Practical Exam Tips
- 1) Pens and Pencils
- Some exams require the use of PENS, while others have to be completed in PENCIL. Make sure you know what
you should be using in every paper before you go in.
- 2) Websites
- All the major examination boards have websites these days, usually with sample papers and examiners'
reports that you can download. These sites are well worth a visit as they may offer a lot of sound
advice. The examiners' report, for instance, can give you an idea of exactly what it is that they are
- 3) Take Spares
- Take spare pens and pencils just in case the one you are using stops working.
- 4) On time not In time
- Allow for problems, hold-ups and traffic jams on the way and make sure you arrive with time to spare so
that you can go in calmly rather than in a frantic rush.
- 5) It may sound stupid, but ...
- Don't forget to read the instructions and make sure you know what you are being asked to do. You should
go into the exam well aware of what is expected of you, but you should always check. Don't, however,
waste a lot of time on this.
- 6) Honesty- 1
- A language exam is not a test of honesty and you will not be penalised if you tell the examiners that
you are CANCER rather than SAGITTARIUS in a written question simply because you are sure of how to spell
it. Language Tests are quite simply that; they are designed to test your language and not your honesty-
don't worry about lying or being economical with the truth in order to show off your accurate language
- 7) Zzzzz
- Try to get a good night's sleep the night before any exam.
- 8) Hangovers
- Try to avoid alcohol the night before an exam, especially in quantity, as a bad hangover is among the
very worst things to be suffering from in an exam room.
- 9) Writing- 1
- Don't carried away and overload your writing with too many obvious connectives and contrastives; if
every sentence has two or three such words or expressions, then the writing can seem strained and
artificial. Remember- you can try too hard as well as not hard enough.
- 10) Writing- 2
- Write on alternate lines (leaving every second line blank) so that you have space to make changes when
checking through your work.
- 11) Writing- 3
- Always credit your sources in academic writing, even when you are referring to ideas rather than
Multiple Choice Tips
- 12) Psychological Warfare
- Examiners can choose the same letter successively for the correct answer. After three consecutive
answers with the same letter, many students may well start to feel confused and worried. Eventually,
many candidates will start changing their answers simple because they don't believe that examiners would
have half a dozen of more questions with the same letter one after the other. They can and sometimes do;
this is a real test of your comprehension and reduces the possibility of scoring by guessing.
- 13) Right word, wrong answer
- With multiple choice comprehension questions based on a text, a simple trick is to take obvious and
prominent words from the text and put them in an incorrect option. Seeing a word or phrase from the text
is not enough; these questions are designed to test comprehension not recognition of a word from the
- 14) Speaking- 1
- Don't bother learning speeches and trying to say them verbatim (word-for-word) in interviews; examiners
will usually spot this without too much difficulty and mark you down for it. It is very hard to do this
and sound natural.
- 15) Speaking- 2
- Do think over your answers to common questions about yourself. This an opportunity for examiners to get
a general picture of your language level, especially your ability to talk about past, present and future
experiences, so run these thing over in your mind and try to include corresponding verb forms
- 16) Speaking- 3
- If you are asked to talk about or describe a photograph, don't get too hung up on describing every
visible detail. Instead, be prepared to speak in general terms about it and how the theme it illustrates
- 17) Listening- 1
- You are often given false information first that sounds as if it could be the answer to the question. An
instance of this is where the information given matches one of the answers, but does not fit the
criterion given in the question- the person could be talking about last week, say, when the question
asks about next week. The correct information usually, but not always, comes afterwards.
- 18) Listening- 2
- Nearly right is not the same thing as right; examiners often give information that sounds more or less
correct, but is in some way unsatifactory. Adverbs and modals are often used to send you the wrong way;
the listening text might use 'She may well be late' and the question 'She will be late'- this is not an
exact match and consequently could easily be the wrong answer. It has to be 100% accurate to be right.
- 19) Listening- 3
- In longer listening passages, they often try to lull you into losing concentration by having quite long
sections where no information relevant to the exercise is given, then out of the blue they hit you with
a couple of answers in quick succession.
- 20) Listening- 4
- Although most longer listening passages begin with an introduction that lets you get into the flow
before they start testing you, you cannot depend on this; the first word could in theory be the answer
to the first question.
- 21) Listening- 5
- Examiners will often place a word directly from the passage in a wrong answer and use a synonym *[syn.]
in the correct answer; check the meaning and do not rely on word recognition to get the right answer.
Examiners & Exam Myths
- 22) Examiners- 1
- Examiners are, by and large, sadistic so-and-sos. Their sole aim in
life is to trap you and catch you out.
- 23) Examiners- 2
- In multiple choice exercises, examiners have been known to use the same letter for the correct answer
several times in succession (a, a, a, a, a, etc). This is unsettling and can make students worry that
their answers must be wrong; it does not. I once gave a Cambridge Proficiency group an entire Reading
Comprehension exercise (25 questions) with the same answer for all. The students started changing their
answers and choosing wrong ones because they couldn't believe that this was possible. While I have never
seen it, there is nothing to stop them doing it. They are there to test your understanding and will play
psychological games to make you doubt yourself, and this is one little trick they use. It also has the
advantage of reducing the possibly of inaccurate scores achieved by guessing, as few would guess in a
regular pattern, but would try to vary their answers across the range of possibilities. From their
perspective, grouping a few consecutive answers with the same letter makes sense.
- 24) Examiners- 3
- Many students and teachers try to analyse exams and work out patterns. In one Cambridge First
Certificate exercise, there were usually between four and six correct sentences. Then one year there
were only two. Patterns may help, but beware of relying on them; examiners will change them without
- 25) Exam Myth 1
- Apparently, a philosophy student got a first class grade for a paper which had "Is this a question?"
as an essay title. Instead of going into the nature of questions, etc, he or she simply wrote "Yes,
if this is an answer." Perhaps you should read Exam Myth 2 before feeling encouraged to do
- 26) Exam Myth 2
- When asked "What is courage?", another philosphy student wrote "This." He or she
failed; even though it was, indeed, courageous to stake their degree on such an answer, it was not held
to have answered the question. The answer was an example and not an explanation.
- 27) Exam Myth 3
- An Oxford undergraduate, or so the story goes, discovered an ancient regulation that allowed a gentleman
to send the invigilator to buy a quart (Two pints or 1.14 litres) of ale (beer) during the exam for the
student's refreshment. He duly ordered it and produced his evidence and was bought the beer. The
following day, the invigilator approached him with a hat, gown and sword, which another old regulation
stipulated had to be worn at all times. So, the student had to to sit through the exam in a stuffy hall
on a hot day in a heavy hat, etc.
- 28) Exam Myth 4
- A student used amphetamines (a chemical stimulant) to stay awake to study all night in the days leading
up to an exam, hoping to make up for lost time. Feeling shattered on the morning of the exam, they took
a huge dose to make sure they were bright and alert and didn't fall asleep halfway through. Throughout
the exam, they scribbled away frantically; writing page after page. Unfortunately, they'd taken so much
of the stimulant that they failed to notice that they had written everything on the same side of paper,
which meant that instead of handing in a dozen sheets of paper, they had one so covered in writing that
it had turned black.