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How big is the jump from GCSE to A level French?

Hi!!! Currently a Y11 student (GCSEs start next week oh my god!!), French is my favourite subject at school by a VERY large margin and I literally can't wait to start my A level in it and be able to study it almost every day. I think I have a passion for languages - words, communication and the evolution of dialogue and speech over time and the factors affecting it fascinate me very much. Currently, I want to study etymology/linguistics/psychology of communication at university. (taking French, Biology and Psychology for my A levels to facilitate this (and doing this thing called EPQ, I'm not sure if other schools do it too)). At the moment, I'm hoping for full marks in my reading and listening, and ~90-95% in my writing and speaking. I've heard from every single person who has done and is doing A levels that the jump between GCSE and A level is humongous. For French, is this gap manageable, or will I find myself overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of vocab and information I have to learn? Thanks!
Reply 1
Original post by xAspect
Hi!!! Currently a Y11 student (GCSEs start next week oh my god!!), French is my favourite subject at school by a VERY large margin and I literally can't wait to start my A level in it and be able to study it almost every day. I think I have a passion for languages - words, communication and the evolution of dialogue and speech over time and the factors affecting it fascinate me very much. Currently, I want to study etymology/linguistics/psychology of communication at university. (taking French, Biology and Psychology for my A levels to facilitate this (and doing this thing called EPQ, I'm not sure if other schools do it too)). At the moment, I'm hoping for full marks in my reading and listening, and ~90-95% in my writing and speaking. I've heard from every single person who has done and is doing A levels that the jump between GCSE and A level is humongous. For French, is this gap manageable, or will I find myself overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of vocab and information I have to learn? Thanks!

Hi, EPQ is a widely recognised qualification, common among competitive university applicants. It can be super fun and it makes you look good in front of admissions staff.

At A Level, French becomes a lot less like 'language learning' and it branches out like your GCSE English Literature and English Language subjects.

You will study some French history - probably about 'la resistance' which is really exciting. You will take some knowledge from a textbook and others from your own research. You will also study modern themes in French society, it could be like 'the world of work' or any other modern issue. So it's very much about learning French culture through the language. Regretfully it's rather Euro-centric in my experience.

The A Level can include a literary and media study of a book and a film (or maybe 2 books or 2 films, idk) so it's quite nice because you get to just enjoy the media. You then write an essay on each as if you were doing an English Language exam - except you write in French instead. So you analyse the themes etc.

Then there is the stereotypical stuff for a language course such as speaking test and probably translation, listening... you have to listen to French radio or French media every day to help you understand the film/audiobook anyway.

Some schools/colleges do exchange programs, offer free French-language books, paid online resources etc.
Reply 2
The gap is quite a jump, I was 1 mark off a 9 at GCSE and have my A level French speaking this time next week, I was predicted a C at the end of year 12 and have managed to push my way up to a B, hoping for an A but seems unlikely. The grade boundaries are very mean since I think a lot of people who take it for A level are native speakers (A* 90%, A 80%, B 70% for AQA). Most important thing is to not get behind on vocab and grammar as it is far harder to cram it all in at the end. I'd say the biggest jump is probably in the listening or speaking with the speaking being about much more difficult and niche topics rather than just being able to regurgitate the same memorised phrases about playing football with your friends like with GCSE. A level is fun to study though particularly the culture side with the book and film essays and the topics on the language side are a lot more interesting and engaging in my opinion. I think do your research and look at the syllabus and even some A level papers just to see what you're getting yourself into but ultimately no matter what people say if it's your favourite subject and you do well in GCSE I think its a no brainer choice but yes be prepared for a bit of a shock in your first term of year 12 but make sure to keep doing bits of French over the summer after GCSE's so you don't get rusty. Good luck with your GCSE and I hope you don't have to experience the frustration of being one mark off a 9 lol. Bonne Chance!
Reply 3
Original post by k59533
Hi, EPQ is a widely recognised qualification, common among competitive university applicants. It can be super fun and it makes you look good in front of admissions staff.
At A Level, French becomes a lot less like 'language learning' and it branches out like your GCSE English Literature and English Language subjects.
You will study some French history - probably about 'la resistance' which is really exciting. You will take some knowledge from a textbook and others from your own research. You will also study modern themes in French society, it could be like 'the world of work' or any other modern issue. So it's very much about learning French culture through the language. Regretfully it's rather Euro-centric in my experience.
The A Level can include a literary and media study of a book and a film (or maybe 2 books or 2 films, idk) so it's quite nice because you get to just enjoy the media. You then write an essay on each as if you were doing an English Language exam - except you write in French instead. So you analyse the themes etc.
Then there is the stereotypical stuff for a language course such as speaking test and probably translation, listening... you have to listen to French radio or French media every day to help you understand the film/audiobook anyway.
Some schools/colleges do exchange programs, offer free French-language books, paid online resources etc.

