How to Prepare for GCSE Spanish Exams

Many young students do not fully understand what is required of them to demonstrate their ability in Spanish examinations. This article gives tips for exam preparation at GCSE level.

The four main skills required are reading, writing, listening and speaking. Some of these skills may be more difficult to acquire than others, for instance, most students find speaking the hardest. However, the truth is that to be proficient in any of these skills, the student needs to get to grips with the following:

Verb tenses

At GCSE level, at least three different verb tenses are required: the present, the past, and, the future. While there is only one present tense, there is more than one past tense. You should attempt to use the imperfect tense (ongoing events in the past) and the preterite tense (one-off events in the past) in both the written and oral exam. To speak or write in the future, you could use not only the future tense but the construction Ir + a + verb infinitive. Students who have mastered the tenses I have just mentioned could also include the perfect (another past tense) and the conditional tense. And a present subjunctive would be good too…


In order for your written or spoken piece to flow, you must follow basic grammar rules. This includes not only conjugating your verb according to the person doing the action but employing words such as “but”, “and”, “therefore”. Also, exam questions often ask your opinion on a given topic. Use these types of words: “opino que”, “pienso que” and “creo que” and you could also say “a mi ver” and “en mi opinión” to introduce what you want to write or say. Ensure that there is agreement! By this I mean make sure all words agree with the noun. Supposing you want to say, “the small flowers”. Flowers in Spanish is “flores” and this is a feminine noun, so your other words need to agree, like this, “las flores pequeñas”. Note how this is both in the feminine and the plural. Also, see how the word for “small” has come after “flowers”, so word positioning is important too.

Pronunciation and Intonation

British students often struggle with the correct pronunciation of Spanish. While you may never be able to speak like a true native, you can make a huge effort to pronounce letters and particularly vowels properly in order that Spanish speakers can understand you! For instance, do not say “no” as you would in English. The vowel “o” should be pronounced as though you were saying the first two letters of the word “pot”. Likewise, watch out for the vowel “e”. This is similar to the way we say the “e” in “egg”. And note that the letters “b” and “v” are both pronounced as a “b” in modern Spanish. Remember that the letter ‘h’ is mute.

Finally, as with all exams, the Golden Rule is to be clear about what the questions are asking you, or a statement telling you, and ensure that whatever you write or say you respond with that in mind. What I am saying here is stick to the point and think. But there is no need to panic, the examiner is not out to get you! Conversely, he or she wants you to do well, as I do.


Spanish Immersion Program During the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

In the southern states of Mexico where indigenous people and their cultures thrive, the Day of the Dead is a very important syncretistic festival from October 31st November 2nd and is dedicated to the family and their deceased family members. I was glad I had chosen my Spanish immersion program during these dates.

Repetitive chanting solemn alternating with joyous song excitement of children running around all night vigils. Those were some observations of our visit to the cemetery of Xoxocotlan in Oaxaca that drew us in with a sense of complete disbelief and wonderment during our Spanish Immersion Experience in Mexico. I was experiencing the Day of the Dead, a traditional celebration in Oaxaca that would make my spanish immersion experience incredible!

All of our senses were alive that night as we very cautiously edged our way through the maze of hundreds of crowded tombstones, watching each step carefully along darkened and bumpy paths lit only by candles and the occasional camera flash from visitors.

Families were seated on the ground around the gravesites waiting out their overnight vigil with food, drinks, cigarettes, music and friends to keep them company. Our entry into the cemetery was no less than amazing, lit by candles and accompanied by a blanket of somber music being played.

The best part of my trip was that it was a complete Spanish immersion experience where I got involved in the culture. A week or two in advance of the 3-day festival, the families begin preparing for the actual return of their loved ones to the gravesite and I was there. Preparations include cleaning the grave to refresh the dirt and flowers around it and planting new flowers, making loaves of beautifully decorated pan de muertos (a special sweet bread) and other foods that their loved one enjoyed while alive, molding chocolate into shapes and constructing the altar.

The making of an altar is very personal, varying from one family to the next, built to display special items of remembrance of the deceased person in an attempt at bringing them back home once a year. No matter how modest the house is, everyone makes some type of altar. It may be as plain as a table with the loved one’s photo and offerings such as chocolate, pan de muertos and flowers or it may involve a more elaborate assemblage of several step-like platforms with all of these items plus miniature “calaveras” (skeleton figures) and more. The structures themselves are covered in a cloth sheet before adding personal items and bright gold marigold-type flowers called zempasuchil are added.

During my Spanish immersion experience I visited the open-air Abastos market in Oaxaca, there was a stand dedicated to making and selling all types of chocolate. Not surprisingly, this stand was one of the more popular stops for visitors and locals alike who would take their chocolate home to mold it into shapes for the dead. I remember watching the shop employees make the chocolate fresh for purchase. After buying some chocolate, it was handed to you still hot and in liquid form in a big plastic bag.

