10 Essential Exam Preparation Tips

Whether you need a certificate to prove your English level for work or study purposes, or you just fancy a challenge, Language Cert and Cambridge English examinations provide the ideal solution.

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By Rebecca Eves - Senior Teacher and Examinations Coordinator - uploaded 8/11/19

Whether you need a certificate to prove your English level for work or study purposes, or you just fancy a challenge, Language Cert and Cambridge English examinations provide the ideal solution.

But how do you go about preparing to take Language Cert, Cambridge B2 First (formerly known as FCE), Cambridge C1 Advanced (CAE), or Cambridge C2 Proficiency (CPE)? Here are some top tips from our expert teachers at International House in Newcastle upon Tyne.

1.       Take it a step at a time

Thinking about all of the language, topics and strategies that you need to cover to prepare for an exam can be daunting, so take it a step at a time. Break things down into manageable chunks – deal with each one and try to understand and practise as much as you can before moving onto the next part. If you study English in this way, it will feel much easier to handle.

2.       Record new language

Whenever you study some new vocabulary or grammar, make sure you record it effectively. There are lots of ways of doing this, such as using a new word in a sentence that’s personal to you, and also making a note of the pronunciation of any sounds you find difficult. It’s also helpful to record word families (verb, noun, adjective and adverb forms).

3.       Revise vocab and grammar

Once you’ve recorded it, ensure you regularly revisit the language you’ve studied. Some people like to use flash cards, others get someone else to test them. Most people don’t remember everything perfectly after just one look, so find a way of revising that suits you, and do it!

4.       Read as much as you can

Not only does reading a lot help with how quickly you’re able to get through a text, it also helps to develop your knowledge of vocabulary and your instinct for what ‘feels right’ when it comes to grammar. Try to pick something you find enjoyable and try not to stop at every word you don’t understand – that way, you won’t find reading a stilted experience and you’ll also practise using the context to help you guess the meaning of a word.

5.       Remember that it’s not just about grammar

Exam candidates often get hung up on grammatical accuracy and, although that is part of the assessment, there are several other ways for you to get points if your grammar is not so hot. For example, in the speaking exam, fluency and pronunciation are important, and in writing, organisation and style are key, too. Grammar certainly shouldn’t be ignored, but everyone has a weak spot, so if this is yours, don’t worry.

6.       Do some past papers

Doing past papers should be part of your overall preparation – they shouldn’t be the only way you prepare, but they are useful. One of the most important ways they help is to get you used to the time limits and the feeling of working under pressure. It’s also really important to be familiar with the task types, and aspects of the exam such as how you might be distracted away from the correct answers in listening.

7.       Make use of free resources

There are some really helpful online resources that can help you practise the exam and gradually build upon your knowledge of English. For example, www.flo-joe.co.uk provides new items of vocabulary every day as well as offering advice on writing. BBC Learning English has some great pronunciation workshops and also looks at current affairs in a learner-friendly way. The British Council’s Learn English website can also be useful for grammar revision. Higher level students should make the most of authentic materials on websites like TED and The Guardian, to practise their listening and reading skills, and to become more familiar with the style of written pieces like reviews.

8.       Show off

You need to really show the examiners what you can do, so in the speaking exam, try to use lots of ‘wow words’, idioms and as much complex grammar as you can. They only get a snapshot of your skills so make it a memorable one! You also need to show off in your writing, so try not to use any unimpressive words like ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

9.       Be ready to give your opinions

Both the speaking and writing exams require you to offer your views on conceptual topics – it’s not enough to say ‘I don’t know’, so it’s really beneficial to be aware of current affairs and to get familiar with the typical types of question that often come up.

10.   Book a course

At IH Newcastle we offer students the opportunity to prepare for Language Cert and Cambridge English exams here in the north east of England, with experienced teachers who can help you with strategies and practice, as well as ensuring that your level of English is high enough for the exam you’re aiming for. If you’d like to know more about our Language Cert and Cambridge English courses, email info@ihnewcastle.com