Hi, thank you lots for your response! Honestly it sounds amazing and I cannot wait to get started - If I was confident enough taking 4 A levels, I would've chosen English because I love media, so this really sounds perfect for me.

In terms of level of fluency - I'm assuming that you need to be pretty much fluent or at least very comfortable with using the language in order to watch and understand a whole film and read an entire book? In your experience, or any you know of, how long does it take to make sure everyone is comfortable enough to start learning the course? Or is it that you start learning the course straight away whilst also building up proficiency in the language?

Also, would you recommend anything for me to do over the summer to prepare for my A level? I just want to make sure that I have the best start possible and I don't get bogged down and overwhelmed like with my GCSEs. Thanks alot.
Reply 4
Original post by JWAP816
The gap is quite a jump, I was 1 mark off a 9 at GCSE and have my A level French speaking this time next week, I was predicted a C at the end of year 12 and have managed to push my way up to a B, hoping for an A but seems unlikely. The grade boundaries are very mean since I think a lot of people who take it for A level are native speakers (A* 90%, A 80%, B 70% for AQA). Most important thing is to not get behind on vocab and grammar as it is far harder to cram it all in at the end. I'd say the biggest jump is probably in the listening or speaking with the speaking being about much more difficult and niche topics rather than just being able to regurgitate the same memorised phrases about playing football with your friends like with GCSE. A level is fun to study though particularly the culture side with the book and film essays and the topics on the language side are a lot more interesting and engaging in my opinion. I think do your research and look at the syllabus and even some A level papers just to see what you're getting yourself into but ultimately no matter what people say if it's your favourite subject and you do well in GCSE I think its a no brainer choice but yes be prepared for a bit of a shock in your first term of year 12 but make sure to keep doing bits of French over the summer after GCSE's so you don't get rusty. Good luck with your GCSE and I hope you don't have to experience the frustration of being one mark off a 9 lol. Bonne Chance!

So sorry to hear that!! I'm revising extra hard for French to make sure I can secure my 9 because I don't think I'd be able to live with myself if I got anything under a 9 for something I love so much haha.

Thank you for your advice; I'll definitely check out some A level papers to see what type of things are asked in the exam.

With your experience, would you say I should start making my revision resources from day 1? This is what I'm planning on doing and I think it would help a lot to ease the stress in Y13.

Thank you very much for your advice, and best of luck in your exams this summer!
Reply 5
Original post by xAspect
Hi, thank you lots for your response! Honestly it sounds amazing and I cannot wait to get started - If I was confident enough taking 4 A levels, I would've chosen English because I love media, so this really sounds perfect for me.
In terms of level of fluency - I'm assuming that you need to be pretty much fluent or at least very comfortable with using the language in order to watch and understand a whole film and read an entire book? In your experience, or any you know of, how long does it take to make sure everyone is comfortable enough to start learning the course? Or is it that you start learning the course straight away whilst also building up proficiency in the language?
Also, would you recommend anything for me to do over the summer to prepare for my A level? I just want to make sure that I have the best start possible and I don't get bogged down and overwhelmed like with my GCSEs. Thanks alot.

