GCSE AQA Speaking Exams – considerations and T&L implications

by senorcordero

It has been a while since proper speaking exams for the GCSE have taken place. AS isx such, this blog contains some information I have found useful in the past when conducting the speaking exams, and some classroom ideas.

Microphone, Boy, Studio, Screaming, Yelling, Sing

Intricacies of each section:

Each section can easily catch us out unknowingly and incur penalties on our students’ part. It is important to be aware of where we can accrue penalties for students. Below is a quick guide of key notes for conduct and some general advice.

Role play


  • Students can read out notes that they prepare in the 12 minutes of preparation time.
  • The examiner must not stray away from the script – it must be adhered to. We have to be robotic in this section.
  • 2 minutes maximum
  • If a student completes an incorrect answer, this is the answer to the bullet point that must be considered when marking. Do not re-ask the question in this instance as it will not count.
  • If you catch a student giving a wrong answer mid-answer, you can interrupt by asking the same question again. If the student gets the answer right in this instance, full 2 marks for communication can be awarded.
  • Students can ask for a question to be repeated in the target language. If they do this in English the request will not gain any marks for communication.
  • If a student is short on details, you can probe for more details by asking: “¿algo más?”.
  • If a student completes a task and continues to develop response, best practice is to move onto the next question

Photo card


  • 3 minutes maximum higher, 2 minutes maximum foundation.
  • Last question must be asked before 1:59 (foundation) 2:59) higher for the answer to be included when marking.
  • 2 surprise questions
  • Students can read notes prepared in the 12 minutes of preparation time.
  • Paraphrasing is allowed – but must not alter the nature of the question. Acceptable changes would be swapping ratos libres for tiempo libre. Unacceptable would be Qué piensas de las reglas en tu instituto for  te gustan las reglas en tu instituto as the second question can be answered with or no where as the first question cannot be, eliciting different information therefore altering the nature of the question.
  • Students must give 3 sentences containing verbs in 3 questions, and answer 2 questions clearly.
  • Students must give 1 opinion and 1 justification during the course of the photo card.
  • The opinion and the justification, if given through the form of a verb such as me gusta and porque es count as a tick.
  • Range and quality of language does not form a part of the marking criteria.

General conversation

  • 5 minutes maximum for both themes for foundation; 7 minutes maximum higher
  • Aim for 2 minutes per theme for foundation; 3 minutes per theme higher. This will land you comfortably within the time confines and won’t accrue any penalties for timing.
  • Students must ask a question – this can happen at any point during the exam. It must be related to one of the two themes discussed for it to count. If not, a one mark penalty for communication is incurred.
  • Monitor timings very carefully – 1 second short on either theme = 2 mark deduction
  • Press lap only when you start asking the first question of the second theme – changeover time counts as the first theme.
  • Monitor timing so question falls within the 5 minutes duration of general conversation for foundation or 7 minutes at higher tier
  • Students must refer to the past time frame and the future time frame. This can happen at any point during the two themes but both must be covered by the end of the general conversation. 
  • Spontaneity must be shown during the exam and that the conversation is not learned by rote.
  • Opinions and justifications must be given, as well as development of answers. This is done by additional verbs and clauses.

Teaching and learning implications:


  • Verse students to prepare only what is needed and to refrain from expanding answers.
  • Ensure students are versed with interrogatives and their meaning
  • Rephrasing of verbs from the 2nd person singular into the 1st person singular to aid with surprise questions.

Photo card:

  • Don’t over-egg the photo card. Three sentences containing en la foto hay is sufficient – PALMA will put unnecessary cognitive load onto students as quality and range of language is not assessed in this section.
  • Check rephrasing of questions to ensure question would be valid.

General conversation:

  • Aim for 3 minutes per theme higher and 2 minutes per theme foundation. This will help you to fall safely into the middle of the timings.
  • Practise manipulating verbs from the 2nd person into the 1st person.
  • Pick your easiest past timeframe and future time frame questions, especially for boarder line students and get these out of the way first. 
  • If a student gives you an opinion, show spontaneity very easily by asking: ¿por qué? if they do not automatically give a justification.
  • Consider easy ways of showing spontaneity. If students say that they like reading books and name Harry Potter books, ask: ¿Prefieres los libros de Harry Potter o las películas? as a follow up question to show natural spontaneity.
  • If students are lacking sophistication, try asking a question that lends itself to producing a modal verb response, for example, instead of asking: ¿Qué haces normalmente en verano? – which would probably elicit a regular present tense verb, I would ask: ¿Qué sueles hacer en verano? – which is more likely to elicit soler + infinitive.
  • Really get a feel for which questions students will perform well at and which ones students won’t.
  • Practice asking questions in class using interrogatives and get students to prepare one for each theme.