While you are preparing to sit your NCEA Chinese exams, keep in mind that your goal isn't just to pass NCEA Chinese but to pass with an Excellence! This isn't simply so you can proudly display your grade, but because one of the key indicators that your exam is worthy of being graded Excellence is that you have clear communication and show easy comprehension.

The key areas you will need to focus on in your Chinese revision are:

Listening/Hearing Chinese:

  • This also means learning to hear the different tonal variations that indicate different word meanings and learning to pick up individual words and sentences.

Speaking Chinese:

  • Voicing grammatically correct sentences is just one aspect of learning to speak Chinese; you also need to work on your pronunciation to make sure that you are saying what you want to say and not saying horse instead of mum.

Reading Chinese:

  • You will be able to use the Latin alphabet you're familiar with to read pinyin, but you will also need to start to recognize and understand the over 50,000 individual Chinese characters.

Writing Chinese Characters:

  • For NCEA Chinese, you won't be writing in pinyin as much as you will in Chinese characters, but it is taught and used to expand your Chinese understanding. Writing Chinese Characters can be time-consuming, even for those that are used to writing them, but once you start to understand the patterns and flows, this too will begin to make sense.
Chinese calligraphy is part of NCEA Chinese
How will you write Chinese Characters in NCEA exams? Image by Carabo Spain from Pixabay
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Understanding NCEA Chinese Exam Questions

As with most exams, you will encounter sitting NCEA that understanding the question is half the battle. Your teacher should be helping you to understand what to focus on in the questions to make sure you are giving the best answers. However, suppose you can work with a tutor who understands NCEA Chinese. In that case, you can work through past exams and exemplars together to ensure that you get practice in reading and answering NCEA Chinese exam questions.

Have a look at a Level 1 NCEA Chinese past exam from 2017 (90868). On the front page of the exam answer booklet, there is a clear guideline as to what is required to pass and obtain excellence.

The difference between Achievement, Merit and Excellence is the level of understanding you can demonstrate, with Excellence expected to show a thorough understanding.

We can look at the first question:

  • Use all sections of the passage to answer this question. Remember to support your answers with evidence from the passage. (a) How has Li Ming adapted to the food in New Zealand?

We can also look at what a student who received an Excellence wrote:

  • Then we can see what the assessor commented on to see why this was a great answer and how we can replicate this level of answer when we come to writing our own exam answers:

The candidate demonstrates thorough understanding. There is clear evidence of the implied meaning in the text, backed up by details from the text, which justifies the conclusions that the candidate has made. For example: a) Li Ming says he enjoys eating bread a lot, but the adaptation is most obvious when he says that he didn't like milk in China before, but likes milk in New Zealand because it's "much more tasty and cheaper too".

We are lucky in New Zealand; our school system isn't geared to trick students but to ensure that you have gained knowledge that will serve you well. With NCEA Chinese, the NZQA has created a systematic system to help students learn to communicate their ideas clearly in Chinese.

Incense at Chinese shrine - using past NCEA Chinese exams to expand your knowledge
Past NCEA Chinese Exams connect you to the culture. Image by teetasse from Pixabay

Don't Use Past NCEA Chinese Exams Too Early

Using past exams is a fantastic way to step through each question and solidify your understanding. However, you need to have a basic understanding of the expectations before you start, or you run the risk of completely shattering your confidence.

If you are studying NCEA Chinese Level 2 or Level 3, or planning to sit the NCEA Scholarship exam, look at exams from the previous level to help you maintain your language abilities while increasing your fluency. If you are studying NCEA Chinese Level 1, talk about developing a study plan that works towards being competent in the exam's areas.

Practice Listening and Speaking in Chinese NCEA Exams

Because New Zealand's NCEA Chinese exams are designed to work with natural Chinese, the examples used in the exams aren't contrived; they are natural speakers and natural texts that you might encounter in everyday situations. This may also mean that the audio you hear isn't always the best – an announcer at a train station, a telephone conversation between friends or a group talking in a shop.

