How To Revise For GCSE & IGCSE French – The Complete Guide

Are you worried about how to revise for French GCSE? Do you know that feeling when you sit down to study – and just don’t know where to start?

GCSE French revision

Felicity Davidson

Felicity is one of London’s leading language tutors. She is a translator, writer and actress, and the author of GCSE French by RSL, which comes in two volumes: one for listening and speaking, and one for reading, writing and translation.

Revising for language exams is so different to revising your other subjects. You can’t even cram, because you’ve got to know all your tenses, topic vocab AND be tested on listening, speaking, reading and writing. At school, you might not have had enough listening or speaking practice. You look at your GCSE French file and all you can see is vocab lists and exercise sheets. Hmmmm. They don’t look useful.

I know how exhausting and overwhelming revision can feel. I’ve taught languages for over ten years and I just took a language exam myself. 

Follow this guide and find out how to make notes, go over tenses … and maybe, just maybe, start to like French again!

(If you do like French right now, then that’s great: stay there!)

By the end, you’ll be confident to start revising and you’ll know exactly what to do. Your vocab learning will be in place and you’ll know how to write about your holidays in the past, present and future. 

What’s more, you’ll know how to make it interesting! 

Prep like a boss! (Make Joe Wicks proud)

Grab your French file and books. Let’s get you ready for revision.

Wait! Distracted by your phone already?!

Suddenly you get sucked into a vortex of time-wasting doom. 

Turn it off!

Yes. You can use it to learn your vocab … but more on that later.

And don’t turn it off quite yet if you’re using it to read this article! But you know what I mean …

Make sure you know what exam board you’re studying for. A break-down of each exam board and what you’ll be tested on is at the very, very bottom of this article. But for now, let’s get on with revising grammar and vocab.

Get down to it!

Hard work

Print off a list of what grammar is needed and tick it off as you go. Board specific lists are here:

Board-by-Board Grammar Requirements

  • Page 12 of the AQA Specification booklet
  • Page 70 of the Edexcel GCSE Specification booklet
  • Page 29 of the Edexcel IGCSE Specification booklet
  • CIE List of Grammar and Structures available when downloading file ‘Defined Content Booklet’, under ‘Syllabus support’ on this page

So now you’re staring at the grammar list and can’t for the life of you remember what a Direct Object Pronoun is. 

Don’t stress! 

There are loads of online resources to help you and explain what these words mean. I like BBC Bitesize as you can test yourself, and also Lawless French as I think their grammar explanations are incredibly clear.

Grab some paper and write down all the regular tense endings, as well as which stem to use for each tense. Where are your gaps? Go over them and highlight the endings you need to revise again. 

I always make a tense map (this is gold I tell you – gold!) of all regular tense endings. You can use when practising your writing and speaking. Pin it up in front of you and it will seep into your brain if you use it often enough! 

Don’t forget to check you know the irregular present tense verbs. 

Look at spelling and accent changes, then write a list of the verbs which have irregular stems in the passé composé and the future tense (the future and conditional have the same stems). 

Your list should look a bit like this: 

Don’t forget that there’s only one irregular stem change in the imperfect, être, which goes to j’étais, tu étais etc.

Otherwise it’s just the ‘nous’ stem of the present tense. Knock off the –ons and add the endings, like this:

Nous finissons – Nous finissons – Je finissais, tu finissais, il/elle finissait …

Nous mangeons – Nous mangeons – Je mangeais, tu mangeais, il/elle mangeait …

The best way to learn verbs is simply to drill them, and by this I mean writing them again, and again, and again. How do you think actors learn their lines? Repetition!

je parle
tu parles
il/elle/on parle
nous parlons
vous parlez
ils/elles parlent 

Use your newly revised verbs in your writing and oral so you are putting your learning into practice. This website is excellent in case you are stuck on how conjugate any verb in any tense.

The worst thing you can do is use Google Translate! It is just a literal translation and often very problematic – and anyway, you won’t learn anything if you google your answers. 