I found the book simple enough, but the film for me was difficult as they use slang language that you wouldn't learn at GCSE.

I'm not best placed to answer, but I would suggest that you listen to the English and French audiobooks for the book your 6th form will use (maybe worth emailing them to find out). Also revising grammar including verbs etc.

TBH lots of 6th forms will probably be doing the media stuff in year 2. You have first year for the boring bits but they will suddenly get very important when it comes to your speaking exam.
Reply 6
Original post by xAspect
So sorry to hear that!! I'm revising extra hard for French to make sure I can secure my 9 because I don't think I'd be able to live with myself if I got anything under a 9 for something I love so much haha.
Thank you for your advice; I'll definitely check out some A level papers to see what type of things are asked in the exam.
With your experience, would you say I should start making my revision resources from day 1? This is what I'm planning on doing and I think it would help a lot to ease the stress in Y13.
Thank you very much for your advice, and best of luck in your exams this summer!

I'd say revision resources for the language side are quite vague since its difficult to know exactly what to revise, definitely for the film and book make sure to pay attention in class and write good notes for them particularly for good quotes and scenes which you can link back to the main themes when you write essays. Grammar you just have to keep practicing and the more you immerse yourself in French the more vocab and grammar you'll absorb. Definitely make sure you have good vocab sets either in Quizlet or Anki for each of the twelve themes (marginalisation, French heritage, immigration, family etc) and lots of oral practice as well. To help with listening I would recommend this French radio station:

https://francaisfacile.rfi.fr/fr/podcasts/journal-en-français-facile/

But yeah the most important thing I'd say is to just keep doing it and practicing and just learn by doing, particularly over the holidays because even after half terms I found myself quite rusty and struggling to keep up.
Original post by xAspect
Hi!!! Currently a Y11 student (GCSEs start next week oh my god!!), French is my favourite subject at school by a VERY large margin and I literally can't wait to start my A level in it and be able to study it almost every day. I think I have a passion for languages - words, communication and the evolution of dialogue and speech over time and the factors affecting it fascinate me very much. Currently, I want to study etymology/linguistics/psychology of communication at university. (taking French, Biology and Psychology for my A levels to facilitate this (and doing this thing called EPQ, I'm not sure if other schools do it too)). At the moment, I'm hoping for full marks in my reading and listening, and ~90-95% in my writing and speaking. I've heard from every single person who has done and is doing A levels that the jump between GCSE and A level is humongous. For French, is this gap manageable, or will I find myself overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of vocab and information I have to learn? Thanks!

hi this might lead to stress
I feel like the jump is much bigger for those who learned 'set phrases' rather than actually understanding the constructions. Whilst at GCSE, one could easily get away with not really learning the subjunctive or other tenses, instead just learning a few example sentences which have them; at A-Level, one has to actually learn these forms properly. In my class, those who made the effort to understand these forms before they started had a much less steep learning curve.

Note that for your GCSE exams, you can probably get away with 'set phrases' and you may want to wait until the summer if you have a lot of other revision.
Reply 9
Original post by melancollege
I feel like the jump is much bigger for those who learned 'set phrases' rather than actually understanding the constructions. Whilst at GCSE, one could easily get away with not really learning the subjunctive or other tenses, instead just learning a few example sentences which have them; at A-Level, one has to actually learn these forms properly. In my class, those who made the effort to understand these forms before they started had a much less steep learning curve.
Note that for your GCSE exams, you can probably get away with 'set phrases' and you may want to wait until the summer if you have a lot of other revision.

Thanks a lot for your reply, I find that I actually never learn set structures and phrases (apart from things like idioms), but instead I think I have a very good base level of French that I can incorporate words, tenses and grammatical concepts on top of. In fact, I didn't learn anything / memorise any structures for my speaking exam (except from setting out the points I was going to talk about in my 1 minute speech in English), all my GCQ's were improvised, and I had just looked up the translations for certain words that I thought I might like to talk about such as an optical assistant - since that's my job, so could be used in a wide variety of contexts.