While all the audio used in past NCEA Chinese exams is available for download from the NZQA website, you should also try to expand what you're listening to. Listen to as many different sources to create a well-rounded body of understanding.

To practice your speaking and pronunciation, you can simply talk aloud to your friends, pets, and plants. The key is to get your mouth and tongue forming all the shapes required to speak Chinese. The more opportunity you find to even use basic greetings, the faster you build your confidence and abilities.

Three people wearing traditional hanfu dress - Chinese langage buddies for NCEA Chinese
Find a conversation friend to help practice NCEA Chinese. Image by tank air from Pixabay
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Working with a Chinese Language Buddy

However, finding a language buddy is one of the best options to learn to communicate. While working with someone from your class or a random tutor found on Facebook can work, it may also cause you to compound any errors in pronunciation you have developed – and bad habits are hard to unlearn.

A better option is to work with a tutor who is experienced in teaching English speakers to communicate in Chinese but who is experienced with the type of conversations and understanding expected to achieve excellence in your NCEA exams.

Pomodoro Method for Language Learning

The Pomodoro Method for studying is quite a simple way to stay focused. All you need to do is set a timer for 25 minutes, turn off all distractions, and focus on your language learning objectives entirely for that time. As soon as your timer goes off, stop studying and take a break.

While watching Chinese movies will help your language learning (with the English subtitles off), studying with the Pomodoro technique is more focused. Use this time to practice reading a range of texts, using flashcards to learn vocabulary, or listening to previous exams' audio examples.

Good luck birthday card - memorising Chinese Language for NCEA
Memorize required NCEA Chinese Vocabulary through visual connections. Image by hartono subagio from Pixabay

Chunking To Memorize NCEA Chinese Vocabulary

A study published in the Cambridge University Press in 2008 confirmed how languages are learnt and how vocabulary can be memorized:

Language learning is the learning and analysis of sequences. The learner must acquire sound sequences in words. The learner must acquire word sequences in phrases. These sequences form the database for the abstraction of grammar… A chunk is a unit of memory organization, formed by bringing together a set of already formed chunks in memory and welding them together into a larger unit.

All this means is that to memorize vocabulary, you need to have short sessions where you focus on a small select group of words. Choose 7-10 words or phrases to work on each day to keep these in your short-term memory. You can work on a different group of words each day, as long as you repeat these words regularly.

The vocabulary lists for each level of NCEA Chinese are available on the NZQA website for NCEA Chinese, so you can easily create flashcards to help you memorize the key vocabulary.

E.g. for level 3 the vocabulary list looks like this:

PinyinCharactersEnglishCompounds/ Examples
把书放在桌子上. Put the book on the table
Bān一般 In general / Generally
一般来说 Generally speaking
BàoTo report报纸Newspaper
报告 To report / Report
biǎoChart手表 Watch
Table时间表 Timetable

Once you have started getting a good grasp of the required vocabulary, it becomes easier to form sentences, understand spoken conversation, and start using grammar correctly. Above all, developing a strong vocabulary undoubtedly increases the confidence of all language learners. There is a certain thrill when you start learning a language and unexpectedly recognize random words and phrases.

Hanging Red Chinese Lanterns - Learn to relax before your NCEA Exam
Chinese Lanterns. Image by hartono subagio from Pixabay

Learn To Relax

Many people get so nervous about sitting exams that they were confident and capable before they went into the exam. One way to counter exam nerves is to create positive associations. This may mean something as simple as sipping on a soothing Chinese tea while studying to create a pleasant association when you sit down in your exam and see the familiar Chinese characters.

In an NCEA exam, you are usually allowed to take objects that may help you relax (there are a few exceptions), so try not to get accustomed to studying with particular scents such as essential oils that you may not have easy access to while in the examination.

However, in keeping with studying Chinese, you might find it useful to take up a qigong or Tai Chi practice. The key is to find ways that work for you to reduce unproductive stress.

You've done the study, worked with a great tutor, and know what you know to know – now you just need to put that knowledge to work in the exam.

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Alison