7 tips for English exams to help you prepare

tips for English examOnce you’ve decided which English exam to take, the next step is to prepare. Whatever the exam you’ve opted for, it’s not enough just to have the right level of English. You also need to know what the exam involves, what techniques will help you to pass it and what to expect on the day. Here are 7 tips for English exams.

Tips for English exams:

1. Know the format and the content of the exam.

Most exams are divided into different parts (speaking, listening, reading, writing etc.). Each paper is usually further broken down into different sections. Find out beforehand how many parts your exam has, how many sections each part consists of, what each one contains, and – essentially – how much time you have to complete them.

Other information to find out: How many times will you hear the listenings? Is incorrect spelling penalised? Do you lose points for a wrong answer? In particular, remember that you might have to transfer your answers to an answer sheet before the end of the exam.

2. Practice beforehand

No matter how good your English is, you’ll have a far better chance of doing well in the exam if you practice it first. There are past papers available for most exams so that you can practice at home. Make sure you time yourself according to the exam guidelines in order to get used to working under time pressure.

3. Learn from your mistakes

All too often, when practising an exam or an exam task, the temptation is to mark your answers to see how much you got right and then forget about the test in question as you move anxiously onto the next one. Don’t! Make a note of your mistakes, especially if you tend to make the same ones over and over, and work out why the wrong answers are wrong and, critically, why you got it wrong; that in itself is a valuable lesson and will ensure you learn much more vocabulary and get much more from the task than you otherwise would.

4. Make use of online resources

If you’re taking the PTE, IELTS, Cambridge PET, FCE or CAE exams, an ideal way to ensure success is to work your way through MyEnglishLab, which not only allows you to practice online with video lessons and interactive activities but which offers guided learning that you can do at your own pace and as often as you want. Websites such as Flo-Joe also offer lots of practice for the Cambridge and IELTS exams.

5. Understand what is being tested

It might seem like grammar and vocabulary are all that’s being tested, but bear in mind that skills are often being assessed as well. In a writing exam, think about the type of text you have to write and who the reader would be, as this will dictate the style and formality of the language you use. In a speaking exam, think about what you’re being asked to do. Describe something? Persuade someone? Tell a story? Explain something? What you need to do with the language is as important as the language you have to do it with.

6. Practice exam technique

As with any test that involves more than just a straightforward test of knowledge, most English exams (and especially the Cambridge exams) draw on a range of skills and techniques.

For example, in a reading test it’s usually best to read the main text first to get an overall idea of the content before reading the accompanying questions. key words, look for paraphrases, eliminate wrong answers. In a listening text, use the first listen-through to locate the section of the text that contains the answer you’re after and the second listen-through the pinpoint it. In a writing exam, make sure you brainstorm ideas and make a basic plan first.

7. Read, listen, speak and watch – and read some more

When the pressure of an exam is upon you, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. You’re taking the exam to test and to prove your level of English, but there’s no end of English available to learn from and enjoy. Make it a habit to listen to music in English and work out the lyrics, listen to podcasts and watch videos, TV programmes and films, try to find a language exchange partner, practice your language skills online, and read as widely as possible.

Reading is one of the best ways to learn new vocabulary and to consolidate your understanding of grammar. Most exams also include a writing element, and it goes without saying that those who write best are those that read most.

For a wide range of extra materials to help you prepare, why not try out some of our coursebooks and study materials. If you’re a teacher preparing students for an exam, click here.



Gold Experience


Pearson Test of English

Great Teachers’ Exams Place

You might also be interested in…

– Top tips for passing the FCE (First Certificate in English)

– Top tips for passing the CAE (Cambridge Advanced English)

– 10 best practices for tackling English language exams

– PTE, TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC, Cambridge exams… Which English exams should I choose?

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5 thoughts on “7 tips for English exams to help you prepare

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