General exam tips

This section gives advice on the best way to approach different tasks in language examinations.



  • Look at the title or headline, then quickly read through the first few paragraphs to get a general idea of what the text is about. Then read the headings or summary sentences.
  • Then as you read each paragraph carefully, underline four or five words which together give the main idea of what the paragraph is about.
  • Read each paragraph several times and try to match the paragraph to one of the headings or summary sentences.
  • Keep an open mind and be prepared to change your answers as you read further into the text.



  • Quickly read through the first few paragraphs of the text to get an idea of what the text is about. Then read the whole text carefully.
  • When answering the questions, first decide which part of the text a question relates to.
  • Before deciding which option (A, B, C or D) is correct, find reasons in the text to eliminate the other three options.
  • When answering questions about the whole text, think about the layout, the type of information the text contains and its style.



  • First predict from the title or headline what the text might be about and quickly read through the text to confirm this.
  • Read the paragraphs or sentences that go in the gaps and identify what the topic of each one is. Use this information to work out how they might logically fit into the sequence of the text.
  • Think about what the articles, pronouns, conjunctions and time expressions in the paragraphs or sentences might refer to.
  • Closely read the sentences before and after each gap, and work out what function the missing sentence or paragraph must have.
  • Make your decisions, not necessarily in order. After filling most of the gaps you may be able to work by a process of elimination.
  • Finally, when you have made all your decisions, read through your completed text to make sure it makes sense.


  • Quickly familiarise yourself with the main text, the title and headings and how the text is divided up. Then read the questions.
  • Read the text to locate information rather than to understand it in detail. Look at each question and then scan the text to locate where the information might be found.
  • When you think you have located the correct information, decide whether the word or phrase you have located in the text is an accurate paraphrase of the word or phrase in the question.
  • Be prepared to change your first answers, because you may change your mind when you read the text further in search of another piece of information.
  • Mark the places in the text where you locate answers so that you can quickly check through at the end.




  • Read all the information included in the question very carefully and underline all the points you are told to include.
  • Before writing, decide:

— your reason for writing;

— who you are writing to and how this will affect your style of writing;

— what result you hope the letter will achieve.

  • Make a draft or outline of the letter to check that you have included all the points and grouped or organised them in a logical way.
  • Read your letter through when it is written and think about the person who is going to receive it and whether it would have the right effect.



  • Choose a question where you have a good idea of the style and format the piece of writing requires.
  • Answer the question. Do not just write in a general way or make something you have written before try to fit the question.
  • Follow this procedure for writing:

— brainstorm your ideas on paper;

 — organise and link your ideas;

— write a first draft;

— edit your first draft;

— write your final draft.

  • Go into the exam with a clear idea of the kinds of writing mistakes you often make, then when you are editing your work, keep a special look-out for these kinds of mistakes.




  • You may have to pay attention to the stress and intonation, the speed at which the speakers speak and/or their sex, rote, age, manner, hesitation, etc.
  • Listen for information which helps you to eliminate wrong options as well as identify correct ones.


  • Questions in both types of task follow the same sequence as the information heard on the recording.
  • You will not lose a mark for incorrect spelling if it is clear what word you intended to write, except where a word is spelt out for you on the recording.
  • Try to write down an answer to all the questions as you listen to the recording the first time and then confirm whether your answer is right or needs changing as you listen the second time.


  • Read the questions through carefully beforehand in the time you are given. Think about the focus of the question. For example, are you listening to decide on the speaker, the place, etc.?
  • Don't try to understand every word or every part of the listening text. Concentrate on listening for ideas or words on the recording that relate to key words in the questions.
  • Try to write down the answers when you hear the recording the first time and then confirm or change them the second time you hear the recording.


  • Use the time you are given before the recording starts to read through the questions and think about the options. Predict, for example, what you might hear on the recording if something is true or what you might hear if it is false.
  • The information is given on the recording in the same order as the questions, so make sure you focus on the right question at the right time.
  • Try to note down the answers the first time you hear the recording and then confirm or change them the second time you listen.





  • Relax!
  • Listen carefully to the interlocutor's instructions.
  • This part of the paper is your opportunity to give information about yourself. Answer the questions fully and naturally. Remember to expand on short answers.


  • The interlocutor will ask you to compare and contrast two photographs and to speculate or give an opinion about one aspect of them.
  • Think about using language that will allow you to move comfortably from one photograph to the other and back again.
  • Make meaningful comparisons between the pictures that relate to the interlocutor's question.
  • If you dry up, simply talk about another aspect of the pictures.


  • Listen carefully to the instructions the interlocutor gives, and make sure you follow them. If you don't understand, ask for further explanation.
  • Try neither to dominate your partner nor to be dominated. Give your opinion, get your partner's opinion, and talk about your opinions together.
  • Don't overuse expressions you have learnt, as you will make your discussion sound unnatural if you do.
  • If you can't remember or don't know any language, don't worry. Find another way of saying the same thing.


  • Listen carefully to the interlocutor's questions and make sure your answers are relevant. Again, ask for explanation if you don't understand.
  • Listen carefully to your partner's answers as you may think of things you wish to add.
  • Expand on your answers: give reasons, examples, etc. and relate the questions to your own experience.