I can understand and use the subjunctive tense in the je, tu and il/elle/on form (and irregulars like sois, sache, aille, aie, fasse) to a good degree, although I have taught it to myself, so I could be using it wrong. I've been reading some short stories in French though, (A2 - B1 CEFR) which have helped a lot and contain quite a bit of subjunctive.

I think that my brain has a natural disposition to language learning since once I come across a word, or how to use a certain tense, it sort of just sticks in my brain without really having to be revisited.

My aim this summer is going to be to immerse myself in learning French, so that when I start my A level in September, I'm ahead and can take it easy in that area whilst I acclimatise to the others I'm taking.
Original post by xAspect
Hi!!! Currently a Y11 student (GCSEs start next week oh my god!!), French is my favourite subject at school by a VERY large margin and I literally can't wait to start my A level in it and be able to study it almost every day. I think I have a passion for languages - words, communication and the evolution of dialogue and speech over time and the factors affecting it fascinate me very much. Currently, I want to study etymology/linguistics/psychology of communication at university. (taking French, Biology and Psychology for my A levels to facilitate this (and doing this thing called EPQ, I'm not sure if other schools do it too)). At the moment, I'm hoping for full marks in my reading and listening, and ~90-95% in my writing and speaking. I've heard from every single person who has done and is doing A levels that the jump between GCSE and A level is humongous. For French, is this gap manageable, or will I find myself overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of vocab and information I have to learn? Thanks!

Hi, I'm a year 13 student doing French A-Level (speaking exam on wednesday!!) and honestly the jump is MASSIVE. I got a 9 at gcse which was self-taught in a few months and didn't struggle at all, but I am just about working at a C at A-Level.
If you are a very hard working person, you should be able to do well, my issue was that i went through a rough time in year 12 and lost a lot of motivation so now im trying to build it back up. If you are consistant with vocab and grammar learning, it shouldn't be horrendously difficult. But you also need to be able to have good french listening skills and essay writing skills (you study a book and a film). I am really passionate about people doing languages at A-Level, so I definitely don't want to put you off, but yes, the jump is massive. I am certainly overwhelmed with the amount of content. But it sounds like you have a lot of motivation so it's not impossible.
Reply 11
Original post by henrikshasta
Hi, I'm a year 13 student doing French A-Level (speaking exam on wednesday!!) and honestly the jump is MASSIVE. I got a 9 at gcse which was self-taught in a few months and didn't struggle at all, but I am just about working at a C at A-Level.
If you are a very hard working person, you should be able to do well, my issue was that i went through a rough time in year 12 and lost a lot of motivation so now im trying to build it back up. If you are consistant with vocab and grammar learning, it shouldn't be horrendously difficult. But you also need to be able to have good french listening skills and essay writing skills (you study a book and a film). I am really passionate about people doing languages at A-Level, so I definitely don't want to put you off, but yes, the jump is massive. I am certainly overwhelmed with the amount of content. But it sounds like you have a lot of motivation so it's not impossible.

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences :smile:

I've asked my French teacher if I can borrow the textbook to read over the summer and she's said yes, I've already looked over it and it doesn't look tremendously difficult... nothing that a few months of hard work won't be able to achieve!

So sorry to hear about your rough times, hope everything is better now 🙂

What I've gathered from this post is that I need to be consistent with my efforts and that a consistent term of hard work and revision at the end of the course isn't going to cut it. I'll definitely make sure to make my revision consistent and daily rather than at the end of a topic or module. I'll also ask my teacher which book we'll be reading so I can work through it over the summer.

