How To Revise For A-Level Modern Foreign Languages

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Doing a modern foreign language as an A-Level can be incredibly difficult. In fact, students often consider languages to be one of the hardest A-Levels that you can do. For me, having done one myself, I feel that the biggest problem are the exams. This is especially as revising for them can often seem impossible.

Revising for A-Level Modern Foreign Languages can seem tricky, especially if you don’t know where to start. That’s why in this article, we’ll be going through the whole revision process for A-Level MFL.

This article will be going through different tips for revising for each paper (writing, reading and speaking) of these A-Levels to give you a clear understanding of languages revision that works.

What are the A-Level Modern Foreign Languages exams like?

Before we go into the whole revision process and tips, it’s important to know what exactly you’ll need to be revising for if you do a modern languages A-Level. In order to understand this, we can look at what the exams are like and breakdown what they require of students.

For A-Level Modern Foreign Languages, students will have to sit 3 written or verbal papers. However, what is exactly on these will vary slightly depending on the language and exam board.

For the more common languages, which includes but isn’t limited not limited to French, Spanish, German and Chinese, students will do a listening, reading and writing/translation paper, a speaking paper and a writing paper.

For other languages, such as Persian, Turkish, Bengali and Polish, students will still do the listening, reading and writing/translation paper as well as the writing paper. However, instead of a speaking paper they will do a reading and writing paper.

How to revise for the A-Level Modern Foreign Languages listening, reading and writing paper

The listening reading and writing paper is by far the most important when it comes to A-Level Modern Languages. This is because it is worth the largest portion of your grade, making up 50% for AQA and 40% for Pearson Edexcel. Due to this, when revising this really should be your primary focus.

The listening, reading and writing paper is made up of 3 main parts: the listening comprehension section, the reading comprehension section and the translation section. How you revise for each is slightly different so have a look at the following subsections to see revision ideas for each.

How to revise for the A-Level Modern Foreign Languages listening section

For me and maybe you too, the listening section can be the hardest out of these 3. This can especially be as it is difficult to practise in class at your own pace. If you struggle with listening skills in your A-Level language, it’s important to focus on this part the most.

Some revision ideas for the listening comprehension section are as follows.

  • Listen to the news in the language – The best way to revise for the listening portion of the exam is to build up your listening skills in the language. Listening to the news is a great way to do this as it is informative and formal, just like the audio in the exam.
  • Watch films and TV shows in the language – While films and TV shows can often feel a bit overwhelming in the language you’re learning, they’re a great way to get you more and more used to hearing it. Plus, you can even use individual episodes or even scenes to practise writing summaries.
  • Watch YouTube videos in the language on topics related to the course – YouTube videos are generally a bit shorter than films and TV shows and even the news, which can make them a little more similar to the audio you’ll get in the exam. As it’s shorter, you can set yourself some questions about specific things that were mentioned, such as dates, names or other pieces of information. This can help you practise retrieving information while listening to the audio.
  • Use the textbook – If you have access to the audio tracks from your textbook, then you can do the practice questions in it, especially ones the that mimic real exam questions. If you don’t have access to this at home, you can try asking your teacher as they may be able to let you borrow it or just allow you to do it during class.

How to revise for the A-Level Modern Foreign Languages reading section

The reading section of a modern languages paper will be pretty similar to the listening section in terms of the types of question and text. Due to this, your revision technique will probably be pretty similar just using reading materials rather than listening ones.

Some ideas for revising for the reading comprehension section are in the list below.

  • Read the news – In the same way to listening, reading the news is a great way to practise your reading skills in the language. Plus, as news is updated regularly, it means you constantly have new material.
  • Read books and blogs – Once again, the more you read is the more you get to practise these skills, which is incredibly useful for the exam. The great thing about reading books and blogs for practising is that you can find ones to meet your own level. This is especially as there are a wide range of written materials made for language learners. For A-Level students, books graded at around A2 to B1/B2 should be suitable, although you could also try reading authentic materials too.
  • Use flashcard to learn synonyms – One way that the exams try to trip students up is by getting them to identify synonyms within the text. Due to this, you need to be familiar with synonyms to common words that could easily be used in a text. Using flashcards can be a great way to help you remember these. Personally, I would get some of the synonyms from past papers as well as practice materials.
  • Use the textbook – In the same way as with listening, using the textbook to practise reading exercises, allows you to practise the exact skills that are being tested in the exam.

How to revise for the A-Level Modern Foreign Languages translation section

The translation section of the paper is the part that can differ the most per exam board. This is because some exam boards will give you a translation into English as well as into the language, while others will only do it into English for this paper. However, the revision tips for these are the same, so we’ll be looking at revision for translating for all the papers in this part.

Look at the following list to see some ideas for revising for the translation section.