That is certainly not good enough for written French. (It should be je pense que j’ai perdu mes lunettes.)

Words, Words, Words!


Vocabulary is one of the most important things to revise, and often the most neglected. It will not soak in by osmosis, so use the ‘little but often’ approach. 

Try doing ten words (about ten minutes) a day and create a new habit – that’s around 300 new words a month, which is a lot!

Set aside a bit of time every day or every week and put a reminder in your phone if need be. You can’t cram-learn vocabulary, so start now!  

Where to Find Vocabulary

A high frequency vocab list is a very useful resource, and there are plenty of other places to find words.

Look in the back of your school textbook or at the end of each chapter, where there should be a list of vocabulary that is divided into topics. Try creating topic lists of vocabulary or even mind maps. Apps on your phone, such as Memrise (search for your course) and Quizlet, are great. I also recommend this book, which offers vocab by topic and useful phrases to learn and use.

Get a blank exercise book, choose a topic from the GCSE French syllabus (Les vacances, Les transports en commun, Les tâches ménagères) and write down as many related words as you can think of, as well as any new words from past papers that you didn’t know.

How To Learn Vocabulary

You’ve got to be able to recognise a word if you hear or read it, and have it ready to say and to write. I suggest learning the gender of the noun (un/une or le/la) at the same time, so that you can make appropriate agreements. Please don’t leave out accents – and don’t just use flat lines, which is an obvious cheat!

Get your vocab book or list, and cover one language column so you can easily test yourself, like this:

Put a star by the words you don’t know and then go back over them. To learn around ten new words per day, learning by topic is best. Start by reading your words out loud a few times, and then covering the English and testing yourself on the meaning. The next day, test yourself on the words you found tricky and start on your new words. Ask someone to test you (changing the order of the words on the page), so you can practise spelling.

The next day, come back to your words from a couple of days before and test them the other way round: covering the French and trying to remember the English meaning.

Keep coming back to words over time, re-learning any that you have forgotten, and reinforcing any that have become weak.

One of the very best vocab-learning techniques is to invent sentences involving a mixture of the words that you are working on.

Yes, all this is time-consuming – but it can make a huge difference to your grade.

Phrases are also important. Memorise key opinion phrases and ‘grade-savers’ to use in your writing and oral:

I had a great time – Je me suis bien amusé(e)
We had a great time – Nous nous sommes bien amusé(e)s

In your copy of GCSE French by RSL – Volume 1, you can find a list of useful phrases for expressing and justifying opinions in the Steps To A Higher Grade section, as well as an extensive grammar checklist with important dos and don’ts.

The Oral Exam

The GCSE French oral exam arrives early: it might be your first French exam, and maybe even your first GCSE exam!

If you don’t know how to pronounce a word, type it into Forvo to hear a native speaker pronounce it. Comme une Française has excellent videos on how to pronounce vowel sounds and much more.

Why not record yourself on a phone and listen back, or ask your teacher to record phrases to listen to while you’re going to school? The more you practice speaking aloud, the less weird it will feel. Your pronunciation and confidence will improve.

Build up a bank of words to help you, especially sentence fillers, so you don’t end up saying “um” a lot. Try using bah, alors or donc instead. Remember that the key to a strong oral exam is showing off a range of time frames: you need to show that you can speak in the past, present and future tenses.

Après-demain – The day after tomorrow
Avant-hier – The day before yesterday
À l’avenir – In the future
Bientôt – Soon
Quelquefois – Sometimes
Tous les soirs – Every evening
Tous les jours – Every day
De temps en temps – From time to time

The full list is in Volume 1 of my GCSE French guide.

The guide also contains an oral (speaking) primer with advice, sample marking guide and downloadable sample conversations, as well as a list of common topic questions.

Make sure you have an opinion and an idea of what to say for all topics, so you aren’t surprised on the day.

Keep your ideas relatively simple, unless your vocab on the pros and cons of nuclear energy is really up there! Have an opinion on your school uniform, healthy eating, the environment and what we can do to help protect it, and so on.

