“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” - Benjamin Franklin
In the UK, Chinese is becoming an increasingly popular option for A Level students. More students than ever are looking eastwards and deciding to learn a language a little further from home than those traditionally learnt in British schools.
In this article, we’ve taken the Cambridge International A Level as an example so you should make sure you check the specifics of the exam you’re sitting. Additionally, we’ve used the 2019 version as a reference and this is subject to change each year. Again, make sure you’re up-to-date with the exam you’re sitting.
In this article on Chinese exams, we're going to have a look at what you need to know about the exam itself, how you can prepare for it, what's involved in the exam, and some useful Chinese expressions to help you.
What You Should Know About the Chinese A Level
While the Chinese A Level isn’t a requirement for every Chinese degree course, it’s very useful to have and it won’t look bad on your application. Students who are serious about using Chinese in their future should consider taking it if they have the option.
An A Level in Chinese is the equivalent to a B2 in the language according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). At this level, you’re expected to understand texts on concrete and abstract topics.
Candidates also need to be able to interact with a degree of fluency without too much trouble for either speaker of the language.
Finally, they'll also need to be able to produce clear texts on a variety of subjects and express their views on topics while providing the advantages and disadvantages.
The Parts of the A Level Chinese Exam
So what exactly are you supposed to do in Chinese A Level exams?
Firstly, don’t stay up all night stressing about it. Everyone is in the same boat.
You need to relax and wait for your exam to begin. Do your best to relax. A lot of students try to cram a tiny bit more of information into their heads at this point. However, this can just make you more stressed. You have to see what works for you.
Make sure you’ve got everything you need for the exam. It’s a good idea to prepare all of this the night before. You don’t want to be running around looking for something on the day of the exam.
Component 2: Reading and Writing
This exam lasts 1 hour 45 minutes and will count for 70 marks. The student will be given a couple of Chinese texts which cover similar topics. You’ll have some specific and general questions on your comprehension of the text and will be required to either provide a summary or comparison of the texts.
The texts will be fairly recent (from within the last 20 years). Keep in mind that both questions and answers will be in Chinese. Around a quarter of your marks on this paper are for the quality of the language used whereas the rest if for content and, in the last question, your personal response.
The very last task requires you to write about 200 characters and use information ascertained from both the texts provided.
Component 3: Essay
This component accounts for 40 marks and lasts an hour and a half. The student will be given a choice of 5 questions from a pre-published list of exam topics. You then have to write 250-400 characters for the task. In this component, 24 marks are allocated to the quality of the language used and 16 for the content of your answer. This is somewhat different to the previous component where the focus was more on content than the quality of language.
So what kind of topics are there?
For example, the Cambridge International A Level Chinese topics for 2019 will include Human relationships, law and order, work and leisure, war and peace, and pollution.
Component 4: Texts
The fourth component lasts 2 and a half hours and has a total of 75 marks available. You’re given a choice of questions to choose from and you must answer three. The list includes two sections and of your three questions, at least one text from each must be chosen.
The total marks available for each question is 25 and you’re expected to write between 600 and 800 characters for each answer. Be careful not to go over the character limit as you’ll limit the maximum number of marks you can get. Our best advice is to follow the instructions on your paper.
How Do You Prepare for a Chinese Exam?
If you’re studying at a sixth form or college, your teachers should have given you all the information you’ll need about the date and time of your exam.
Check for effective Chinese lessons here.
Keep in mind that nobody’s trying to take marks off you and every question is an opportunity for you to gain marks.
It can be stressful knowing that your results hinge on a certain exam or component. However, if you’ve adequately prepared, you should have nothing to worry about. There won’t be any huge surprises on the day.
If you’ve studied Chinese for a while or put the effort in, you’ll probably be more than prepared for the exams. If you are worried about your exams, you might want to consider getting in touch with a private Chinese tutor to help you to prepare. They’ll be able to help you to focus on anything you’re struggling with or revise for a particular part of the exam that you’re stressing over.
There are also organisations offering Chinese classes that you may want to attend to keep your Chinese sharp. While these won’t necessarily focus on the Chinese needed for the A Levels, they can be good for improving your linguistic abilities. As the date nears, make sure you revise regularly and have everything you need.
It may sound foolish, but don’t forget your stationery. You don’t want to be looking for pens. Check with your teacher for what you’ll need on the day. Some places will require you to bring ID, for example.
Before you start the exam, take the time to relax. I’ve always thought it’s better to relax before an exam than to panic over what you don’t know. Additionally, don’t stress after the exam as there’s nothing you can do about it!
Make sure you read all the instructions and questions carefully and check your answers before you finish. You don’t want to miss out on a few marks over a silly mistake.
While it might be difficult, try to get a good night’s sleep before the exam, too. It may sound difficult, but don’t stay up all night trying to study. You can study the night before, but don’t stay up late!
Useful Chinese Expressions
If you’ve not started your A Level yet, we’ve got some useful expressions to get you started in Chinese. Whether you want to practise them or are just too excited to start learn Mandarin London, these are some good phrases to know.
They’re useful in a variety of situations.
- 对不起！ Duì bu qǐ！I’m sorry!
- 不好意思！ Bù hǎo yìsi！Sorry!
- 这个字我不会念。 Zhè gè zì wǒ bùhuì niàn. I can’t read this word/character.
- 我听不懂。请再说一遍。 Wǒ tīng bù dǒng. Qǐng zài shuō yī biàn. I don’t understand. Please say it again.
- 这个问题我不知道怎么回答。 Zhè gè wèntí wǒ bù zhīdào zěnme huídá. I don’t know how to answer this question.
Looking for other words?
Check out some of the best Chinese dictionaries.
If you do need additional help, there are 3 main types of private tuition you can get from the private tutors on Superprof: one-to-one private tutorials, group tutorials, and online tutorials.
One-to-one private tutorials will take place with just the tutor and the student. These are the most effective types of private tutorials but they're also usually the most expensive.
Group tutorials are usually cheaper because the tutor charges multiple students at once and can offer more competitive rates. While more affordable, the students won't get as much personalised attention from their tutor.
Finally, online tutorials take place with the student and tutor sat at their respective computers. Thanks to the internet, webcams, microphones, and video conferencing software like Skype, the tutor can teach students anywhere in the world. Since the tutor doesn't have to travel, they can charge less than they would for the other types of private tutorials.
It's up to you to choose the option that works best for you and your budget!