English Exam Preparation Tips and Advice
English language certificates are required by many educational institutions and employers. Passing an English language exam is an important step in your education, which can determine your future career prospects. Once you have decided which English language test to take, FCE, CAE, CPE, IELTS or any other, you can start your English exam preparation.
How to study for an English exam effectively?
Here are some tips on what to check before an English language exam and how to prepare.
Self-study vs English exam preparation course
The most important part of English exam preparation is learning the material. Check the syllabus carefully and make sure that you are aware which grammar points you are expected to know at this level of exam. It’s also important to research the kind of vocabulary you will need to use. The safest way of making sure that you cover all the material is to sign up for an exam preparation course. This will also give you access to a teacher who can help you when you get stuck. The teacher will correct your mistakes and give feedback on your progress.
If you can’t do that, then buy a textbook that you can work through alone. Self-study English test preparation books are available for all of the major English language exams. Make sure that you have a good grammar textbook and a decent sized dictionary as well. Remember though, that a textbook can’t help you to work on your weak areas, practise speaking with you, or correct mistakes the way a teacher would.
Start your English test preparation early
In our experience, one of the biggest mistakes candidates make, is starting their exam preparation too late. Sometimes you will not only need to understand the exam format, but also improve your level of English. Check your English language level as soon as you find out you need to pass an exam and obtain an estimate of the time required to understand the test format and practice exam tasks. Depending on the starting point, English exam preparation and improvement may take several months, so begin your preparation early!
Know the exam format
It’s not enough to just study the grammar, though. Many students go into an exam with a good knowledge of the material, and fail. This is usually because they have not taken the time to study the exam format. You need to know what to expect before you go in, so look through some past test papers and see how the exam is put together. Knowing what you will have to do at every stage will save you valuable time in the English exam. It will also help you to feel more confident.
Find out what the examiners are looking for
Once you have learned the material, you are ready to start thinking about what skills each part of the exam will ask you to show. For instance, look at the marking scheme for the writing paper. It will probably list the marks awarded for content, style, language accuracy and so on. Make sure that you know exactly what the examiners are looking for. Again, at this stage it is very useful to have a teacher at your side to guide you through the process.
How to practise for your English language exam
Now you’re ready to start practicing for your English language test. Ask your teacher for some past exam papers, or buy a pack. When you first start, don’t try to complete a full exam; work on individual sections. Don’t worry about timing yet either. It’s useful to have a study partner here. Go through a section together, deciding on the answers as a team. Then try the same section (from another paper) individually, and compare your answers. If you disagree on any answers, look up the correct answer together and make sure that you both understand it. Explaining a grammar point to someone else is a great way to make sure that it is clear in your own head.
Time management during the language exam
When you are sure that you are comfortable with all parts of the exam paper, it’s time to think about speed. Find out how long the whole exam is, and decide how long you need to spend on each section. Don’t forget to allow yourself a few minutes at the end to check everything! When you’ve decided the timings, you need to practise as much as possible. Start with individual sections, and practise until you can complete them comfortably within the time limit. Then try whole exam papers. One of the most common problems is that candidates run out of time during language exams, even though they have the right knowledge!
Practise your English speaking skills
Don’t forget to work on the speaking section of the exam. It’s really hard to study this alone, so if you can’t join a class of English exam preparation, then try to at least find a native speaker who will practise with you.
Once you’ve done all this, you’re ready to take the exam! Remember, get plenty of sleep the night before, have a good breakfast and try to stay calm on the day. If you’ve prepared well, you should have nothing to worry about!