Updated: May 9
What do the highest-achieving AQA Spanish A Level students have in common?
Students are often surprised to learn that bilingual or native speakers of Spanish do not always achieve the best grades at A Level, even in speaking tests.
Having a strong command of the language at the outset is an advantage, of course, but a huge proportion of marks for the A Level papers are also awarded for content, evaluation and thorough understanding of the topics studied.
Native and non-native speakers alike need to engage frequently with the culture of the Spanish-speaking world and take a thorough approach to organising knowledge and ideas, in addition to understanding the requirements of the exams themselves and sharpening language skills.
How to excel in your AQA Spanish A Level
The AQA A Level Spanish syllabus constitutes a deep study of the language, culture and society of the Spanish-speaking countries, and the highest-achieving students go beyond the curriculum and make it a part of their day-to-day routines. They treat Spanish as a personal interest and not just an academic subject to be studied.
As your Spanish tutors, we want you to approach the A Level course with confidence and begin the year with effective study habits in place and the mindset of a high achiever.
So, what do the top Spanish A Level students have in common?
They use the scheme of learning effectively.
Since the AQA A Level Spanish specification covers a broad range of topics and grammatical content, effective planning and organisation are essential.
Last year’s most successful students extended their knowledge beyond the A Level course materials by organising extra activities alongside each curriculum module.
At the KML online Spanish academy, we design a clear scheme of learning to structure all the topics throughout the course.
You can align your personal study with the scheme of learning. Consider having a printed copy of it in your study space and brainstorming ideas to help you engage with each topic.
For example, during the first half of Autumn term, we study the origins of the Spanish language and regional identity in Spain, so you could plan to watch a film or series that deals with this theme (Ocho apellidos vascos is a popular choice, and is included on the list of films for the AQA Writing paper).
When studying regional gastronomy, you could watch a Spanish-language Netflix cooking series, use TripAdvisor to discover exciting restaurants in the different regions, or even take a cooking course in Spanish (Udemy has some great options).
💡 The key is to take ownership of your curriculum and engage with it actively, even outside of lesson time.
They target improvement in each of the four key skills individually.
The AQA Spanish A Level is assessed on the basis of the four key language skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening.
Our lessons typically concentrate on one aspect of the subject at a time: we focus on listening, speaking, essay writing, film or text analysis, or grammar.
It’s normal to want to focus on the skill that you most enjoy, but the most successful students take responsibility for improving across all areas consistently.
In particular, they take time to improve on their perceived weaknesses right from the outset of the course and dedicate additional time to working on them.
The highest-achieving students are always those who make their own opportunities to use Spanish outside of the classroom setting.
💡 Think about any areas where you feel less confident. What is your weakness at the moment, and how can you make it a strength?
They are consistent with studying grammar.
Mastering the grammar of a language requires perseverance and a lot of practice. In the AQA A Level Spanish exams, the highest-performing students use a variety of sentence structures and idiomatic expressions to convey their ideas. They use complex language such as the subjunctive, various past tenses, the passive voice and compound tenses.
💡The only way to master the grammar of Spanish as a non-native speaker is to be disciplined and thorough in your approach. In addition to the weekly grammar exercises and assignments, you can use tutor feedback to identify areas for improvement.
They are consistent with vocabulary learning, and don’t leave topics behind.
The AQA A Level Spanish syllabus introduces complex and specialised topics that push students beyond the vocabulary range of everyday conversation.
Topics such as the Franco dictatorship, current politics in Spain, and the country’s musical and linguistic heritage can only be mastered with a broad vocabulary. It is also essential to be able to translate the more advanced vocabulary to and from English accurately.
💡 Use Quizlet on a daily basis, not only to learn a new vocabulary set each week, but also to keep up your knowledge of previous units. The cumulative effect of this over a year or two is huge.
They create their own reading lists.
The benefits of reading in your target language are well documented, and students taking the AQA Spanish A Level are required to read at least one novel or play as part of the course.
The highest-achieving students, though, read outside of the curriculum. They create their own reading lists and encounter the Spanish language in different genres and styles.
Whatever your study space looks like, having a couple of Spanish-language magazines, books or newspapers on your desk or coffee table makes it easy to read for pleasure.
Students at Kate Maria Languages benefit from a discount at The European Bookshop.
💡 Try combining Spanish with one of your other subjects as a starting point. Last year, a student taking Earth Science (Geology) at A Level chose to do extra reading with a subscription to National Geographic. Another student, who successfully applied to Oxford for English Language and Literature, enjoyed reading short story collections by Julio Cortázar and Jorge Luis Borges.
They start their Research Project early.
Whilst many Spanish A Level programmes do not require students to begin researching their chosen topic for the Individual Research Project (IRP) until the second year of their course, the most successful projects are almost always those that take more time to develop.
It is always clear to examiners when students have limited material on which to base the IRP discussion; the 2019 AQA examiner report commented that some students “underestimated the amount of material needed to discuss their chosen topic in depth for 9 to 10 minutes”.
Rather than rushing to define their project title and sub-headings, and thereby limiting the sope of their research, the highest-achieving students take time to approach their chosen theme and learn about it from different sources and perspectives.
They consider the IRP as part of the A Level programme from the outset. They take responsibility for their research and aim to develop a well-rounded understanding of the topic that goes beyond the requirements of the Speaking test.
💡 You can set yourself up for success by getting different sources of content for your project delivered to your inbox on a regular basis. Try creating news alerts, following related social media accounts and discussion threads, and subscribing to news updates from relevant organisations or individuals within your field of research.
They know what examiners are looking for.
Finally, the best-performing students know how the AQA Spanish A Level marking grids work. They know which critical and linguistic skills are required in which papers, and how to structure answers effectively in order to access the highest bands in the mark schemes. 💡 If you haven’t already done so, print sample copies of the marking grids and have them to hand when you are completing practice papers and essays, and when practicing for your IRP.
The Kate Maria Languages Spanish A Level Academy offers complete distance learning courses for AQA A Level Spanish. You can find out more here, or contact us to book your initial consultation.