Thank you so much for your response and best of luck this summer :smile:
Original post by xAspect
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences :smile:
I've asked my French teacher if I can borrow the textbook to read over the summer and she's said yes, I've already looked over it and it doesn't look tremendously difficult... nothing that a few months of hard work won't be able to achieve!
So sorry to hear about your rough times, hope everything is better now 🙂
What I've gathered from this post is that I need to be consistent with my efforts and that a consistent term of hard work and revision at the end of the course isn't going to cut it. I'll definitely make sure to make my revision consistent and daily rather than at the end of a topic or module. I'll also ask my teacher which book we'll be reading so I can work through it over the summer.
Thank you so much for your response and best of luck this summer :smile:

Yeah honestly best advice i could give you is to do little and often work, like do 15 mins of vocab and grammar revision each day and you'll be grand! Learn all the grammar stuff (tenses, pronouns etc) really well to start with, and then it makes the rest a lot easier.
Reply 13
Original post by henrikshasta
Yeah honestly best advice i could give you is to do little and often work, like do 15 mins of vocab and grammar revision each day and you'll be grand! Learn all the grammar stuff (tenses, pronouns etc) really well to start with, and then it makes the rest a lot easier.

Thanks so much, this is really useful. It's what I was planning on doing, particularly the little and often part (ugh cramming is so stressful, I'm cramming for my GCSEs right now and it's really draining me already and I've only done 2 😭) Really excited to start my A levels in September! Also planning on starting a linguistics society in year 12! :biggrin:
Reply 14
Hey! I'm just going to add my two cents in as someone who does A-level Spanish.

I was in a very similar position to you last year as someone who loved learning languages and got very high grades in GCSE Spanish. Whilst the difficulty is much higher at A-level, it's definitely manageable as most schools don't expect you to be able to pick up everything right away. If you're able to dilligently work on your grammar and vocabulary every day/every other day, especially at the start of year 12, it should start getting a lot easier after the first term.
Additionally, whilst you do learn the language, it isn't the same as GCSE. I know in my school, we would spend a lot of time where the teacher would teach us teh vocabulary and some grammar, but in class they expect you to learn a lot of this independently. Personally, in my school they give us a quizlet with any necessary vocabulary for the topic we're starting and we learn that independently. Same with more simple grammar topics that can be learnt independenlty (such as Por vs Para).
Along with that, most of your lessons will be about learning about Francophone countries through French. Whilst at first it may seem as though you aren't learning the language (one girl switched subjects because of this) you'll soon adapt to this new way of learning and find that it's actually a lot more efficient in aiding your fluency.
Most of this has already been said, but I hope this helps and good luck with your exams!
Reply 15
Original post by essie15
Hey! I'm just going to add my two cents in as someone who does A-level Spanish.
I was in a very similar position to you last year as someone who loved learning languages and got very high grades in GCSE Spanish. Whilst the difficulty is much higher at A-level, it's definitely manageable as most schools don't expect you to be able to pick up everything right away. If you're able to dilligently work on your grammar and vocabulary every day/every other day, especially at the start of year 12, it should start getting a lot easier after the first term.
Additionally, whilst you do learn the language, it isn't the same as GCSE. I know in my school, we would spend a lot of time where the teacher would teach us teh vocabulary and some grammar, but in class they expect you to learn a lot of this independently. Personally, in my school they give us a quizlet with any necessary vocabulary for the topic we're starting and we learn that independently. Same with more simple grammar topics that can be learnt independenlty (such as Por vs Para).
Along with that, most of your lessons will be about learning about Francophone countries through French. Whilst at first it may seem as though you aren't learning the language (one girl switched subjects because of this) you'll soon adapt to this new way of learning and find that it's actually a lot more efficient in aiding your fluency.
Most of this has already been said, but I hope this helps and good luck with your exams!

Thank you for sharing your experiences! :smile:

I'm definitely aware of the step-up in difficulty in the proficiency with the language required to take the course - I borrowed the A level textbook and have been reading through it. Going to make a start on it as soon as I finish my GCSEs!

I'm fine with independent study; I've already taught myself how to use and recognise the subjunctive tense for my GCSE to really secure the 9.

