections are often what makes people view German (and languages in general) as difficult GCSEs. I know I certainly found these the hardest sections.

This was because you have to think on the spot when you are answering a question. If you are having a, examined conversation, you can’t just skip a question and come back to it later!

Similarly, with the listening, you have to be paying attention and write down your answers on the spot, as they are speaking. In a reading paper, you could come back to a word you don’t know later with a fresh mind, but you can’t do that for a listening paper.

That being said, all modern foreign languages have speaking and listening exams, so this isn’t necessarily a disadvantage for German.

Should you do GCSE German?

This article should have given you some idea of what can make GCSE German easy or hard for different people. It has a slightly above average pass rate and logical rules, but the grammar can get confusing and people often struggle with speaking and listening exams.

I personally really enjoyed GCSE German, and would say to not let its difficult reputation put you off! But hopefully this article helps you consider your individual preferences in relation to German, to decide whether it would be a subject you would do well in.

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