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How To Succeed At Language Exams

Nobody likes exams, let alone studying for them, but with these tips you'll conquer those tricky language exams with no trouble at all.

We all know the score: exams are quickly approaching, your stress levels are rising, and you feel like the days are getting shorter and shorter as you run out of time to study. Heck, even the nights feel shorter, as the idea of cramming for your French, German, or Spanish exams is giving you nightmares. Panicking is rarely a good way to cope with stress, so if you’re studying for those upcoming A-levels, DAAF or high school exams, follow these simple tricks to boost your confidence for the big day.

1) Don’t be afraid to try out some unconventional techniques

Geography, history, math… they might be interesting (ahem) subjects, but let’s be honest, they’re a little hard to connect to your everyday life. Languages, on the other hand, are alive. They can be used to communicate with anyone, anywhere, and at any time. If you can afford a little linguistic holiday away, go for it! One week abroad can teach you more than an entire year sitting in class. If a quick trip to Sicily is a little beyond your budget just now, don’t despair — there are still plenty of possibilities to practice a foreign language. For instance, try finding a partner you can practice with over Skype.

2) Prioritize your revision

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to studying for exams. Every exam is unique, with a certain set of specific skills being tested. For example, being fluent in Italian might make you a pro at the spoken exam, but you’ll probably crash and burn in the written exam if your grammar knowledge is lacking. If you grew up bilingual, or have loads of friends who speak the language you’re learning, then you most likely learned the language in an intuitive way. You should therefore focus your study time on mastering the grammar rules.

Plan ahead, make sure you know exactly what aspects of the language are being tested in the exam itself, and prioritize your revision on improving the weakest parts of your linguistic repertoire. After all, no one likes a surprise on exam day, do they?

3) Make a war plan

Start as soon as possible! Look at your schedule and build yourself a tailor-made plan that gives you ample time to focus on all areas of the language. Dedicate between 30-90 minutes a day to your language learning, and be honest about your specific needs: you might need to adjust the amount of time you spend learning grammar/vocabulary versus the amount of time you spend practicing speaking, reading or writing. Just remember — you are the master of your own study plan, so if you hate the inanity of the same daily routine, you can always switch things up by dedicating an entire day to just one area. And if you thrive on structure and routine, build yourself a clear daily agenda and stick to it!

Whichever approach you choose, the most important thing is to plan long in advance to give you a clear understanding of your strengths and weaknesses right from the start. Plus, to give yourself a little motivational boost during your review time, set yourself daily or weekly goals that you can aim for.

4) Teamwork makes dreamwork

Don’t be a hermit — foreign language is the perfect subject to learn in pairs or groups!

Maybe you think of yourself as a bit of rock star at listening and comprehension, but when it comes to writing you’d like nothing more than to crawl under a rock and hide? If so, try setting up a weekly study session with a classmate who excels in your weakest area (and vice versa). Teaching someone else is also one of the best ways to learn, so studying in small groups is great when preparing for an exam.

Keep the setting informal (pro tip: coffee shops are perfect study haunts), and prepare a small agenda in advance so that everyone knows what to expect. The informality of the setting will put everyone’s nerves at ease, and before you know it, your confidence will grow in leaps and bounds.

5) Turn your hobbies into fun study aids

It can’t be repeated enough — languages surround us every day, so make sure you get your nose out of the books to practice your learning in a variety of settings. Are you a sports fan with a penchant for Spanish football? Then check out the latest La Liga results on a Spanish website. Maybe music is more your thing? Subscribe to Spotify playlists of bands who sing in the language you’re learning. Once you’ve found a song you like, try translating their lyrics into English. Not only will this expand your vocabulary, you’ll also end up learning idioms and expressions along the way and improve on your pronunciation skills. Plus you’ll have a pretty crazy smorgasbord of international bands with which to impress your friends at your next house party…

Follow these tips and you'll be well on your way to acing those language exams! So good luck, bonne chance, buena suerte, and viel Glück!

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