Webinar transcript: Conduct of the MFL GCSE Speaking test

Welcome to the online training for the new Modern Foreign Languages GCSE speaking tests. My name is John Halksworth and I am the senior examiner responsible for Spanish speaking but this training webcast covers all GCSE languages offered by AQA. The aim of this online training is to prepare you to conduct your students’ speaking tests in line with the requirements to ensure they fulfil their potential.

Slide 2

We are going to cover the following elements of the new MFL GCSE Speaking test:

  • the format of the tests and when they are conducted
  • the security of the tests
  • how teachers should prepare in advance of conducting the tests
  • how students should use their 12 minutes’ preparation time before the test begins
  • and factors to be borne in mind by teachers when they are conducting the tests.

Slide 3

Students are entered for either the Foundation or Higher test and the tier of entry will be the same for all units of the examination (that’s Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing). The tier of entry is decided when entries for the exam are submitted, by February 21st in the year of entry.

There are three parts to the test and every student follows the order of role-play, followed by photo card, followed by the general conversation.

The tests are conducted by teachers at the school or college during a five week period in April and May. The exact dates will be available for each examination series when the timetable for all examinations is published on the AQA website.

There are nine role-play cards and nine photo cards for each tier in each exam series for French, German and Spanish and six cards for the smaller entry languages . The candidate cards and the teacher’s booklet are provided by AQA and sent to the school or college well in advance of the five week test period.

When students are preparing their responses to the role-play tasks, they must make their notes on MFL Additional Answer Sheets. There is a copy of this MFL Additional Answer Sheet in the Instructions for the Conduct of the Examinations document which is available on the AQA website. The school or college needs to print the requisite number.

Each student’s test is conducted by the teacher and must be recorded as an mp3 file.

When all of the tests within the school or college are complete, the CDs or memory sticks should be packaged up and posted to the allocated AQA examiner for marking. The tests are not marked by the teacher in this specification.

Slide 4

Teachers may look at the role-play and photo cards any time from three working days before the start of the five week test period to enable them to prepare for conducting the tests.

The content of the role-play and photo cards must not be divulged to third parties, including students due to take the test, and the confidential materials must not be taken away from school premises. Once the materials have been reviewed, they must be returned to the school’s secure storage.

The materials are confidential until the end of the examination period in May and they must be kept in secure storage when they are not being used.

Students must not write anything at all on the cards or mark them in any way, as they will be used by other students during the exam period.

Slide 5

All notes made by a student during their preparation of the role-play and photo cards must be made on the MFL Additional Answer Sheets. As soon as a student finishes the photo card task in the exam, the teacher must collect in the role-play card, photo card and MFL Additional Answer Sheet containing the notes before moving on to the general conversation.

The MFL Additional Answer Sheets must be kept in secure storage in school until results day, when they may be disposed of.

Slide 6

It is very important that teachers know at least a few days in advance the order in which students will be tested and which role-play and photo cards will be allocated to each student. More will be said about the sequence of the cards later in this presentation.

Two rooms need to be set aside for the tests. Firstly the preparation room, in which the students will prepare their responses to the tasks on the role-play and photo cards, and secondly the conduct room, where they will carry out the test. The preparation room must be invigilated by a member of staff or supervisor appointed by the school or college and this invigilator must be fully conversant with their role. There may be more than one student in different teaching groups preparing in the room at the same time supervised by one invigilator, but there must be no communication between students.

In the preparation room, there must be a copy of the sequence chart, which is in the back of the teacher’s booklet, and sufficient sets of role-play and photo cards. The number of cards provided by AQA is dependent upon the number of candidates entered for each language.

The conduct room, if possible, should not be so big that the acoustics affect the quality of the recording. Nor should it be so small that it is cramped. A better quality recording will also be obtained in a room which is carpeted.

Both rooms should be in a quiet an area of the school or college and students in the preparation area must not be able to hear the test of a student which is taking place in the conduct room.

All language-related posters, charts, etc. must be removed from the walls in both the preparation room and in the conduct room.