The Listening Exam

Listening exam

This may be pretty obvious, but listen to as much French as possible to get your ear in. So many people struggle with listening, because we just don’t do enough of it. Don’t panic when the French speeds up in the exam: you aren’t expected to understand every word. The important thing is to get the necessary information and key vocabulary.

Volume 1 of my French GCSE book has four practice listening papers with complete example answers, mark schemes and advice for every question. There’s detailed guidance about how to look out for words and structures that could trip you up during the exam.

When doing past papers, go through the transcripts and highlight all the words you didn’t know – and add them to your vocab book. If you run out of past papers, try ones from other exam boards: it’s all practice.

Try reading and listening at the same time for the more difficult questions, when you have a transcript. For example, you can do this when working through my GCSE French listening book.

There is a brilliant podcast/app called News in Slow French, which does what it says on the tin. You can follow the text in French and click on the words to find the translation. You can also search for French films and TV shows and watch these with English subtitles – try The Bureau (Amazon Prime), Spiral (Amazon Prime) and Call My Agent (Netflix). This website has useful videos and the radio station RFI (Radio France Internationale) is a brilliant resource.

Be sure to double-check numbers, dates, times and spellings after writing an answer, so you don’t miss out on marks!

My books for GCSE French, published by RSL Educational, offer realistic papers and full example answers, along with careful advice on all the key techniques.

Click this link to download a free listening paper from Volume 1, with full solutions: 

The audio to go with the paper can be downloaded here.

Reading, Writing and Translation Exams


When revising for your reading exam, look up and note any new words. (also available as an app) is a very good dictionary. Your knowledge of related words like nager (to swim) and la natation (swimming) will be tested. Looking up and noting down linked words will help with this.

What you have learnt for your oral exam can be used in your writing exam.

Make sure that you experiment as much as possible in your homework – but not in the exam. If you aren’t quite sure of a spelling in the exam, then try and think of a synonym you are sure of.

Check to see what the question is asking you to do, whether it is to narrate a story in the past (using the imperfect tense and the passé composé), or to say what you’re doing in the future.

Look at this writing exam sample from Volume 2 of GCSE French by RSL:

Beware of exam preparation shortcuts
Beware of exam preparation shortcuts
Beware of exam preparation shortcuts

Bearing these things in mind, you might write something like the following model answer:

You might also use connectives such as puis (then), car (because) and en plus (then), and opinion phrases such as à mon avis – in my opinion.

What you write doesn’t necessarily have to be true…

…but make sure you give an opinion and then a justification.

For example:

À mon avis, nous devons changer notre uniforme scolaire, parce que c’est très démodé et je déteste la cravate jaune.

This is the opinion, this is the example and this is the justification.

Try to show off your knowledge much as you can and use a si clause to chuck in a few more tenses.

Don’t forget to CHECK, CHECK and CHECK your work again for grammatical agreements. Make a checklist and go through this every time. Go over your sentences to check that you haven’t missed out a verb in the passé compose, for example, and that the conjugation of each verb agrees with the subject (I, you, he/she/it, we, you, they).

Have I Checked … ?

  • Varied tenses
  • Included an agreement with a PDO
  • Included agreement with être verbs in the passé composé
  • Is it formal (vous) or informal (tu)?
  • Is the noun masc. or fem., and singular or plural?
  • Does the adjective agree with the noun?
  • Given opinion and justification
  • Used time expression
  • Used a connective
  • Varied adjectives
  • Used interesting adverbs
  • Used a pronoun

Volume 2 of GCSE French by RSL has loads of sample reading, writing and translation papers, as well as highly detailed model answers for a huge range of topics. There’s also a step-by-step breakdown of the most important grammar knowledge, showing you how to raise your grade.

Plenty of people write about going to the park to play football, or about going the cinema on a Saturday and then to a restaurant for their best mother’s friend’s aunt’s birthday. Why not have some fun and try out some inventive stories and imaginary hobbies – keeping a list of relevant vocab and phrases to practise and learn.