  • Practise translating different texts – Regardless of whether it’s into the language or into English, the best way to revise for the translation sections of the exam is to practise translating. You should try to do several different kinds of texts, just to make sure you’re getting some variety, although you may just want to do sections of these texts as in the exam it will only be quite a short passage to translate.
  • Used spaced repetition to learn more vocabulary – In the translation of exams, there will tend to be quite a bit of vocabulary that will be unfamiliar to students as they will be less commonly used. Due to this, you should try to learn as much vocabulary as possible, particularly the vocabulary listed in the textbook. To do this, you can use flashcard apps, such as Quizlet or Anki, or other ones, such as Memrise.

How to revise for the A-Level Modern Foreign Languages writing paper

How the writing paper works can slightly differ depending on the exam board. For some exam boards, students will just be responding to essay questions based on the film and the book or the 2 books that they studied. Alternatively, students may have to do this as well as a translation from English into the language.

As we’ve already gone through revising for translation tasks, we’ll be primarily looking at revising for the essay questions of the writing paper. Have a look at the following table to see revision tips for the essay question sections of the paper.

  • Plan essay questions – When it comes to the A-Level MFL writing paper, there is only a certain amount that they can actually ask about for each book or film, especially as they will give you a choice of questions. The best way to take advantage of this is to plan your responses to a wide range of past paper questions and practice questions, even ones you just make up yourself. In these plans, you should try to state your main point for each paragraph, which quotes you’ll use, the context you’ll use to support it and your line of argument. You can even write out these questions in full and get your teacher to mark them, to get that extra revision in.
  • Create posters for the main themes and the main characters – Many questions are centred around specific themes or specific characters of the book or film and so it’s important that you have enough to say about each of these so that you’re ready if it comes up. You can create posters or mind maps that have everything from quotes to key plot points and even points of argument that you can use in your essay.
  • Use flashcards to revise advanced vocabulary and grammar points – While the writing paper is focused on either 2 books or a book and a film, it is still testing your overall ability in the language so you should still be making sure that you are using advanced grammar and vocabulary to get higher marks.

How to revise for the A-Level Modern Foreign Languages speaking paper

Not all A-Level MFL language options do a speaking paper. For language options that do, this will generally be made up of 2 parts: the photo card and the independent research project (IRP).

We’ll talk more about the IRP in the following section, but the photo card requires students to talk about one of the specific themes that they would have covered during the course and respond to the questions on the art as well as other ones from the examiner.

Have a look at the following list to see revision ideas for this part of the speaking exam and to improve speaking in another language in general.

  • Use the language shadowing technique – Language shadowing is where you play a video, watch a short amount before repeating what is said, and then repeating this process for the rest of the video or whatever else. This can be useful to help with your pronunciation in the language, which is great revision to get more accuracy marks. You can learn more about language shadowing in this article by FluentU.
  • Create mind maps for each topic or subtopic – For the AQA course, there are 6 topics for each year, meaning 12 in total, each of these would typically have 3 subtopics. You can create these mind maps or posters that gives an overview of the content, ha some specific facts and figures and maybe even some relevant vocabulary.
  • Get a speaking partner – If it’s possible, try getting someone that you can speak in the language with. Whether this is someone in your class, a pen pal or even someone at home, having someone to speak to is a great way to practise your skills outside of class.

How to revise for the A-Level Modern Foreign Languages independent research project (IRP)

The IRP is as the name suggests, it is where students need to research into a topic relating to the countries/ culture where the language is spoken.

As previously mentioned, the IRP for A-Level MFL students is a part of the speaking paper. However, even language options that don’t do the speaking paper still have the IRP, which will then be a part of the reading and writing paper. This reading and writing paper is also largely skills based, primarily being reading comprehension tasks and translation, and so the rest of how to revise for it has already been covered.

The main difference between the IRP for the speaking paper and the IRP for the reading and writing paper is that for the speaking paper students get to choose their own topic, but for the reading and writing paper, they will need to choose from pre-set topics. Look at the list below for some ideas on revising for the IRP.

  • Write all your research onto a mind map – Personally, I found that having all my research on one colourful page, made it a lot easier to group the information and by extension it became easier to remember the information in the exam. While I did this to help me memorise my presentation, it can also be used to remember the information to answer the written questions.
  • Use flashcards to revise advanced vocabulary and grammar – Once again, your spoken/ written abilities in the language are being tested so it’s important that you can use advanced grammar and good linking phrases to make your presentation or your writing coherent.


*Please note that the content above is primarily based off my own experiences in taking A-Level Spanish. However, all specific information about the A-Levels and the exams is from the specifications of the courses. You can find the links to these by checking out the respective exam board websites: AQA, Pearson Edexcel, WJEC and CCEA.

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