“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” - Benjamin Franklin

In Malaysia, Chinese is becoming an increasingly popular option for A-Level students. More students than ever are looking eastwards and deciding to learn a language outside of their mother tongue than the Malay and English languages taught in 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 version published in June 2021 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.

With all that said, whether you’re doing AS Level Chinese, A-Level Chinese, or a Chinese MOOC, it’s important that you prepare as much as you can.

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, tips for studying A-Level Chinese, places to study Chinese at the A Level, and some useful Chinese expressions to help you.

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What Should You 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 the future should consider taking it if they have the option.

What are the different parts of the Chinese A Level?
Reading and writing are important parts of A-Level Chinese. At this level, you should be able to interact with others in Mandarin somewhat fluently. Those who are native Mandarin speakers or have previously taken Mandarin classes in school are welcome to take the Chinese A Level. (Source: bukejiuyao)

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.

Who can take Chinese A Level? 

Just like other A Level courses, the Chinese A Level is a pre-university course. You will be exposed to some basics on how to learn Chinese language. However, you will need to have studied Chinese before taking the A Level, or be a native speaker of Mandarin.

The Chinese A Level may be challenging for non-native speakers of the language since it does not test you on just beginner level Mandarin. Unless you have a background in learning Mandarin at school or have taken GCSE Mandarin, you may need extra guidance and support if you take the Chinese A Level.

What will I gain if I take Chinese A Level? 

Not only will you enhance your skills in reading and writing in Mandarin, but you will also acquire other areas of knowledge in the Chinese A Level. You will strengthen your understanding of what the Chinese language is all about and learn about Chinese history and culture.

With such exposure, you can apply your knowledge to various career fields, such as marketing, business, politics, tourism and hospitality. Having a qualified certification in A-Level Chinese will surely make your resume stand out from the rest!

What Are The Parts of the A-Level Chinese Exam

So what exactly are you supposed to do in Chinese A Level exams?

How to learn Chinese language
There are three components to the Chinese A Level: reading and writing, essay and texts. The exam durations and overall marks vary from paper to paper. However, it is important that you prepare for all the papers in Chinese A Level. (Source: sacbu.com)

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 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 1: Reading and Writing

This exam lasts 1 hour 45 minutes and will count for 70 marks. The student will be given two Mandarin passages that cover similar themes. You’ll have some specific and general questions on your comprehension of the texts and will be required to either provide a summary or a comparison of the issues raised in the texts.

The texts will be fairly recent (from within the last 20 years) and be representative of the international scene. So, the topics will not just be about the culture in China but will discuss relevant issues around the world.

Together, the length of the two passages will be within 750 Chinese characters. Keep in mind that both questions and answers will be in Chinese. Most of the marks on this paper are for the quality of the language used (40 marks) whereas the rest is for content (15 marks) and, in the last question, your personal response (15 marks).

The very last task requires you to write about 200 characters and use information ascertained from both the texts provided. You will also need to add your own opinions in your answer, and not just draw information from the passages.

Component 2: 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. This list changes every year, so be sure to check which topics you need to focus on for the essay component beforehand.

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. As you may have noticed, more emphasis is placed on how well you can use Mandarin over the ideas you’ve put down in writing - just like it is in Component 1.

So what kind of topics are there?

There are over 20 topic areas applied to the essay component of the Chinese A Level. Let’s break down set topics for examination in 2022. They are:

  • Young people, which looks youths, their peer groups, and how they are a target for advertisers and politicians;
  • The media, specifically its role and influence, and the power of advertising;
  • Equality of opportunity, which highlights issues in career and employment;
  • Free time activities, for the value of leisure and how it coincides with work; and
  • Scientific and medical advances, to talk about ethics and advancements in medicine and other technologies.

Some people say that Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn, but with adequate knowledge and practice, you will be able to compose essays in Chinese.

Component 3: Texts

The third 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 marks 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.

In the first section, test-takers will be asked to comment on particular aspects of the passage and demonstrate how the passage reflects the book (that the text was derived from) as a whole. The next section will ask you to show how well you understand the text as well as show some awareness of how the writer has conveyed messages through the text.

With Chinese A Level, you will advance from just knowing how to learn Mandarin for beginners.

A Level exam learn Mandarin
Each component in the Chinese A Level is unique because they measure different skill sets. To score well in all the components, you must demonstrate how well you can read and write in Mandarin. Take care to be mindful of how accurate your sentences and phrases are, so that you can score higher marks in the paper. (Source: thirdspacelearning.com)
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What is the Chinese A Level Marking Scheme

You might want to know how your Chinese A Level paper is marked. 

If we look at Component 1, which tests reading and writing skills in Chinese, the most significant marks are related to Quality of Language and Content.