The more you practise translation, the better you’ll get to know the most high frequency words and to highlight these in past or sample papers. As you get near to the exams, do sample papers in timed conditions so you can get used to the feel of the test and hone your approach. This will change the way you approach things, helping you finesse your exam technique.

If you’re doing Edexcel IGCSE then there’s a short grammar section in your writing exam with some lovely gap-fills. Here’s an example:

Quand _____________ (être) enfant, je ________________ (passer) toutes mes vacances à Nice avec mes amis. C’était les ______________ (meilleur) vacances!

It’s in the imperfect tense because it’s describing something that was the case in the past:

Quand j’étais (être) enfant,

Again, this uses the imperfect tense because it’s describing a habit in the past: something that you ‘used to’ do. The toutes mes vacances tells us that this happened regularly:

je passais (passer) toutes mes vacances à Nice avec mes amis.

The noun for holidays, vacances, is feminine plural, so we have to ensure that the adjective agrees: [CHECK GRAMMAR WITH FELICITY]

C’était les meilleures (meilleur) vacances! 

Before you go … just a few extra tips!

lots of advice

Revision area

Make sure you have a good revision spot! For example, libraries are underused – yet they are perfect, with few distractions.

Talking of distractions, get rid of them! No TV, radio, social media … turn your phone to airplane mode, disable notifications and WhatsApp/texts on everything.

It works – I’ve switched off my internet while I write this!

If you’re working at a desk, think about using the space in front of you. Is there a word you keep forgetting? Put up post-it notes with vocab or verbs endings! By looking at these often, you’ll probably learn them.

Beware of exam preparation shortcuts

Revision tools

Think about how you learn best. Is this making notes on your computer or on paper? Do you use mind-maps, flash cards or apps? If you’re using a computer in the exam, then revise by using a computer to make your notes. If you’re writing for your exam, do your practice tests by hand.

Make sure you have plenty of paper, pens that you like writing with, different coloured pens (useful for verb endings) and your school files and books.

Organisation of time and tools

Plan out your GCSE French revision timetable. You can easily print off weekly planners for free from the internet.

Drink plenty of water while you revise and avoid foods that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates: you’ll get a sugar low and feel tired following the rise in blood sugar and the subsequent drop in insulin levels.

(Biology revision too – there’s everything in this article!)

Eat like an athlete! Fuel your body appropriately for what you’re doing.

You’ll need to take breaks between revision sessions. Try your hardest not to spend this playing a video game, on your phone or watching TV. Despite this feeling like a relaxing activity, the light emitted from a device is a stimulant for the brain, so you are not taking an effective break. Electronic devices are also a time warp: you can easily look up from your phone and discover that an hour has slipped away.

Lastly, make sure that you go outside! Get some fresh air and a walk every day. This makes a real difference.

At the start of a French revision session, take a highlighter to your notes and circle grammar points that you want to revise, or try and organise your vocabulary into topics. I like to think about the different stages of revision. The first is getting your notes ready, organising your files and writing out/typing up vocabulary.

There’s the time in the Easter holidays when you will go through everything – your topics, grammar and vocabulary – and then there’s the time before the exam when you practise key exam skills and put all your revision into effect.

You want to be in a place where you have organised your files, and tidied everything up as best you can, before the Easter holidays. Utilise this time to make your revision as effective as possible.


GCSE French by RSL, Volume 1: Listening, Speaking
GCSE French by RSL, Volume 2: Reading, Writing, Translation

Felicity’s books for GCSE French offer carefully structured exam-style practice, with full example answers and careful advice on all the key techniques.

Click this link to download a free reading paper from Volume 2, with full solutions: 

Click the buttons below to learn more about her books and to buy them (also available from

Exam Boards


Print off the specifications for your exam board and pin them to your wall, so you always know exactly what you’re going to be examined on. I have divided these up below, with a quick summary for each.

Double check your board’s current requirements: these things can change from year to year.


