Exams vary across boards but essentially they are testing your ability to understand a variety of French across different topics, different styles etc. and questions range from fairly straightforward simply answers to much more complicated ones.
You may have true/false questions, gap-fill exercises, multi-choice questions, full sentence answers in English or in French. You may also have to use the information in the passages to produce summaries or written work detailing or arguing for/against what is in the original texts. Don't panic if some of this doesn't seem to match what you've done in class. Check which ones apply to you.
- Read the question - I know it sounds stupid, but you can't answer the question unless you know what you're looking for - e.g. is it when or where did the accident take place? Is it why did they protest or how did they protest? You won't get any marks for details that don't relate to the question, even if they're right!
- Make sure you answer in the correct language. Most reading exams have sections to be answered in French and other sections to be answered in English. The normal rule is that you answer in the same language as the question - if the question's in French, the answer's in French etc. It's easy to get so into the exam that you don't even notice the language has changed and keep using the language from one section in the other section. When you have to answer in French, check the accuracy of your work - there is often credit awarded for your French as well as your understanding of the text.
- Time. You have to remember the time; there's no point spending ten minutes on a question that carries three marks and then not have time to do a later section that carries ten marks. You have to force yourself to limit time on sections. You can always come back afterwards if you have time spare.
- Accuracy. You will not get every answer right or perhaps not even be able to do every question. Nobody expects you to - not even for a grade 'A'. But don't let problems in a section that you can't do distract you from another section that you can do perfectly well. Accept that there are a few things you can't do and write them off. You'll probably be surprised at what you can do - concentrate on this and pick up as many marks as possible on these parts.
- Marks. Read the question and the number of marks allocated to each question. If it carries three marks, you'll need to make three points. Here, minor details can be important - e.g. not just 'he used to go swimming every week' but 'he usually used to go swimming every week', not just 'scientists can't find a cure for this condition' but 'scientists can't find a cure for this condition yet.' etc.
- Practice: Use any resources you can for reading practice - French magazines, pen pals, texts you've found on the Internet, any reading resources in your text book (many have reading passages at the back), any revision/reading material that your teacher might have.
- Dictionaries: Unlike GCSE, you won't be allowed a dictionary, so you'll have to learn vocabulary as thoroughly as possible, but don't panic about words you don't know. There will be words that are new to you but you may not need to know them - read the questions thoroughly for each text and find the information that goes with that question; you only need to understand those parts of the passage that relate directly to the questions.