Slide 7

Test the recording device in advance of the tests and make sure it is positioned so that both the student and teacher are clearly audible. If the teacher’s question or student’s response cannot be heard, no credit can be given for what the student says. For those students who tend to speak quite softly, it may be advisable to position the recording device slightly nearer to them. Practice in mock exams and other speaking tasks should enable you to ensure optimum quality of recording.

Make sure that you, the students and invigilators are aware of what you and they have to do. Invigilators should be given a timetable for the day so that they know the time at which a student is due to start preparing the role-play and photo cards.

Because there are two sequence charts, one for Foundation and one for Higher Tier, we would suggest testing Foundation students separately from Higher tier students to avoid any potential confusion with materials and requirements. However, this is ultimately a decision for an individual teacher conducting the tests. The actual order in which you test your students is entirely up to you. There is no requirement to test in candidate number order, for example.

Slide 8

The correct exam materials must be available in the preparation room, so that students are able to begin their preparation time promptly, which will mean that the timetable for the tests can be adhered to.

Teachers can decide whether they want to leave the invigilator to provide each student with the correct role-play and photo cards and the MFL Additional Answer Sheet (which they need in order to prepare), or whether it is the teacher who does this. In either case it may be preferable for these items to be kept in the preparation room. The supervisor should also have available the document called the Instructions for the Conduct of the Examinations, which is available on AQA’s website in the ‘Assess’ tab of the subject page. Students must not have access to a dictionary during the preparation period.

As the speaking tests take place over a period of five weeks, students must not divulge the content of their speaking test to anyone until the end of the speaking test period when the materials cease to be confidential. The JCQ regulations and Candidate Warning Notice cautions students against exchanging, obtaining, receiving or passing on information by any means of communication, or passing on rumours of exam content from another candidate. This would constitute malpractice and penalties would apply. It is the responsibility of teachers preparing students for the speaking test to make sure students are aware of this warning notice and the implications of breaching it. A copy of the notice is provided in the Instructions for the Conduct of the Examinations in appendix A and a copy will also be included as part of the confidential materials in each series. Teachers are advised to display the notice prominently in the preparation area and conduct room.

Remember a student preparing must not be able to hear the test of a student which is taking place in the conduct room.

Slide 9

In the conduct room, before the start of the day’s session, teachers should ensure that all of the necessary materials are available. The recording device, previously tested for recording quality, along with the teacher’s booklet should be in situ. Remember that the teacher’s booklet contains the teacher’s script for all of the role-play and photo cards and is essential for conducting the tests. The Instructions for the Conduct of the Examinations document must also be to hand should it be required.

It is extremely important that the teacher has clear sight of a stopwatch or clock so that the timings of the photo card and general conversation can be adhered to. Don’t rely on the timer on the recording device, as this will include the information about the centre and candidate which is recorded before the test begins. There should also be a copy of the attendance list, which has the candidate numbers on it. These are needed in order to identify the student whose test is being conducted.

The room should be functional but also as comfortable as possible for the student and teacher. There should be a table for students to place the cards and notes. The table should be big enough for these to fit comfortably but not so big that the space between the student and teacher is so wide that the recording may be impaired.

Slide 10

The sequence charts in the back of the teacher’s booklet must be referred to when allocating the role-play and photo cards for each student. There are two sequence charts, one for Foundation Tier and one for Higher Tier. The teacher should draw up a numbered list of students who are doing the Foundation test and a separate numbered list for those doing Higher in the order in which they will take the test. In advance of the test, the teacher should then allocate the numbered role-play card for each student according to their place in the running order. Be careful to use the correct chart for the particular tier. The photo card to be allocated will depend on the theme the student has chosen to speak about first in the general conversation because the photo card cannot be on the same theme. The sequence chart clearly shows the letter of the photo card that should be given to the student, depending on his or her nominated theme for the general conversation. It is up to teachers to decide when they want students to inform them of their nominated theme for the general conversation but this does need to be well in advance of the test so teachers can draw up the timetable for the tests. The date and time of the test should be communicated to students but they must not be given any information about the role-play or photo card they will be doing.

