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How to Prepare for the Spanish Oral Leaving Certificate Examination

Spanish is the spoken language of 400 million people in the world, it is the mother tongue of nearly half a billion people in the world and therefore is a very worthwhile and popular choice amongst second-level students. The number of students choosing to take Spanish in school has grown in recent years.  It is a language that you can take with you far beyond the classroom and one which you can benefit hugely from learning it. Spanish is spoken in many famous cities in the world including New York, Madrid, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Bogotá, and many more. As always, with learning a second language, complete immersion is the best strategy for anyone wanting to learn or progress in the Spanish language. Real-life exposure to a second language and life experiences will build both confidence and fluency simultaneously.

How to prepare for the Spanish Oral Leaving Certificate Examination

The Spanish Leaving Certificate oral exam is a conversation that lasts about 8-10 minutes. The examiner tests the student’s understanding of a variety of structures, vocabulary, and verb tenses, including but not limited to present, past and future.

The topics range from

  • Yo (myself);
  • Mi rutina diaria (everyday activities, weekends);
  • Mi familia (my family);
  • Mi casa (my house);
  • Donde vivo (my area, town);
  • Mis estudios (my school, subjects, teachers, college etc);
  • Mis pasatiempos (sports, music, books, films, fashion and clothes . . .);
  • Trabajo y dinero (part-time jobs, working experience, pocket money . . . future work etc);
  • Vacaciones (past holidays, plans for future holidays).

The role-play is the second part of the exam which takes four to 3-5 minutes and ends with one unseen question related to the dialogue.

The oral exam is marked out of 100 and 30 of those marks go toward the role play in Higher Level. The exam is worth 80 marks for Ordinary Level Students with the same allocation of marks for the roleplays. Similar to the general conversation, good communication skills are required for the role-play. However, you are technically playing the part of a character and so some acting will go a long way. Be animated in your approach. Examiners have reported in the past that thorough classroom preparation is key for this part of the exam. Students who act like they have seen the role-play cards for the first time especially fall down in marks here with a lack of grammatical structures and verbal tenses to be able to complete the task.  Using intonation in your speech will help you gain marks in the role-plays. Make sure you know what is being said in English as well as in Spanish. Make eye contact with the examiner every time you start a new sentence as it is supposed to be a natural scenario with a native speaker.

In the basic conversation, the examiner is testing your ability to speak Spanish in a competent way. They are looking for a wide range of varying vocabulary and tenses when conversing in Spanish. You need to display an eagerness to expand on the topics presented to you and hold a natural conversation throughout. Avoid short responses like “sí” or “no”. Always begin by answering in a full sentence, if you are not sure, then use the same verb that the examiner uses. This will demonstrate self-awareness and a willingness to attempt to answer what has been asked.

Below is a rough guide of the breakdown of marks for the conversation part in the beginning:

20-25 marks                   Difficulties in understanding meaning

30-40 marks                   Hindered occasionally, inaccuracies

45-50 marks                   Fair, inaccuracies but understanding of meaning

55-60 marks               Some inaccuracies but does not inhibit communication

65-70 marks                   Very good understanding

80 marks                         Proficient

Below are some examiner observations where students fall down on the day:

  • Many candidates still confuse the verbs ser and estar.
  • Some examiners noted that candidates used “facilidades” for “instalaciones” when talking about facilities in school etc.
  • Only the best candidates used the subjunctive in the correct manner. However, some candidates had learned off phrases with the subjunctive included in the sentence.
  • Most candidates still rely on the Preterite tense when speaking about events in the past, they seem to dislike, or are unfamiliar with, the Imperfect tense and the Present Perfect tense.
  • Agreement of adjectives was problematic for some candidates.
  • Some candidates used the infinitive of the verb when answering a question, regardless of the tense required.
  • Many of these candidates just repeated the form of the verb used by the examiner.
  • Some candidates used me prefiero, and similarly me odio and me quiero.
  • The correct use of the verb “gustar” continues to pose a significant challenge for weaker candidates.
  • Some candidates used the verb “ser” instead of “tener” for age.
  • There is evidence of pronunciation difficulties, for example, with the word “mayor” and school subjects such as biología, geografía, química and historia.
  • Some candidates repeated the question structure or the second person form of the verb in their answer.
  • Some candidates were unable to give descriptions of people.
  • Some candidates did not understand the Perfect Tense question ¿Has estado en España?

The three principal reasons for losing marks were

  1. a) Insufficient vocabulary
  2. b) Lack of ability to structure sentences
  3. c) Over-reliance on memorized material.

The following recommendations were made to students as a result

  • Speak as much Spanish as possible in the classroom
  • Listen to Spanish in as many ways as you can by listening to CDs, watching

Films/DVDs and Spanish television programmes

  • Devote time to learning basic grammar and vocabulary
  • Practice verb forms and tenses
  • Avoid the tendency to recite large pieces of Spanish during an oral examination
  • If possible, go on a Spanish exchange
  • Develop your answers in the oral examination so that they are not just Sí or No answers
  • Be spontaneous and natural in your answers and treat the General Conversation section as a normal conversation in which the examiner is interested in finding out about you and your interests and opinions
  • Be familiar with all five Role-Plays, not just a favourite one
  • Remember that good preparation for the oral examination is good preparation for your written examination in June.

Agued Keegan, a Spanish Teacher from The Institute of Education commented that students who appeared nervous did not do as well on the day. She recommends instead, that you command and steer the conversation in the direction you want it to go. Using different verbs, expanding on your answers, listening and responding carefully to the examiner’s questions, and self-correction during the conversations are some key points that she makes.

We have definitely learned that getting ready in advance is key when preparing for the Oral Spanish Exam. So what other ways can one best prepare? We offer language trips abroad to Barcelona and Málaga.

Barcelona, Spain’s second-largest city, famous for its rich culture and architecture presents an opportunity to learn their language in a creative city.

The school was recently renovated and is in a modern building, making it one of the premier schools in the city. With 9 classrooms, it is a boutique school that offers personalized attention to each student. Class sizes are small with a maximum of 10 students in a group. The school is located in the neighborhood of Eixample, just one block from the famous La Pedrera and one block from the nearest subway station. And most importantly, it is just 15 minutes from the beach. Class start and end times are flexible depending on the time of year and the duration. Students can study from 1 week to a year. Classes are taught in 100% Spanish and teachers use the communicative method, meaning you learn grammar and rules by speaking and practicing rather than direct memorization. Students are assessed on the first day and then placed in a class that is based on their academic level to best support and progress their learning. There are also activities included like walking tours of different areas of the city, museum visits, cooking classes, bar nights, dance classes, and much more.

Málaga is another wonderful option if the sunny coast appeals more to you. Málaga is situated on the world-famous Costa Del Sol and boasts a beautiful coastline and port with the buzz of a typical Spanish City. The school boasts fantastic views over the Mediterranean Sea. Class sizes have a maximum of 8 students in a group which allows teachers to focus on each student’s needs by providing a supportive learning environment. The school is located only 10 minutes walking distance from the historic center and a 5-minute walk from the beach. Classes are organized similarly to the school in Barcelona with the choice of studying from 1 week to 1 year. As always, it is not only inside the classroom where students will learn. Activities and excursions are organized to combine both education with leisure so that students can learn Spanish in Málaga while also enjoying the company of other international students.

Click here for more information about Barcelona and Málaga.

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