If you score 1 on Quality of Language for every text, that means there are potentially consistent errors in your answers or incorrect constructions of sentences. To score the highest mark for Quality of Language, which is 5, you must demonstrate consistently accurate language and correctly use complex structures, such as in prepositions and tenses.

This is different from the HSK 1 exam in Malaysia.

How do I score well in my Chinese A Level essay writing? 

In the next component, which is essay writing in Component 2, you should confidently use complex sentence patterns, extensive vocabulary, and a good sense of idioms to score very good marks which are within the 21 to 24 range.

That was in terms of Language for Component 2. For Content marks, you can achieve a very good level of Mandarin use when the information you’ve written is clearly relevant and well-illustrated, detailed, and the essay is coherently argued and structured. This translates to a steady 14 to 16 marks for Content.

Component 3, which covers texts in Mandarin, will give room for candidates to easily earn marks if they show exceptional work. These candidates should have an excellent ability to organise materials, use sensitive language, show understanding of some literary techniques, and also be able to demonstrate a thorough knowledge of Mandarin Chinese.

If you can really be articulate and write intelligent answers, you can get up to 22 to 25 marks for Component 3. However, do not write more than 800 characters since the maximum score you can get will only be 16 to 17 marks.

If you learn Mandarin well, there is no need to worry too much about the Chinese A Level marking scheme.

How to Learn Chinese Language at the A Level

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. Therefore, you should take your teachers’ tips into account when revising for the Chinese A Level exam.

You might think that you won’t score well if you make mistakes in your Chinese A Level paper. 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 from the Chinese A Level exam rely 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.

Here are some helpful tips on how to prepare for your Chinese A Level. 

Online Chinese class A Level
Before your exam, you need to make time to relax your body and mind. Preparing your stationery the night before can also ensure you come to the exam with enough materials for writing. Be careful also with the instructions and questions in the paper. (Source: petersons.com)

Get Your Stationery Ready

It may sound foolish, but don’t forget your stationery. You don’t want to be looking for pens during the actual exam. Before your exam, make sure your pens work perfectly and that your pencils are sharpened well so that you can sit through the exam comfortably.

One way to remember what stationery you need to prepare is by checking with your teacher what you’ll need on the day. Your teacher could provide you with clear guidelines on what the exam will require from you. Some places will require you to bring an ID, for example.

Relax the Body and Mind

Before you start the exam, take the time to relax. Additionally, don’t stress after the exam as there’s nothing you can do about it!

While it might be difficult, try to get a good night’s sleep before the exam, too. Don’t stay up all night trying to study. You can make your revisions the night before, but don’t stay up late!

Read, then Read Again

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. It is possible to avoid careless mistakes if you are first careful enough to read through each question.

To ensure you’ve understood the instructions in the paper, it may be beneficial to read them a couple of times before you construct your answers. Read to get the gist of the question, then read again to double-check if you’ve understood it correctly.

Find a Chinese Tutor

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.

How to Use Chinese Expressions

How much should you study for the Chinese A Level?
Remember to stay calm even though you are feeling nervous about using Chinese in conversation. However, you can opt for a private tutorial with a Chinese teacher in order to understand how to use certain Chinese expressions. There are also dictionaries to help you define the meanings of Chinese characters. (Source: kaboompics)

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 an online Mandarin class Malaysia, 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.

If you can familiarise yourself with these useful Chinese expressions, you can have basic Chinese conversations with your Chinese A-Level instructor. You can easily ask for clarification on certain topics, and impress your instructor at the same time!

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 sitting 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!

Where to take online Chinese class for A Level students

With Superprof, you can even learn Chinese for beginners

Now you know that you have the choice of either one-to-one private tutorials or group tutorials with a Superprof tutor. But did you know that you can still have in-person classes when you sign up with Superprof?

You can find a Chinese tutor in your area who can teach you how to learn Chinese language. Key in your area of residence on the Superprof Private Tutors page to see which tutors are teaching Mandarin around your home, since meeting your tutor face-to-face may be more instrumental in helping you learn Mandarin.

That way, you can focus more on the class than if you chose to take an online Chinese class. Nonetheless, some people prefer to have online tutorials and there is no issue with this at all if it is your preference. Be sure to look for a quiet space at home, such as your bedroom, so you can focus on your online Chinese class.

Now it’s time to see how to book a lesson with your Chinese tutor. 

To book a lesson, you just have to create a free student account with Superprof. Then, you can get in touch with your Chinese tutor. Let your tutor know about your learning expectations and what you’d like your tutor to teach you since you want to take Chinese at the A Level.

Set a date and time for your first lesson, and leave your contact number for the tutor to get back to you about the schedule. You can also check their hourly rates and reviews from previous students. Get started on your Chinese A Level with Superprof!

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