Later during the week, through the spanish immersion experience in Oaxaca I visited the market. We bought some chocolate for our host mother who used some of it for her altar and then watched as she prepared a homemade hot chocolate that she served to us every morning along with slices of pan de muertos and other typical Oaxacan dishes. She first placed broken pieces of the chocolate into a blue-glazed clay pitcher, poured in boiling milk and then used a wooden utensil called “molinillo” (similar to a honey dipper but larger) which, when the long handle was twirled back and forth between her hands, created a frothy layer on the chocolate. As she poured some chocolate into 2 mugs, she explained to us that the way we should eat the pan de muertos is by first dunking it into the chocolate. The combination of the sweet bread and warm chocolate was enough to make us happy for the rest of the day, thinking about the following day’s breakfast that would undoubtedly include chocolate.

All in all, my Spanish immersion experience in Oaxaca was unforgettable. Experiencing the Day of the Dead during my Spanish immersion program abroad helped me realize that it is not enough to learn the language, do a Spanish immersion program, live with a local family but the combination of all
these components that make you really learn the culture.

How to Grow Flowering Herbs – Part 1

Annual Flowering Herbs

Petunia- (Petunia spp.)

Petunias are tender flowering herbs that adorn the garden with a variety of striking colors such as, red, pink, white, violet or a mixture of white stripped with violet or blue.

They are more attractive when planted closely in flower beds forming a blanket of red or velvet blossoms. Petunias are mostly cultivated in pots or window boxes.

Soil Requirements.

The best soil where petunias are more adaptable is a well-drained, fertile, sandy loam soils.


Petunias are propagated by seeds sown in germinating trays or seed boxes and later on thinned and planted in pots or beds.

Plants in full bloom may be brought inside the house for a day or two but should be exposed to full or partial sunlight to maintain normal growth.

Cock’s Comb – (Celosia argentia cristata )

There are two types of cock’s comb like; dwarf and tall or medium height varieties.

There are as many colors of the rainbow as there are cock’s comb varieties. Most often, the dwarf varieties are planted in group as low borders, while the taller varieties serve as background and foundation planting.

Thee flowers stalks vary in size where the taller ones have bigger clusters.


Cock’s comb are easily propagated by seeds either by direct seeding or transplanted singly by seedlings.

When direct seeding is applied, you should do the thinning to avoid overcrowding of the plants.

Marigold – (Tagetes erecta)

Marigold, a native of Mexico is a member of the sunflower family is a hardy annual, bushy, producing flowers with raised centers of golden-orange petals gradually turning to reddish-brown in the outer petals.

Soil Requirements.

Marigold thrives best in a light loam soil with a good drainage and exposed to full sunlight.


Propagation by seeds is the only method to multiply marigold. They are easy to grow although they seem to disappear in most gardens.

Balsam or Touch-Me-Not – (Impatiens oppositfolia, I. glandulifira )

A native of Africa, balsam or touch-me-not derived its name from its characteristics where the fruits when touch at ripening stage burst even just upon a slight contact.
They have a striking beautiful flowers ranging from pink, white, purple, and red double petalled which resembles the rose flowers.

Soil Requirements.

Balsam usually prefers rich fertile soil with abundant sunlight.


Balsam can easily be germinated by seeds. The seeds easily germinate when touch to the ground.

Carnation – (Dianthus caryophyllus)

Carnations are lovely, double-fringed, fragrant flowers. They are favorites as cut flowers, for borders and beds.

Good as potted plants, carnation, when planted properly blooms 5 to 6 months. They may last for more years if you’ll properly care them and fertilized properly.

Soil Requirements.

The best soil for carnation is a well drained and rich in organic matter soil with a cool climate and enough supply of solar radiation.


Carnation is propagated by seeds sown in germinating trays or seed boxes before they are transferred to individual pots or plots when planted in the field.

Verbena – (Verbena hortensis )

An excellent ground cover because of its compact habit of closely massed of flower heads.

There are three colors of verbena such as, red, purple, and white flowers which are attractive when planted in group as ground cover.

Soil Requirements.

Verbena grows best in a well drained, fertile soil and enough supply of sunshine in high altitudes during its growing period.


It is propagated by seeds when planted in temperate countries. However, they can also be propagated by cuttings where, you have to include the rooted portion of the stem to make a sure growth development.

Periwinkles- (Vinca minor)

Known as chichiricas or tropical periwinkles, they have a white or lavender flowers and said to have medicinal values.

They are excellent as border flowers, flowering hedges or foundation plants along bases of walls, fences and buildings.

They are attractive because they flowers the whole year round. You need less attention in replanting them since they grow vigorously.

The only attention you’ll make is to continuously pinch the tips to keep them bushy and busy producing flowers.

Soil Requirements.

Periwinkles grows in any type of soils especially in a well drained rich in organic matter soil medium.


Propagation by cuttings is ideal for periwinkle but they multiply even faster when grown by seeds.

