Lee Shutler, Director of Studies, Hilderstone College

Lee Shutler, Director of Studies, Hilderstone College

20 tips for students taking a language exam test

A guide for students: how to get ready and make sure your perform well in your language exam.

  1. Make sure you know why you are doing the test.
  2. Make sure that the institute you go to has an entry test so that you know you are at an appropriate level for the test.
  3. Make sure you know what is in the test.
  4. Keep and recycle vocabulary. Take notes during the lessons, re-arrange and organise the notes in the evenings and then try to use the new vocabulary as soon as you can – in either written or spoken work.
  5. Form an “Exam Club” with your classmates so that you can meet outside of class time to practise and discuss.
  6. If the speaking test involves a partner, get to know that person.
  7. In speaking practice, get used to showing positive body language. The examiner is human and will respond positively. If you talk to your shoes, you will not be as successful.
  8. If you are using the test for a purpose – university entry, immigration, promotion etc – make sure you have an awareness of what score you need to succeed.
  9. Find ways of using the “target language” outside the classroom – music, the internet, skype. The more you are using the language, the better you will become.
  10. If you exam has an academic “bent”, like TOEFL or IELTS, it is a good idea to find an English language website that discusses the news in your country. Most countries have an English language newspaper. Using their website will provide you with ideas, vocabulary and context.
  11. Record yourself doing a practice speaking test. It can be interesting, useful and a bit scary, all at the same time!
  12. If you are living in a homestay, ask your host family to do the test as well! That way you have a native speaker model to follow.
  13. DON’T do lots of practice tests. If you do too many, you will not see progress and you will be wasting learning time. Full-scale practice tests should be spread out through the course so that you have the time to practise the techniques first.
  14. Read the instructions and know the rules! If the instructions ask for one word, don’t write two! It will be wrong! Ask your teacher to find out if contractions like “Don’t/shouldn’t” etc are counted as one word or two. It may vary, not just from test to test but also paper to paper.
  15. If your exam includes multiple choice and you are not sure of the answer, do it “negatively”. Reject the answers you know are definitely wrong and then guess from the remaining possibilities. You might have improved the odds from 25% or 33% to 50 %.
  16. ANSWER THE QUESTION, THE WHOLE QUESTION AND NOTHING BUT THE QUESTION!!
  17. Watch your watch – in practice and on the big day!
  18. Go to an IALC institution and get yourself a good teacher!
  19. Trust your teacher. If you work as a “team”, you have a much greater chance of success.
  20. Enjoy it! If you are stressed, you’ll never perform to your highest levels.

Lee Shutler is Director of Studies with Hilderstone College (www.hilderstone.ac.uk). The school is based in Broadstairs, Kent, UK.

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