031 : How to prepare for an English exam



A few weeks ago I watched a video clip where an American man took an exam, an English exam with three other Korean individuals. Now, the three Korean individuals were actually intermediate English language learners, so they could speak English, but they weren’t perfect. They weren’t native speakers. What they wanted to do was see how they would do in comparison to the native English speaker. So all four individuals took the exam, but the results were astonishing. You see, because even though the man was a native English speaker, I mean from the time he was born to the time currently where he’s taking the test, English had been the only language he had spoken. He still got a lower score on the exam then the intermediate English language learners.

So you’re probably asking yourself, “How is that possible? Why did that happen?” Well, you see, the reason is because those three English learners knew how to take the test. You see, even though the English speaker was a native English speaker, he did not know the proper way to take that specific exam. And that’s exactly what we are going to talk about today. Today, I want to teach you the five steps for properly preparing for any English exam.

Welcome to the Speak English With Tiffani podcast. A podcast especially created for intermediate and advanced English learners. In this podcast, you will learn the specific English tips and tricks that will make you a better English speaker. This podcast will take your English ability to the next level and help you to be more confident and more fluid when you speak English. Are you ready? Well, then let’s jump right in.


Hey, everyone, this is teacher Tiffani and I want to thank you so much for joining me for another episode of the Speak English With Tiffani podcast. I just want to remind you before we start that if you want to read it along with the transcript, go to speakenglishwithtiffani.com/episode31, and you can read along with the transcript for this episode.

Before I wrote this episode and prepared this podcast episode, I was receiving lots of messages from students who just like you sometimes had to prepare for an English exam. I had some students who were messaging me about the IELTS speaking exam or the TOEFL exam or the TOEIC exam or the OPIC exam. There were so many exams that they were trying to prepare for, and they were all asking me for tips and tricks and ways to study for these exams because they wanted to get high scores.

Now, some of these students needed these exams because they wanted to travel to another country and study in that country, whether it be America or Europe or Australia. Some students actually wanted to pass the exam because they needed to get a better job. But the problem was even though these exams were testing their English ability, they were all very different. This means that they just couldn’t study English in a general way. Instead, they had to study specifically for that English test. That’s why I wanted to kind of dive into it a little bit more deeper on how to actually study for these English exams. Now, there are five steps that I’ve come up with that will really help you excel and do well on any English exam. I hope you have your pencil or your pen and paper and notebook ready to take down notes as we talk about these five steps. So let’s jump right in.

All right. The first step is do a practice exam. Yes, you heard me right. The first thing you need to do is find a practice exam and take it. Don’t find a book to read. Don’t start studying. The first thing you need to do is actually do a practice exam. Now, let me explain to you why this is so important. You see, you need to first learn the style of the exam you are preparing for before you start to study for it. Remember, earlier in the example I was telling you about the story with the native English speaker not passing the exam because he didn’t know how to take that exam.

So it’s not about your ability, it’s more about learning the style of the exam first. Okay? So it’s also about your ability for that specific test. I remember speaking to some students who were actually in my upper-level class. They were advanced English speakers in my class, and they had to take an exam, this was while I was living in Korea, they had to take an exam for their job. However, they told me that they got intermediate on the exam. Now, I am a native English speaker, and I am a teacher, and I’ve been a teacher for almost 10 years, and they could speak well. We could have a really good conversation, and their understanding was amazing but because they didn’t know how to take that specific exam, they got a low score. So that’s why it’s important to first do a practice exam. Okay.

It’s good for familiarizing yourself with the test and also the timing, how the test is timed. Okay. So where can you find these tests? You can go on Google or to online blogs or websites to search for example, or practice exams for the specific tests that you need to prepare for. You can find sites that have free examples. Remember, it can be older versions of the test. The test normally will be in the same method, or the same pattern. So older tests are okay, you just need to get your hands on one of the exams to do a practice one. You can look online, or you can also go to the bookstore and find books related to the test. Many times these books will have example exams or practice exams in the back part of the book. Okay. Or you can also go to test centers or language institutes that may also provide you with a practice test or a practice exam. So again, the most important thing is step one, do a practice exam, okay?

All right. Now step two, for step two, you need to review your results. Okay. So after you’ve taken the practice exam, you need to look over your answers. But what’s going to happen and what’s very key is you need to order the sections from easiest to hardest based on your scores. So let’s say, for example, you take a practice exam and there’s a listening, a speaking, a writing, and a reading or comprehension section. Now, those are four sections, but let’s say your strongest section, the section you got the highest score in was the reading or comprehension section. However, the section where you got the lowest score was the listening section. So you need to organize the sections by the section you got the best grade into the section you got the worst grade in.