When the student arrives at the preparation room for the test, the teacher or supervisor will give the student the allocated cards for the role-play and photo card, as well as a copy of the MFL Additional Answer Sheet to write their notes on.

Students then have 12 minutes to prepare their responses to the tasks on the role-play card and the three questions on the photo card. Students can make as many notes as they wish during the preparation time, including writing a script if they wish. These notes will be handed to the teacher after the photo card task has been completed and before the general conversation starts.

Slide 11

Students should be made aware that there are no restrictions on the amount of notes they can write on the MFL Additional Answer Sheet, provided they relate only to the role-play and photo cards. They can use conjugated verbs and notes can be in English or the target language. Students cannot make notes relating to the general conversation because the notes are taken away before the general conversation starts. Students should be advised that if they write down exactly what they intend to say during the test in the form of a script, they should be careful that their pronunciation does not deteriorate when it is delivered.

For each of the role-play tasks, students must prepare only what is required by the prompt on the student card. For example, if they are asked to give one detail or one opinion or one reason, then that is all they need to do. They should not develop their answers further or turn the tasks into mini-conversations in the role-play section of the test as this could impact adversely on their marks.

However, for the three questions on the photo card, students should prepare responses which are developed. In this part of the test, in order to score in the top band of the criteria the student must develop ‘most answers’. In total there are five questions for the photo card task, two of which are not on the student card. By developing answers to the three questions on the student’s card, this aspect of the criteria will have been achieved, provided the language is clear. On the other hand, the student shouldn’t prepare so much that the maximum time for the photo card is ultimately exceeded. The maximum time for all five questions to be completed is 2 minutes at Foundation Tier and 3 minutes at Higher tier.

Remember to advise students about pronunciation when reading from notes.

Slide 12

Once the recording of the test begins, it must not be stopped or paused at any time until the general conversation has finished, at which point the teacher should say in English ‘End of test’.

Don’t correct the student’s language during the test as this could be very off-putting and undermine confidence.

Speak clearly and at an appropriate pace so that the student can understand everything you are asking. Sometimes teachers can speak too quickly, forcing the student to ask for repetition of what has been said. This can spoil the flow of the student’s performance and could have an impact on the marks awarded, particularly in the category of spontaneity and fluency.

Make it clear to the student and to the examiner who will be marking the test when you are starting a new part of the test. So at the beginning say, in the target language, ‘We will start with the role-play’; then, when the role-play is complete, say in the target language ‘And now the photo card’; when the photo card is finished, say ‘Now the general conversation, beginning with the theme ...’ (the student’s nominated theme); when you have finished with the first theme, say ‘We are now going to talk about theme ...’ whatever the second theme is; when this is complete say in English ‘End of test’.

If there is a technical malfunction and the recording fails, the student must be re-tested within the test period, using different role-play and photo cards.

Everything the teacher says must be clearly audible - there must be no whispering.

Slide 13

For the role-play, the instructions for the teacher state ‘You may change the target language phrases given below only if the candidate’s response makes them inappropriate’. This could be for example, when the task is to give two details about what the student did last weekend and he/she says something along the lines of ‘I was ill all weekend and had to stay in bed’. If the teacher’s target language response in the script was ‘That’s great’, it would be better to change it to something more appropriate. However, this is likely to happen quite rarely and the advice is to keep to the scripted responses in the teacher’s booklet. If you do change the teacher script, you could disadvantage your students.

If the student doesn’t reply to your question in the role-play or if he/she asks for repetition, you must repeat your prompt exactly as it is printed. You cannot paraphrase in the role-play. If you do paraphrase rather than repeat, the student’s reply is given zero for communication. It is recommended that you only repeat your prompt once. Because if you repeat it more than once it may be off-putting for the student.

If the student gives a response which is the wrong answer to the question or which does not match the requirements of a particular task, the teacher cannot repeat the question. However, if the teacher does not intervene and the student self-corrects, this is fine and credit will be given for the correct response.