They prefer to bloom abundantly when exposed to full sunlight, though they also produce flowers in partial shaded areas, but not as good when planted with open sun exposure.

Bachelor’s Button – (Cyntaurea cyanus )

Belongs to the Amaranth or Colitis family, bachelor’s button is also known as butones, butonisan or botoncillo and is relative of cock’s comb, Joseph’s coat and cucharita.

Their flowers varies from purple which dominates of all varieties to white, pink, and orange colors.


The methods used in propagating bachelor’s button is by seeds. They multiply fast and are easy to reproduce.

Perennial Flowering Herbs

Star cluster- (Pentas lanceolata )

A native of Africa, this flowering plant is a newly introduced to the Philippines.

They are an attractive herb with a cluster of red, star-like flowers. Although there are pink, white and lavender varieties, the red is considered the most attractive.

Star cluster becomes shrub reaching a height over seven feet as it develops woody tissues through the years of its growth.

To produce a continuous blooms the whole year round, you have to cut the flower stalks after the flowers have fallen down.


Propagated usually by young cuttings ( the hard or matured stems generally do not develop roots).

Anthurium – (Anthurium andraeanum, A. spp. )

Anthurium,also called flamingo flower because of its showy, waxy bract of flaming, deep red or pink color, often mistaken as the flower, is gaining popularity as a cut flower or potted plant.
When used as cut flower, anthurium lasts for as long as one month which explains why it’s expensive and prized by many florists.

There are a hundred varieties of anthurium scattered in the Philippines, but only a few are truly attractive accepted by florists.

Proper care and watering of anthurium is advised to enhance a continuous flower blooms.

Soil Requirements.

Anthurium thrives best in a well drained rich, sandy loam soils.

They usually favors in a cool climate and high elevations, like Baguio and Bukidnon. However, they can be made to flower just as beautifully in greenhouse or controlled environment.


Propagation is usually done by dividing the suckers or shoots, including some roots.

The newly propagated plants must be placed under the shade until they have recovered and new shoots developed.

You have to avoid anthurium exposure to the noon day sunlight. They are intolerant to too much heat of the sun.

African violet- (Saintpaulia spp.)

A native of Africa as the name implies, also known throughout the world as Saint Paulia by gardeners, this flower plant is loved by many because of its soft, waxy leaves and flowers that stays the whole year round in different shades of blue, white, pink, and purple colors.

This plant loves the morning sunlight. They dies easily when exposed to extreme heat and too much water.

African violets can be grown successfully when grown in pots as well as on screened window boxes.

They can also be grown in greenhouse of which they produce more attractive flowers.

Spanish flag – (Gonioplectus hispanus )

Spanish flag also known as canna or bandera espanola are ideal when you want to establish a new garden and an instant supply of flowers.

They are in handy, bearing a profusion of attractive colored flowers within a few weeks.

Their flowers are numerous from streaked to just plain white, cream, pink, deep red, purple, tangerine, lavender or sometimes a combination of two or more colors.

Spanish flag have numerous hybrids. You can select from among the hybrids you think attracts your interest or plant all them if you wish a colorful flowers in your garden.

If you want to maintain large, continuous flowers the whole year round, you have to cut the stalks which have flowered since they’ll compete for food with the rest of the developing plants. These stems will eventually dies anyway.

Soil Requirements.

Spanish flag grows best in rich, friable, sandy loam to loam soils. However, they also grow well in clay loam soil.

Generally, they produce attractive flowers when planted in an open field with abundant supply of sunlight.

But there are other hybrids that shows an excellent flowers even in partially shaded areas.


The easiest way to propagate Spanish flag is by separation of rhizomes which multiplies easily.

However, seeds may be used in propagation but it will take a long time to bear flowers compared to those propagated by rhizomes.

Red Billbergia- (Billbergia spp. )

A member of the pineapple family, red billbergia have a strikingly beautiful red or pink flowers which blooms during the months of May, June, and November in Luzon, Philippines.

They grows well in partial shade or full sunlight.

Soil Requirements.

Billbergia thrives best with a mixture of soil, ground charcoal, moss and other medium used in planting orchids.


They can be propagated by separation or by division of the young shoots which comes out after the flowers have wilted and the old plants have died.

Camia- (Hedychium philippinense K. Schum. )

Camias are shade loving plants to which they can be grown under trees. Their flowers are white with a fragrant scent which makes them favorite as cut flower and also for corsages or bouquets although they doesn’t stay fresh very long.

Their flowers are numerous during the rainy season and the plants gradually die as the dry season sets in. However, the rhizomes send out new shoots again once the rain starts to pour in.

You should prune the stems which have flowered just above the ground level to induce more flower blooms.

Camias have a cousin called the yellow camia or India Ginger which produce yellow flowers and a native of the Himalayas.

Soil Requirements.

The best soil for camia is sandy or clay loam with sufficient amount of moisture.


Camias can be propagated by division of the rhizomes or root stock. They are planted at a distance of half a meter apart directly in the field which have been properly prepared.