Now, let me explain why this is important. You see, you need to personally recognize your own English weak points and your English strong points. Okay? You need to know both of them, it’s very important. You see, this will become the basis of how you study for the exam. Once you know your weak points and your strong points, you can then begin to organize your study plan and again, we’ll get into that a little bit later, but this is another reason why it’s important to do this. Also, you can recognize which portions of the exam you need to practice with more. Okay. Remember, again, I said my advanced level students could speak well, but when they took the test, they didn’t do well. It’s because they needed to do a practice exam, and they needed to recognize the parts or portions of the exam that they needed to study more. Okay.

How do you do this? So what you need to do is you check your answers, whether it be multiple choice or however the test is set-up. Then you check if there are explanations for the specific questions. Let’s say, for example, you got number and number two correct but number three was wrong. You need to figure out why number three was wrong, so you need to find an explanation somewhere, whether it be online or in a book that explains specifically that question and why it was that answer for that question.

Now, if you can’t find them, you can try to look at other students’ answers, and you can analyze the answers and compare their answers to yours to see what the difference is. Why did they get one answer correct, and you got your answer wrong? Okay. Now, as you’re analyzing and comparing, you need to be writing these things in your notebook. Remember, you’re a basically analyzing your own English speaking ability, which is kind of amazing because even though you’re not a native English speaker, you will have the ability to gauge or measure your ability whether you’re improving or not improving, whether you’re a weak or whether you’re strong in a certain area. Okay. So again, once again, number two, review your results. Okay?

All right. Step number three. What you’re going to do now is find books and resource materials for each section. Okay. Specifically for each section. Now, let me explain why this is important. Remember, you’ve already taken the exam. You’ve already reviewed your results. Now, it’s time to jump into actually studying for the test based on the sections. You see, you need to focus more on the exam instead of just a general study of English. Now, prior to taking the exam, maybe your study style was you’d watch a YouTube video, or you’d listened to a podcast, or maybe you even had an English grammar book that you were studying. This was the method you were using prior to preparing for the exam. However, after you’ve taken the practice exam after you reviewed your results, you now need to change your focus, and your study style. Okay? So you need to find materials, resources that will help you do this. Okay.

Now, the resource material will give you tips and tricks specifically for passing the exam. Okay. Specifically for the exam and you will become more familiar with the style of the exam, which will help you relax on test day. Now, I’ll be very honest with you all. I’ve told you all that I speak Korean and I’ve had to take many tests in Korean and I had to also do the same thing when I was preparing for these tests because the tests were set-up a lot different from the tests that I had taken when I was living in America.

So I had to practice before the exam so that I can learn the timing, the set-up, the sections, and also how to actually answer the questions. Okay. So trust me, I understand what you’re going through. Okay. Now, let me give you some examples of where you can find these books and resource materials. You can go online to blogs and websites related specifically to the exam you will be taking. For example, when I was preparing the IELTS speaking video lesson that I did for you all several months back, I found a website where this lady talks about how to pass the IELTS exam, and it’s an amazing website. I’ll put it in the notes so that you guys can also look at this website if you are preparing for the IELTS exam, but there are so many websites specifically for certain English exams, so you need to find those websites. Okay.

Next, books related to the exam. Usually, there are practice questions and exams in the backs of these books. Finally, language institutes or test centers, so usually these institutes or test centers will have free copies of old exams or practice exams or different materials you can use to prepare for the exam. Now, sometimes they will ask for a small fee, but I think it’s worth it to pay the small fee if you can get the resource specifically for the exam you are preparing for. Okay. So once again, step three is find books or resource materials specifically for the section you are studying on the test. Okay. All right.

Now, number four, select the date that you want to take the exam. That’s right. Select the date. Now, you’re going to determine the amount of time you have to study for the exam and make a schedule based on the amount of time you have. Now, why is this important? You need to have a set time, which will help you organize your study plan. When you’re studying English, it’s so important to be organized and especially when you’re studying and preparing for an English exam. Okay? It will also help you figure out what to focus on and for how long. Okay. It will give you a goal to work towards and, in other words, it will become your motivation instead of just a future goal.

For example, I’ve talked to some students, and they’ve told me, “Teacher, the reason I’m studying English is because I want to pass an exam.” I said, “Okay, great. When is the exam?” “Oh, teacher, I haven’t selected a date yet. I’m just studying.” Now, that student was studying, but I could tell, because they didn’t have a date in mind, they’re studying was not focused. Maybe they’d study for 10 minutes today and maybe tomorrow they wouldn’t study and then the following day they’d be 20 minutes, but because a date had not been selected, there was no focus.