Specification (this includes a vocabulary list!)
Past papers


Foundation Tier – 35 minutes (including 5 minutes’ reading time)
Higher Tier – 45 minutes (including 5 minutes’ reading time)


Foundation Tier lasts 7–9 minutes, with a preparation time of 12 minutes
Higher Tier lasts 10–12 minutes, with a preparation time of 12 minutes

1. Role play card
2. Photo card
3. General conversation


Foundation Tier – 45 minutes
Higher Tier – 1 hour


Foundation Tier – 1 hour
1. Write short sentences in French
2. Write a short text, approx. 40 words
3. Translation of sentences from English to French, minimum of 35 words
4. Write a longer text, approx. 90 words

Higher Tier – 1 hour 15 minutes
1. Write a short text, approx. 90 words
2. Write a longer text, approx. 150 words
3. Translation of a passage from English to French, minimum of 50 words


Syllabus overview (this includes a vocab list!)
Past papers


Foundation Tier – 35 minutes (including 5 minutes’ reading time)
Higher Tier – 45 minutes (including 5 minutes’ reading time)


Foundation Tier lasts 7–9 minutes, with a preparation time of 12 minutes

Higher Tier lasts of 10–12 minutes, with a preparation time of 12 minutes
1. Role plays
2. Picture based task
3. General conversation


Foundation Tier – 45 minutes (includes short translation from French to English)

Higher Tier – 1 hour (includes short translation from French to English)


Foundation Tier – 1 hour 10 minutes
1. Write a short text, approx. 20-30 words
2. Write a passage, approx. 40-50 words
3. Write a longer text, approx. 80-90 words
4. Translate short sentences from English to French

Higher Tier – 1 hour 20 minutes
1. Write a short text, approx. 80-90 words
2. Write a longer text, approx. 130-150 words
3. Translation of a passage from English to French


Syllabus overview (this includes a minimum core vocab list)
Past papers


30 minutes (plus 5 minutes’ reading time)


8-10 minutes
1. Picture based discussion
2. & 3. Conversations on topics

Reading and Writing

1 hour 45 minutes

Reading: spend approx. 52 minutes exam on this section

Writing: spend approx. 52 minutes exam on this section
1. Write a short text, approx. 60-75 words
2. Write a longer text, approx. 130-150 words
3. A short grammar section

CIE (Cambridge IGCSE)

Syllabus overview
Past papers
(Core vocab available when downloading file ‘Defined Content Booklet’, under ‘Syllabus support’ on this page)


45 minutes


15 minutes

1. Role plays
2. Topic Presentation/Conversation
3. General conversation


1 hour


1 hour

1. Single words linked to a topic
2. Write a short text, approx. 80-90 words
3. Write a longer text, approx. 130–140 words


  1. Uly Herwig

    Hello, 1. this seems a great source. Does exist similar one for German igcse for teachers?
    How much costs Q+A for French CIE igcse And could I download it straight away?

    Many thanks. Regards


    • Robert

      Hi Uly,

      We have books for other languages including German (see, but I’m afraid we don’t have a blog article like this one for German at the moment.

      Our French books do cover that exam, but (apart from the free sample content) they are only available in hard copy. See the link I just provided to buy them in our online shop.

      Best wishes,


  2. Diya

    Hi, This page really helped me as i’m doing my igcse’s curently…
    I’d like to know whats written on the mind map as it seems very useful, i tried making my own but i don’t quite understand what’s written under some of the tenses….could you please let me know…

    • Robert

      If you’re on a computer with a decent screen, it should be quite big. Right-click and you can save it to your hard drive.

  3. Sue

    Hi, thank you for the information. Do you know if the course content for IGCSE Edexcel vs Cambridge is similar or very different? My child is preparing for CIE, however we’re not able to find many online CIE courses, but have come across some Edexcel courses. We’re trying to work out if she’ll be able to take the CIE exams after doing the Edexcel course? There aren’t many Edexcel examination centres where we based at the moment.

    • Robert

      I’m afraid that as a humble website administrator, and not a French specialist, I don’t know the answer to this!


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