Ace your English tests

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - COURSE FOCUS -

IN­TER­NA­TION­ALLY ac­cred­ited English tests are of­ten re­quired by in­ter­na­tional univer­si­ties. Un­less you are tak­ing a course that in­cor­po­rates an English com­po­nent that meets the re­quire­ments of your tar­get univer­sity, you may be re­quired to take an English test and achieve a cer­tain score be­fore be­ing ac­cepted into a par­tic­u­lar in­sti­tu­tion.

Two of the most com­mon in­ter­na­tional English tests to take are the In­ter­na­tional English Lan­guage Test­ing Sys­tem ( IELTS) and the Test of English as a For­eign Lan­guage ( TOEFL).

English tests are used to eval­u­ate how well you use and com­bine your lis­ten­ing, read­ing, speak­ing and writ­ing skills in per­form­ing ei­ther aca­demic tasks or daily tasks.

How­ever, tak­ing IELTS or TOEFL is not as sim­ple as walk­ing into an ex­am­i­na­tion hall armed with just pen and pa­per. They should be treated as aca­demic English pa­pers, which stu­dents are ex­pected to study and pre­pare for.

Here are some tips for ac­ing your English ex­am­i­na­tion.

It is im­por­tant to know the struc­ture of your English test and its as­sess­ments. You can get more in­for­ma­tion about tests on web­sites or through the re­spec­tive ex­am­i­na­tion cen­tre. For ex­am­ple, in­for­ma­tion on IELTS can be found on www. ielts. org and in­for­ma­tion on TOEFL can be found on www. ets. org/ toefl.

The test is usu­ally seg­re­gated into dif­fer­ent sec­tions – lis­ten­ing, read­ing, writ­ing and speak­ing. Each sec­tion con­tains its own set of as­sess­ment cri­te­ria, which you should be fa­mil­iar with to en­sure that you meet the re­quire­ments that ex­am­in­ers are look­ing for.

Know­ing the struc­ture and cri­te­ria of each sec­tion will also al­low you to pre­pare for your test bet­ter, which is im­por­tant if you want to max­imise your chances of scor­ing well and work­ing within the al­lo­cated time com­fort­ably.

There are a num­ber of ways to pre­pare for an English ex­am­i­na­tion. You can buy rel­e­vant ex­er­cise books for the English test or down­load sam­ple test ques­tions from the of­fi­cial web­sites.

Some books guide you to­wards achiev­ing a spe­cific score, so en­sure that you are get­ting the ones that suit your re­quire­ments.

Get started on sam­ple ques­tions and re­fer to the an­swers pro­vided to en­sure that you are right on track. A tip is to prac­tise an­swer­ing your sam­ple ques­tions within the time limit so that you can gauge how fast you need to pace your­self in the ac­tual ex­am­i­na­tion.

Know­ing what to ex­pect will take away any un­nec­es­sary pres­sure felt dur­ing the ac­tual ex­am­i­na­tion that may cloud your judge­ment, or worse, cause you to not fin­ish your tasks on time.

Al­ter­na­tively, you can join a cen­tre that spe­cialises in pre­par­ing stu­dents for English tests, ei­ther through classes or work­shops.

Work­ing with a teacher may help im­prove your prospects of scor­ing a higher grade in the ex­am­i­na­tion, so it may be worth­while to con­sider the op­tion if it suits your needs.

We of­ten do not see our own mis­takes. If you have a men­tor, teacher or par­ent with a good com­mand of English, it would be wise to seek ad­vice from them for your test. For ex­am­ple, they can spot gram­mar mis­takes that you have missed or of­fer sug­ges­tions on how to im­prove your sen­tences.

It is par­tic­u­larly use­ful to prac­tise your speak­ing com­po­nent with some­one else, as a sim­u­lated per­for­mance may change com­pletely with the pres­ence of an­other in­di­vid­ual.

This comes in handy in in­stances where you are re­quired to an­swer prompt ques­tions for oral ex­am­i­na­tions.

Sam­ple ques­tions are usu­ally listed in any prac­tice speak­ing ex­am­i­na­tion, en­abling you to get some­one to help you prac­tise.

In sub­jec­tive pa­pers such as writ­ing, hav­ing some­one else mark your pa­per may be use­ful as they can pro­vide feed­back on mis­takes that you may not re­alise you have made.

This is par­tic­u­larly use­ful if you are try­ing to achieve a level of English higher than your cur­rent level.

Al­though the top­ics in each sec­tion may dif­fer from test to test, the over­all test struc­ture will not. There­fore, it would be wise to strate­gise your ap­proach to an­swer­ing each sec­tion.

For ex­am­ple, the IELTS’ writ­ing task is split into two sec­tions. Be strate­gic and know which task you wish to com­plete first as well as your ap­proach to the task.

Some may choose to start writ­ing im­me­di­ately, while oth­ers may take a few min­utes to plan their es­say.

The strat­egy will de­pend on the in­di­vid­ual’s skills and aim in the test.

Be­ing pre­pared and sys­tem­atic also means that you can con­trol any anx­i­ety or pres­sure you may feel dur­ing your English test.

In­stead of burn­ing the mid­night oil, aim to get at least seven hours of sleep be­fore your English test. This will keep you from feel­ing anx­ious or ner­vous on the day of your ex­am­i­na­tion as well as al­low your brain to reg­is­ter all that you have pre­pared for.

Try to ar­rive early be­fore the test to set­tle down and sort out any ad­min­is­tra­tion that needs to be done. Keep your­self hy­drated by drink­ing plenty of wa­ter and main­tain a calm mind to avoid mak­ing mis­takes.

Ul­ti­mately, it is your per­for­mance on the day that counts. With good prepa­ra­tion and a healthy mind, you will stand a higher chance of scor­ing your tar­get grade in your English test.

By prac­tis­ing to­gether, your friends can help pro­vide feed­back on sub­jec­tive pa­pers such as writ­ing.

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