If the task requires two details but the student gives only one, it is perfectly acceptable to say, in the target language, ‘And ...’ or ‘Anything else?’ to elicit the additional information.

In a two-part task, especially in the unpredictable task, let the student answer the first question before asking the second. Typically this is ‘What do you think of a certain thing?’ and ‘Why? Three dots appear in the teacher’s role to indicate that there should be a pause for the student’s reply to the first question.

If a student completes the task and is about to give some more information which is not required, interrupt the student and move on. In advance of the test, make it clear to students that, for the role-play, they should give only the information required by the task and nothing extra. This is different from the requirements of the photo card and general conversation, where development of answers is desirable.

When you are asked a question by the student, sometimes the teacher’s role says ‘Give an appropriate answer’. When this is the case, keep your reply as brief as possible.

There is no need to time the role-play. Some students will complete it more quickly than others, but there is no specific time limit.

Slide 14

Unlike in the role-play, in the photo card task a question may be paraphrased rather than simply repeated. A paraphrase must keep to the same meaning as the printed question. However, it is likely that this will only be an issue in the two unprepared questions, which the students do not see. They will have to spend their 12-minute preparation period deciding what they are going to say in reply to the questions printed on the card, so a paraphrase of any of those questions could prove confusing.

You can paraphrase a question on the first asking, provided the same meaning is maintained. In all likelihood, this will be a vocabulary item for which there are two words in the target language and the one that is printed is the one with which students are least familiar. You could then change that word for the more familiar one. In Spanish, for example you may want to replace the word Red with Internet; and in French you might want to change copain or copine to ami(e).

The timing of the photo card is 2 minutes for Foundation Tier and 3 minutes for Higher. If a student has prepared very long answers to the three questions on the card, you may feel that the time limit may be exceeded. In that case, it will be preferable to interrupt a long response and move on to the next question. In order to have access to the top band of the criteria for this part of the test, students must answer all five questions. For the same reason, if a student has a long pause, it is advisable to move on to the next question.

Some students may use conjecture when they are talking about what is in the photo and this is a good thing for them to do. Practising this in class will prove beneficial for language acquisition too. Things like ‘I think it’s hot because the people are wearing shorts’ is acceptable, it’s great. However, merely to say ‘I like the photo’ without any justification would not constitute, on its own, an answer to the first question because it doesn’t relate to the content of the photo. Remember students must only describe what is in the photo, not what isn’t.

Slide 15

You must time the duration of the photo card with a stopwatch. Timing begins as soon as you begin to ask the first question ‘What’s in the photo?’. The maximum time for Foundation Tier is 2 minutes and for Higher 3 minutes. If a question has been asked by the teacher on 2 or 3 minutes, the student is allowed to complete their answer. If the student is speaking at this point, allow them to complete their answer. At the end of the photo card, re-set the stopwatch so that you are ready to begin timing of the general conversation.

For the photo card, you must ask only the five questions in the teacher’s booklet. No follow-up questions can be asked.

When you have finished the photo card, take in both the role play and photo cards and the notes that the student has made on the MFL Additional Answer Sheet. You are then ready to move on to the general conversation.

Slide 16

The general conversation is based on the two themes indicated on the sequence chart for each student. The student is permitted to nominate the first theme only. They are not permitted to specify which aspect of the theme they wish to cover – this is the teacher’s decision. You begin by asking questions relating to the student’s nominated theme and, approximately halfway through the conversation, move on to the second theme. This means that all three themes will have been covered in the photo card and general conversation combined.

Make sure that you are very familiar with the topics covered in each of the three themes. These can be found in Section 3.1 of the specification. It is also useful to look at the vocabulary lists in Section 3.5 which give greater detail concerning the scope of each theme.

Coverage of each of the two themes in the general conversation should be for a similar amount of time. There may be a slight imbalance but this should not be too pronounced. Superficial coverage of one of the themes should be avoided as this may have a negative impact on the mark for communication.

