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How to go from an E to an A*, A-Level French??

Hi,

I'm currently in Year 12, and I'm really struggling with French, and to be honest I've got no idea how to improve.

I'm learning all the vocab, keeping up with grammar and paying attention in lesson, so if anyone could offer me any advice on anything else I could do to improve my grades, or perhaps explain what they do/did to succeed in A-Level French, it would be much appreciated.

I would really like to get an A* as I'm applying to a very competitive course and really need the best grades possible.

edit: I got a 9 at GCSE, in case that's relevant
(edited 1 year ago)
Original post by khujj66
Hi,

I'm currently in Year 12, and I'm really struggling with French, and to be honest I've got no idea how to improve.

I'm learning all the vocab, keeping up with grammar and paying attention in lesson, so if anyone could offer me any advice on anything else I could do to improve my grades, or perhaps explain what they do/did to succeed in A-Level French, it would be much appreciated.

I would really like to get an A* as I'm applying to a very competitive course and really need the best grades possible.

edit: I got a 9 at GCSE, in case that's relevant


if its just a content course like bio, I was the same and got an E in my first topic, now my last 3 mocks in end of YR12 and 13 have been 3 A* so just remember the content and you should be fine
Original post by khujj66
Hi,

I'm currently in Year 12, and I'm really struggling with French, and to be honest I've got no idea how to improve.

I'm learning all the vocab, keeping up with grammar and paying attention in lesson, so if anyone could offer me any advice on anything else I could do to improve my grades, or perhaps explain what they do/did to succeed in A-Level French, it would be much appreciated.

I would really like to get an A* as I'm applying to a very competitive course and really need the best grades possible.

edit: I got a 9 at GCSE, in case that's relevant


The jump between GCSE and A level is huge and "learning all the vocab, keeping up with grammar and paying attention in lessons" is simply not enough to breach it, I'm afraid. And I'm speaking as a seasoned French teacher.

For improvement from a fail to an A grade, there's quite a lot to look at but it is do-able if you take things step by step and make sure you learn things in the right order.

First and foremost, your basic grammar must be accurate. By this I mean:

- All verb conjugations must be correct - so learn them. Now. This is the most important thing you must do, and your teachers are probably not telling you this because it's not a "fun" thing to do. You need to be 100% correct in all tenses of all the verbs you ever use.

- Agreements of adjectives and past participles must be correct. Re-read all work you write in French to check specifically for this. Even if you get the gender of a noun wrong, make sure that all the adjectives agree with whatever gender you have given it.

- Make sure you use a range of tenses, as well as the subjunctive (which you probably won't have begun to cover yet, at this stage). Tenses you should know and should use are: present, passé composé, imperfect, pluperfect, future, future perfect, conditional and conditional perfect. Plus, of course, the subjunctive (which isn't a tense as such). Useful tricks for using a range of tenses include: using si-clauses; using depuis; using the future tense after expressions of time such as quand.

That's the basic grammar you need to demonstrate you know. On top of that, for an A grade you will need to:

- use more advanced pronouns correctly. These include the personal pronouns y and en; relative pronouns like ce qui / ce que; dont; demonstrative pronouns celui/celle/ceux/celles.

- use negative structures with your verbs - not just ne...pas , but particularly using rien, jamais, personne, aucun as these are trickier.

- use the more difficult adjectives and adverbs like meilleur / mieux; mauvais / mal.

- try and use inversions correctly - either ask rhetoric questions, or use conjunctions like à peine which trigger an inversion.

- use the passive voice.

I suspect that your teacher is not doing enough grammar with you. After GCSEs, to cover the gap, about three quarters of your work should be grammar at this stage, and this is not likely to be the case. So you're going to have to do it alone. For grammar practice I always recommend Essential French Grammar for the Sixth Form and Beyond, which has really good explanations and a huge amount of exercises. The answer section is particularly good as it has further explanations and links back to the main text so that, if you've made a mistake, you can work out where you went wrong. https://www.amazon.co.uk/French-Grammar-Essential-Sixth-Beyond/dp/095706120X/

Secondly, and almost as importantly: vocabulary. Again, you need to tackle this very systematically and, most importantly, work on it regularly as you will not be able to learn a massive amount all at once. There are various strategies you can use for learning vocab:

- Topic-based: make lists of vocab according to their specificity; group vocab together is smaller related groups. For example, if you're studying the topic of health, you can make various sub-groups: healthy food; unhealthy food; exercise; science (eg nutrition) etc. Just organising the vocab helps you learn it! Then you can try using words from each group in sentences.

- Families: when you learn a word, learn other derived words. For example, if you take the word "conduire", go to a dictionary and get the other words that relate to it: le conducteur/la conductrice; la conduite. Again, just doing that basic research will help fix the vocab in your mind but you will also find that your range of vocab suddenly expands massively with very little effort.

- Then there's the classic "Write, Look, Cover, Repeat" method. The physical act of writing down words helps you memorise them. Take a piece of paper, draw a vertical line down the middle and write the English word on the left and the French equivalent on the right. Memorise the list, then cover the French side and tick off all the ones you remember. Then repeat until you know them all. It is important to do this several times with each list so that the vocab goes into your long-term memory.

- There are various websites out there than can help you learn - Quizlet and Memrise are both popular. Be warned that pre-existing lists on these websites are not necessarily very accurate because they are not necessarily uploaded by people who are very good at French. In my experience it's better to steer clear of gadgets and use pen and paper.

And finally, on the basis that the more contact you have with French the quicker you'll make progress:

- Read, read and read. And then read some more. Not just about your topics, but anything. Any contact you have with French will help you build up your vocabulary and understanding of structures.

- Listen to some French - about 20 minutes to half an hour - every day if you can manage that. Le Journal en français facile on the RFI website is really useful as there is a transcript in case you get stuck.

- Try to speak some French every day. If you can, have lunch with your classmates and agree to speak French then - even just ten minutes a day will build up fluency and confidence. The nearer you get to your exams, the longer you can make your now really useful lunch break!

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