I have conducted the AQA Spanish A-Level speaking exam during the past five years and, as you would agree, we need to ensure that all students can access the top bands in the mark scheme. There are different ways in which we can help them achieve this but I am just going to highlight some of the main tips I have gathered over the years.
Firstly, in the discussion card, there is always a short text or some sort of graph plus three questions. The first question is always: ¿Cómo reaccionas tu ante esta información? This question requires the students’ personal reaction. Students have to refer to the prompt (text, photo or graph) but they must not repeat what is there using the same words. Some expressions that could be good to show disagreement are:
‘no estoy de acuerdo con la información’, ‘no comparto esta idea’, ‘me parece alarmante’, ‘me preocupa esa situación’, ‘me asquea ese pensamiento’, ‘deberíamos hacer algo para acabar con esta situación’, ‘es hora de actuar’, etc.
If, alternatively, students want to show their agreement, they could use:
‘estoy totalmente de acuerdo’, ‘comparto esta opinión’, ‘me parece una idea fantástica’, etc.
I always advise my students to include some sort of imperfect or pluperfect subjunctive structures here, such as:
‘si estuviera en esa situación…’, ´si hubiera pasado por eso…’.
This way, they can already have access the top bands for language in the mark scheme. Then, the second question is for students to express their opinion. They could use phrases such as:
‘considero que’, ‘diría que’, ‘me atrevería a decir’, ‘a mi parecer’, ‘a mi juicio…’
The final question is aimed for students to show their cultural knowledge. This is great as they can show off and say what they know to the best of their ability. For these two questions, I remind my pupils to include examples in the subjunctive, high-level connectives, a good range of adjectives (not the typical ones) and a contrast with verb tenses (present/past/future).
More importantly, I encourage them to use idiomatic expressions if they can which, at the same time, show personal reaction! As you know, some of these phrases can generally fit in the same type of contexts! For example:
‘si estuviera en su piel’, ‘me saca de quicio’, ‘me pone de los nervios’, ‘creo que están como una cabra’…
They will also show their cultural understanding by saying: ‘mi amigo español me dijo que…’, ‘mi primo peruano me contó que…’, even if it isn’t true! The examiner won’t check if the statement is true or not, they will just award the mark as it shows good cultural understanding.
When conducting the assessment, students need to answer the questions in the discussion card but you also have to ask some extra questions in order for students to respond to unpredictable elements. I find that it is better to ask the questions in between rather than at the end so that the conversation flows more naturally. I try to ask a question in the imperfect subjunctive when possible, like… ¿Qué harías si estuvieras en esa situación?
Before conducting the exam, ensure you look at the cards properly to order to select your discussion cards to match your students’ knowledge and ability, as much as possible (it is not always perfect if you have only two or three students in the group as there isn’t much selection in the sequence chart). In addition, you can start thinking about the questions you could ask in between, but again, you must listen to the students’ responses on the go and choose a question that best fits to that particular moment in the conversation so that they don’t lose marks for not sounding natural.
Especially, if I notice that they are not adding enough high-level structures! Normally, I would ask two extra questions as the total time is 5-6 minutes for the whole discussion so you really would not have time for more…
Finally, so that students keep track of their cultural knowledge, I ask all my pupils to do a mind-map for each of the topics so that they can access this when we discuss in class and they can gradually learn the main facts. We have also a booklet where they record some of the main ideas and I also test them on these, for example, I did a Kahoot quiz and it worked really well! (I will be creating more!). I also love doing small debates in class where they argue about ideas within the themes, the more they talk, the best! And.. The feedback that you give them is key!
Hope this helps.
Please feel free to comment if you have any questions or if you would like to add anything.