The most efficient ways to prepare for language exams

Exam skills: why to prepare for exams

Exam skills: why to prepare for exams


  • Cambridge English
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

It is a common assumption that if one's level of English is enough for taking a certain exam, they can pass an exam successfully (if not with flying colours!) without any special training. Practice shows a different picture, though.

Exam preparation is essential in many cases. What is more, it is essential in case you are planning to take one of the most popular and recognised language exams like Cambridge exams, IELTS, TOEFL, and so on. Let's look at the reasons why systematic exam preparation is beneficial, and if it is a good idea to do without.

Teach CAE/CPE Writing with confidence

Exam preparation makes any exam predictable

It means that you know what parts it consists of, how long each of them takes, and what is happening at the beginning of each part and at the end. Knowing various information about the exam (what you need to write with — a pen or a pencil, how to write your answer on the answer sheet — in handwriting or in block capitals, what is allowed on a desk and what is not, what you can bring to the exam room with you) removes a lot of stress connected to small things that can make you nervous or stuck. 

Imagine you arrived at the exam centre without knowing much about the exam. 

First, you find out your ID does not work (you need to have a passport rather than a driving license), and you need to find someone immediately to bring your passport within the next hour, otherwise you get expelled. 


Then you are asked to leave your mobile phone and watch in a waiting room — something you did not expect to happen. 


And after the writing part of the exam is over, you find out you were supposed to transfer your answers on an answer sheet WITHIN the time limit, and there is no extra 5 min you can do it. Everything you have written during the exam does not count — nobody will see it since the answers have not been transferred. 

You will be surprised, but these are not such rare cases. Candidates who turn up without preparation (or carefully reading all the materials for candidates) often find themselves in such situations. And this does not help them perform better for sure.

Teaching writing for exams

Strategies and skills

If you take a preparation course, you will not miss the important information, and the number of possible mishaps will be reduced dramatically. You will take the right ID, save time to transfer your answer to the answer sheet, and will not be penalised for being caught using your mobile phone (the one you decided not to leave in a waiting room, but to switch off and keep in your pocket) because you know very well that using mobile phones is forbidden until the exam is officially over (including the breaks between the parts).

Exam preparation also makes the exam predictable as well as the routines and rules connected to it. 

For example, if you know you will listen to an audio recording two times (in Cambridge exams, for instance), you will not panic if you miss some information, but focus on it when you listen again. And vice versa, if you know that in this test candidates listen to the audio only once (such as in TOEFL), you will not be surprised that there is no second round you expect.

Exam preparation trains you to do your best within a minimal amount of time, and under pressure

Completing an exam task during an exam is much easier if you have been training. You might be worried, stressed, or not feeling great after a sleepless night, but your exam skills will be there working for the best possible result. If you have trained, you will complete a task more efficiently in terms of using time and energy, and make fewer mistakes. 

You will know what to do in various situations that might come about:

  • if you don't know the correct answer or hesitating between the two;
  • what kind of writing to choose (because you will know very well what you are good at, and how to write the piece that will meet the writing criteria);
  • when to start transferring your answer onto the answer sheet so that you have enough time for everything;
  • how to approach, do, and check every kind of exam task;
  • which task to start with in order to be most efficient and productive;
  • what to focus on in a reading or listening text in order to find the correct answer and not fall for distractors or other traps;
  • and many other big and small tricks you will learn in order to succeed.

If you haven't had any exam prep, you will have to face all these problems and choices right there, in the middle of your test, when you are all alone and there is no help or prior knowledge.

Teaching Exam Preparation Classes

Some exam tasks are very different from typical practice tasks in coursebooks, and they require special training as well as knowing the assessment criteria

Some reading and listening tasks in Cambridge exams are very different from what you usually do in general English courses, and if you don't know the strategies or have never trained to do them, you are unlikely to do them correctly. 

A typical example is FCE Multiple Matching Reading:

Photo: Cambridge English First for Schools Practice Tests Student's Book Cengage LearningPhoto: Cambridge English First for Schools Practice Tests Student's Book Cengage Learning

If you don't know how to do it right, it will be time-consuming and exhausting.

Another example, IELTS Academic Module writing part 1: Report. 

This is the type of writing in which a candidate must analyse trends in a graph. This is not a task an average person does in everyday life (especially if you are a school leaver and need to pass IELTS to enter a university). But even though you work as a marketing specialist and do analyse trends at work, you do not describe them exactly the same as in the given exam format. You need to know what you need to write in each paragraph, use a certain kind of lexis and grammar, and meet many other criteria in order to get a high score.

Of course, there are many tips you can read in exam preparation coursebooks and find them out from other sources. However, if you prepare yourself, you don't get feedback from a teacher who spots the problems and helps you improve. That's why a preparation course is really effective. It teaches you to do your best, and get the best result possible for your current level and abilities.

Exam strategies are useful in multiple spheres outside English learning

Last, but not least. If you are a student, exam strategies acquired in English lessons will help pass other exams and tests, even the ones that are not connected to using languages, like Maths or Chemistry, because they develop many useful exam skills like how to choose a correct answer in a test if you are hesitating, or how to use your time wisely and do your best in the given circumstances. 

Students who prepare for exams are usually better readers and listeners (they process information in the written and audio texts better, and find the necessary information more efficiently). The same can be said about productive skills.

A person with exam prep on their sleeve is more likely to write a decent email in real life than those who have not been trained. Same with speaking. If you have experience of preparing for Cambridge exams, your speaking and communication skills and sub-skills will be better developed. 

How to teach speaking for exams


Exam preparation is worth doing. This is the most efficient way to prepare for exams. Your preparation course will be structured and adjusted to your needs. All exam parts will be covered, analysed and trained. And you will get feedback from your teacher, who will guide your preparation and help develop all the necessary skills to help you do your best and reach your goals.

Article authors & editors
  • Lidiya Simak

    Lidiya Simak


    YL DOS, CELTA, CELT-P/S Course trainer, TKT Course creator



Leave your comment