Understanding the need for exams


An official exam is a fantastic way to demonstrate your English. Why? Firstly, it’s something incredible you can add to your CV. Secondly, it’s evidence that you’ve worked hard and achieved a goal. Furthermore, it gives you the motivation to improve. Life is a journey and we’re always learning. So, give yourself an English goal to work towards!

However, where do we start when choosing the right English exam? On top of this, how should we prepare? On the flipside, what should we avoid doing? It’s true that there’s a lot of information out there. But, don’t worry, we’ve put together a beginner’s guide to choosing English exams. So, let’s get stuck in!


Which exam should I choose?


A good place to start is knowing which exam you want to prepare for. There are several examining boards and exams which cater for English language students. We recommend discussing your needs with your teacher.

Cambridge offer exams from levels A1–C2 in a variety of formats, some geared towards school-aged learners, some for learners who need English for career and higher education purposes and some which are designed for professionals. One of the many advantages of the Cambridge exams is their popularity. Because they are so widely accepted, there are a lot of materials available and finding a class specific to your level is usually very easy.

IELTS (The International English Language Testing System) is generally for people who are planning to work, study or migrate to a country where English is the native language. The exam tests your reading, writing, listening and speaking abilities, and is graded on a scale of 1–9. IELTS is incredibly popular for students planning to migrate to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. Check out a more detailed overview on The Complete Guide to English-Language Certificates.


Setting goals


Every successful project needs a good plan. Similarly, you should have a clear plan when working towards an English exam. This plan will have a realistic goal – in this case, passing the exam! The plan should also take into consideration how much time you can dedicate to your studies. Balancing ambition with realism is key, especially if you have other commitments. More dedicated study time often leads to faster exam success.

Ask your teacher for a practice exam to take home. Yes, this may seem like a huge challenge, especially if you haven’t started classes yet. However, it will give you and your teacher a good indication as to how close you are to passing.


Creating a structured plan


Once you have chosen which exam you want to take, learn the structure. Ask your teacher to explain the different parts of the exam. This way, you’ll feel more prepared when looking at exam techniques in class.

Maintaining a personal exam log is very useful for you to record your overall exam scores and individual section scores. This will help you to monitor your progress and identify areas for improvement. On top of this, regular communication with your teacher is crucial, as they know all about exam success. As well, choosing a study buddy among your classmates can give you more practice outside the classroom. A supportive learning environment is the best learning environment!


Improving reading skills


Dedicating time to reading is extremely important if you want to improve. If you’re preparing for an exam, it’s vital. Daily reading is like a power-up for language comprehension. However, it’s more than just understanding a story. Reading helps you to grasp the meaning of new words through the context. This skill is a real game-changer when it comes to taking an exam, when you won’t have your expert teacher there to explain vocabulary to you!

Choosing what you read is important too. Ask your teacher for guidance on this, as he/she can suggest something suitable. How about those reading tasks in the textbook? Read them again at home. What grammar points and linkers can you see? Note them down and use them in your next piece of writing.


Improving writing skills


Writing need not be daunting, even if some students find it challenging. Writing is very similar to speaking. Both skills require you to express your ideas, but writing has the advantage of allowing you time to think. This underlines the need for effective planning, sentence structure and organisation.

But first, effective exam writing begins with understanding the tasks. Each exam has different writing tasks and your teacher will explain each one to you. However, give yourself a head start by doing your own research. Ask your teacher for some sample answers. Reading these will give valuable insight into what you need to do in order to pass.

As the saying goes, ‘Practice makes perfect’, and this is definitely the case for exam writing. Pay attention to your teacher’s feedback and remember that making a mistake is part of learning. Your writing practice is the best place to try that new grammar point you studied in class. Go for it!


Improving listening and speaking skills


Developing strong exam listening and speaking skills requires you to be active. There are many ways you can practise listening in your free time. For example, watching films in English and listening to English podcasts. However, you should think carefully about what you are listening for.

Are you listening for general understanding? If so, pause after a minute and write a summary. Are you listening for exact information? Practise a dictation exercise. Like all independent study, try to do as much as possible. Even having an English podcast on in the background will help you with the rhythm of spoken English. The next time you’re preparing your lunch, choose a podcast from BBC Sounds!

As for speaking skills, how about the other students in your classroom? They’re preparing for an exam too! Suggest times when you can meet outside of the class in order to practise speaking. If your exam has a section that requires a partner, ask your teacher if he/she can choose a partner for you. Then, you can practise 24/7!


Why study at a school?


Preparing for an exam is a challenge, and not one that should be undertaken alone. Going to a school will give unbeatable guidance and support. There are many benefits of studying at a top language school. For example, the expertise provided by your teacher, the materials available, the opportunity to practise in an authentic exam environment and lastly, the feeling of tackling a challenge with other students. It might not be an easy road, but teamwork and leadership will make it easier!


Stay positive!


Lastly, you must stay positive! Keep an eye on your progress and how you’re improving.

Celebrate these wins and listen to your teacher’s advice. When you have the exam date on your calendar, ask your teacher how you can best use your final weeks. Remember – hard work pays off! You can do it!

Don’t stop yet – check out more of our blogs to help you boost your English!

6 Tools To Take Your Writing To The Next Level

A Guide To The Cambridge English Computer-Based Exams

5 Tips For Reading The News In English

5 of the best apps to improve your English listening skills


Looking for further support?


If you’re interested in preparing for an exam but don’t know where to start, get in touch with us here at Oxford House today! We offer specific courses that are designed especially to help you get ready for the exam. Let our fully qualified teachers use their exam experience to guide you through your learning journey. Sign up now!

Glossary for Language Learners


Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

Flipside (n): the opposite side of something.

Gear towards (pv): to design or organise something so that it is suitable for a specific purpose.

Log (n): a full written record of information.

Buddy (n): a friend.

Grasp (v): to understand something, especially something difficult.

Daunting (adj): making you feel slightly frightened or worried about your ability to achieve something.

Head start (n): an advantage that someone has over other people.

Insight (n): a clear understanding of a complicated problem or situation.

Undertake (v): to do or begin to do something, especially something that will take a long time or be difficult.

Expertise (n): a high level of knowledge or skill.


n = noun

pv = phrasal verb

v = verb

adj = adjective