Make sure that you pitch questions at the right level for each student and that, as far as possible, you ask them questions that reflect their interests. For example, if you know that a particular student never goes on holiday, it would be best to avoid the topic of Travel and tourism. Asking too many questions in different tenses may confuse a less able student whereas, on the other hand, there is a requirement to refer to all three time frames in order to score in the top band for range and accuracy of language at Foundation tier. As their teacher, you will be aware of your students’ strengths and limitations and your questioning should be challenging enough for students to have the opportunity to perform at the best of their ability while at the same time you are realistic about what they can do. It is important to follow up on students’ replies to develop a natural and spontaneous conversation.

Slide 17

Towards the back of the teacher’s booklet there are some suggested questions for the general conversation on each of the topics. They vary in difficulty, some being more suitable for Foundation Tier students and others for Higher Tier. These are merely suggestions and you are not required to ask any of those questions of your students. These suggested questions will remain the same for the lifetime of the specification.

You are strongly advised to have your own list of questions available during the test, covering all of the topics within each of the three themes. If the conversation begins to dry up, you can then consult your list to see what to ask next.

There is no requirement to cover a specific number of topics or sub-topics for each theme.

Students have to ask you a question during the general conversation. If, towards the end of the conversation, a student hasn’t asked you one, you should prompt them by asking in the target language: ‘Is there anything you want to ask me?’. Remember that there is a penalty of one mark for communication if a student fails to fulfil the requirement to ask a question.

There is no need for a verb to be used in the question asked. For example, you may ask the student what he/she did last weekend and, after telling you, he/she asks, in the target language, ‘And you?’ That is acceptable.

Slide 18

The purpose of the student’s question is to elicit information, so asking ‘Can you repeat that please?’ would not count.

When you are asked a question, keep your reply brief.

You should begin to time the general conversation at the start of the first question you ask. The timing is 3- 5 minutes at Foundation Tier and 5-7 minutes at Higher. If you have begun to ask a question on five minutes at Foundation or seven minutes at Higher, the student is allowed to complete their answer.

If a student has a long pause, even after your question has been repeated or re-phrased, it will be better to move on to another question so that the mark for spontaneity and fluency is not adversely affected.

Remember to say in English ‘End of test’ when the test has finished.

Slide 19

When the tests are completed, the mp3 sound files must be transferred to a memory stick or CD and named with the component code, centre number and candidate number, for example 8698SF_55217_0041.mp3

In addition, a CD must be labelled in indelible ink with the centre number and component code. Don’t use sticky labels as these can prevent a CD from playing. If memory sticks are used, attach a tag with the centre number and component code. Make sure the tag is attached securely.

As soon as all the tests are completed for the centre, the memory sticks or CDs must be sent to the AQA examiner together with the attendance list, using the label sent by AQA to your Exams Officer. This must be done within one working day of the last date of the five-week period at the latest.

You are advised to keep a copy of the recording in case of loss in the post or damage to the memory stick or CD in transit. Ensure the memory stick or CD is packaged carefully, using bubble wrap or padding.

Slide 20

We have now come to the end of this webcast. There are examples of student recordings for you to listen to in the ‘Teach’ tab on the web page for French, German and Spanish. Other languages will be available in the summer term. These recordings are accompanied by detailed commentaries and marks. The Instructions for the Conduct of the Examinations booklet mentioned during this presentation is available to download in the ‘Assess’ tab. It is very important that you are familiar with the information in this document which covers all four exams, not just the Speaking test. The FAQ booklet, available in the ‘Plan’ tab contains a wide range of different questions which have been asked about the speaking tests, so do have a look at this as part of your preparation for conducting the tests.

Update: Webinar resources can be found here: view webinar resources

Slide 21

If you do have individual queries, please contact the Languages team at AQA using the contact details here.

The link that you can see on the screen takes you to the AQA website which contains a wealth of resources for GCSE.

Slide 22

Thank you very much for listening. I hope you have found the information helpful and I wish you every success with your speaking tests.