10 Tips on How to Study for a French Exam
If you study a foreign language, it’s likely that one day, whether for school or employment reasons, you’ll take an exam. When it comes to French, the best-known qualification is the DELF, but there are others, too (DFP, TCF, etc.).
There are many good reasons to prepare for the DELF in France. But how do you study for a French exam? To give you the best chance of success, we have a few tips up our sleeves. After all, it’s first and foremost a question of preparation and methodology. While it’s true that some of us are more at ease in foreign languages than others, you don’t need to have a special gift to do well.
Some general rules for French exams
Let’s start with the basic rules for ensuring that you are as prepared as possible for your exam.
1) Get organised
First, it’s vital to identify the time of day when you feel most productive and best able to concentrate. Then, make sure that you put in the work regularly. It’s also a good idea to sign up to some discussion forums. Chatting to others who are taking the same exam is reassuring and rewarding.
2) Be positive
Try to be positive about yourself and don’t go looking for perfection! Be aware, too, that the activities you do will allow you to test your level of French and see how much progress you are making.
Preparing for reading comprehension in French
3) Focus on overall comprehension
In written tests, it’s very important to read the instructions carefully and to know how to study for a reading comprehension exam in French. For example, if you’re asked to justify your answer, you must use quotes from the text to do so. Try not to let one word trip you up. Your priority should be the overall meaning, and you can always try to guess a word based on others from the same family. Generally speaking, don’t try to translate what you are reading word for word.
How to study for a written exam in French
4) Read the instructions carefull
Make cards for different topics and revise them every day: when it comes to exams, repetition is the key to success! On the day of the test, the first important thing is to avoid going off topic and addressing a subject different to the one on the exam. As for the number of words requested, remember that there is a margin of tolerance. Train yourself to work within the exam’s time limit and don’t forget to reread your work to fix any repetitions or mistakes.
5) Structure your work and take care over it
The structure of your written work is very important, so think about making a plan (it should usually have three parts). Note that it is not recommended to write a rough draft which you will later recopy to produce a ‘clean version’, as this takes too much time. Finally, don’t neglect your conclusion – those few lines tend to have a huge influence on the final grade!
Some tips for listening exams
6) Listen to media sources on a regular basis
First, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of listening to the major French radio stations (Franceinfo and France Inter in particular). This is good practice which will also give you an awareness of the issues that are currently in the news and the media. Education, technology, employment, health, tourism, gender equality, consumer habits, the environment and the media are some of the most topical issues.
7) Don’t overuse subtitles
Films and TV series are also good resources, as long as you don’t overuse the subtitles! In fact, subtitles in your native language are not recommended as they grab your attention and mean that you don’t need to employ any comprehension strategies. It’s best to avoid them (unless you need to check the meaning of a phrase) or to use subtitles in the target language.
Try to familiarise yourself with the accents heard in some French-speaking countries, too. Finally, listening to songs is a good way to soak up the sounds of the language: they’re not too long and, above all, it’s easy to find the lyrics on special websites (www.paroles.net; www.lacoccinelle.net; etc.). A last tip for when you are answering the questions: keep things short, as writing overly long sentences may waste valuable time.
8) Find resources to assess your skills
What resources are out there to help you prepare for the DELF or the DALF? If you go to the website www.france-education-international.fr, you can download a document called Ressources pour se préparer aux diplômes DELF et DALF (Resources to help you prepare for the DELF and DALF qualifications), where you will find a list of the most frequently used books. Helpful, right? Do you want to test your own skills now? The best way to do this is to work on past papers, which you can find via the following link: www.france-education-international.fr/en/delf-tout-public
How to study for a French speaking exam
9) Keep it natural
If you need to introduce yourself in an oral exam, keep things natural. Don’t learn your presentation off by heart. Don’t glue your eyes to your exam paper when you are expressing an opinion – it’s not a reading exercise, it’s a speaking activity! This means that you can’t prepare everything and you will need to improvise, especially during discussions with the examiner. That’s why the benefits of studying French are multiple – by engaging in conversation with native speakers, your oral expression will become more natural.
10) Argue and defend your point of view
Expressing an opinion means presenting a topic, introducing debate and announcing a plan. It’s also about moderating your ideas, offering examples and defending your point of view. If you don’t know a word, give your own definition or paraphrase. And the ability to correct your own mistakes is also a positive. Finally, don’t forget that if you want to make progress and achieve all of these goals, the best option is to attend a language school in France!
Jean-Luc PICHON - 18/05/2021