It’s very important you to select the exact date that you want to take the exam, and then we’re going to begin making a study schedule. So now I’m going to explain how to make the schedule. For example, what you’re going to do first is contact the test center that you would like to take the test at. Then calculate the number of days you have remaining until the test. Split those days into the number of sections on the test, plus a buffer period. Now, let me explain what this means. Let’s look at it with actual numbers. Let’s say, for example, the test that I’m going to be taking has three different sections. Okay? Then I’ve called the test center, and I found out that the date of the test is 100 days from today.

What I’m going to do is I’m going to split that 100 days into three different parts, but I need to add a buffer period. I’m going to say three 30-day periods. Well, that equals up to 90 days, which means I have a 10-day buffer period. I’m going to explain how to use this buffer period. Okay. I have three different sections, so three 30-day periods. Now, what’s going to happen is you’re going to study the hardest section first. Remember, in step two, you reviewed your results, so you already know based on your results, which section is the hardest for you? Okay? The first period is going to be for that hardest section. During the first 30 days, focus only on that section, you heard me correctly. Only on that section, you’re going to study it very hard. Do lots of practice, study the grammar that you need for that section, whatever you need to do to excel in that section.

Now, during the second 30-day period, I’m going to move onto the second section, but I’m also going to review the first section for a short time every single day. Let me explain it. So again, we’re in the second part, so the second group, the second 30-day period, and I’m going over the second section, which means the section that was not hard but not easy. It was kind of in the middle. I’m studying for that section, but I also need to review what I studied for the first 30 days, which was the hard section. Okay.

Now, we’re moving forward to the third group. The third 30-day period. This is going to be the information that was very easy to me on the test. So I’m going to study that for 30 days, but every single one of those days I’m also going to review the first and the second section’s for a short time every single day. What you’re noticing is there’s a lot of overlapping, a lot of studying going on that’s overlapping. So I’m going from my hardest section to my sort of easy section to my very easy section as I’m moving closer to the test. But you see the hardest section has now been reviewed for 90 days. So that when I get to the exam, when you get to the exam, you will be so comfortable with that section. Okay.

Now, finally, we have that 10-day, that buffer period. During that 10-day period, you’re going to review all three sections equally. Now, again, you know yourself. You know what you need to review more. A lot of you are living in a situation where you don’t have access to native English speakers. I’m very happy to speak with you via this podcast, but you don’t have a physical teacher that can sit with you every single day going over your English ability. Maybe it costs too much, or you just don’t know that many native English speakers, but you do know yourself. So I want you to believe in yourself and during that 10 day period, really look at what your abilities are. Okay? All right.

Now, at the end of each section, now we’re going to move into step number five. The final step. Step number five is at the end of each section, do another practice test for that section only. Now, again, I’ll explain how this works. Remember, step four you selected the date, and you made a study schedule, and remember our example was for a 100-day period, three sections of 30 days, and then one 10 day buffer period. What’s going to happen is let’s say the first 30-day period, my most difficult section was the listing section. After that 30 days, I need to immediately take another practice exam only for the listening section. Okay? Then let’s say the second section, the second 30-day period was for my writing section. It was a little bit hard, not easy, not hard, but kind of difficult. I will take another practice exam only for that section. Okay?

Now, here’s why this is important. You see, you can test how you improved after focusing on that section. You’re trying to see your improvement. You can recognize your weaknesses and your strengths. After taking the practice exam again, as you move into the next 30-day period, where you’re reviewing every day, you know what to review, okay. You can see which parts have become the easiest. All right?

So these are the five steps to follow, and you can prepare for any English exam.


Okay. Now, quick review. One more time. Step one once again is do a practice exam. Step two, review your results. Step three, find books or resource materials. Step four, select the date for your exam and make a study schedule. And step five at the end of each section, do another practice test for that section.

Now, honestly, I want each of you to excel and to reach all of your goals and to pass these English exams with flying colors, which just means to pass them with a high score. So I hope these five steps really help you as you prepare for your next English exam. Remember, if you want to see the transcript for this episode, go to speakenglishwithtiffani.com/episode31. This has been teacher Tiffani with the Speak English With Tiffani podcast. Until next time, remember to speak English.

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Sakina laxmidhar
Sakina laxmidhar
5 years ago

Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart.your guidance gives me a lot of courage. your lessons r excellent.stay blessed always ????.????

Sakina laxmidhar
Sakina laxmidhar
5 years ago

Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart.your guidance gives me a lot of courage. your lessons r excellent.this podcast gives me an idea how to prepare for an exams,as i m preparing for ilets.
Stay blessed always ????.????.

Sakina laxmidhar
Sakina laxmidhar
5 years ago

I m so happy to receive your personal reply.its an honour for me. thank you very much ???? god bless you.

5 years ago

Thank you for help us to improve our English skills. I’m going to take an exam next year and your lessons are helping me a lot.

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Jefferson Ismay
4 years ago

Thank you , thank you ever so much for ur helping I learned a lot may God bless you!!!!

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