My teacher said that they only really speak in French in lessons, so that will definitely help a lot with getting used to the language.

Thank you lots for your advice and best of luck to you to :biggrin:
Reply 16
Original post by xAspect
Hi!!! Currently a Y11 student (GCSEs start next week oh my god!!), French is my favourite subject at school by a VERY large margin and I literally can't wait to start my A level in it and be able to study it almost every day. I think I have a passion for languages - words, communication and the evolution of dialogue and speech over time and the factors affecting it fascinate me very much. Currently, I want to study etymology/linguistics/psychology of communication at university. (taking French, Biology and Psychology for my A levels to facilitate this (and doing this thing called EPQ, I'm not sure if other schools do it too)). At the moment, I'm hoping for full marks in my reading and listening, and ~90-95% in my writing and speaking. I've heard from every single person who has done and is doing A levels that the jump between GCSE and A level is humongous. For French, is this gap manageable, or will I find myself overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of vocab and information I have to learn? Thanks!

current year 13 here sitting french a level.. big jump from gcse to a level honestly. i took french alongside maths and physics and i can say that i think french is the hardest if you spread out your revision equally (i didnt so in the end physics is the worst but anyways). french gcse was also my favourite and thats why i took it, i still enjoyed it a lot at a level, but it is more about fluency than just knowing specific vocab now. you will do different things such as literature, where you study a book and a film (AQA) which is worth 20% of your a level, speaking is worth 30% (did mine 2 weeks ago -- its much more spontaneous and now you have to do a research project and memorise LOTS), and 50% of grade is from 1 paper thats 2h 30 which contains reading listening writing translation and summaries, this one is the most difficult and it is all skill. imo if you are consistent nothing is stopping at least an A grade, if you arent then probs lower.. but passion is the most important thing -- if you are passionate about it you will revise a lot which in the end will help, also mixed with bio and psych, it is quite different and nice to switch from the sciency things to the languagey bits (just like me with maths and physics and i loved being able to have this ability to go from maths to french, 2 completely diff things). i also did EPQ -- predicted B, did mine on computer science tho, but i originally started it on french culture and switched but i do thing something french related for it is the most interesting. im doing maths at uni but i still want to continue with french somehow.. its clear that you really enjoy french and the huge gap between gcse and a level will shrink if you have a passion so please go for it!! you got this.
Reply 17
Original post by maria:o
current year 13 here sitting french a level.. big jump from gcse to a level honestly. i took french alongside maths and physics and i can say that i think french is the hardest if you spread out your revision equally (i didnt so in the end physics is the worst but anyways). french gcse was also my favourite and thats why i took it, i still enjoyed it a lot at a level, but it is more about fluency than just knowing specific vocab now. you will do different things such as literature, where you study a book and a film (AQA) which is worth 20% of your a level, speaking is worth 30% (did mine 2 weeks ago -- its much more spontaneous and now you have to do a research project and memorise LOTS), and 50% of grade is from 1 paper thats 2h 30 which contains reading listening writing translation and summaries, this one is the most difficult and it is all skill. imo if you are consistent nothing is stopping at least an A grade, if you arent then probs lower.. but passion is the most important thing -- if you are passionate about it you will revise a lot which in the end will help, also mixed with bio and psych, it is quite different and nice to switch from the sciency things to the languagey bits (just like me with maths and physics and i loved being able to have this ability to go from maths to french, 2 completely diff things). i also did EPQ -- predicted B, did mine on computer science tho, but i originally started it on french culture and switched but i do thing something french related for it is the most interesting. im doing maths at uni but i still want to continue with french somehow.. its clear that you really enjoy french and the huge gap between gcse and a level will shrink if you have a passion so please go for it!! you got this.

Thank you so much for your advice! It's nice to hear a positive and hopeful opinion for a change! :biggrin:

I'm thinking on doing my EPQ on something that mixes together French and Psychology, or on etymology.

Good luck on your exams this summer, and wishing you the best of luck in your study of maths at university :smile:

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