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Does your heart race at the thought of an English-language test? If so, read on as writer and teacher Bruce Kahn shares lessons learned about how to conquer your test-taking fears.
Text by: Bruce Kahn

or many people, the thought of taking a test sends shivers up their spines. I was never a good test taker: I’d break out in a sweat, my heart would start beating fast and the palms of my hands would become sweaty. Standardized tests were especially stressful. I was even nervous taking my driving test!

Now, as a teacher, I can tell you that when you are well-prepared and confident, your anxiety will decrease. If you practice and study for your test – especially an English-language test –you will feel much better. In addition to preparing academically, you can prepare physically by getting a good night’s sleep and practicing breathing exercises to help you relax. Here are some tips to help you ace your next English test.

Before the test

To prepare for your English-language test, try to immerse yourself in English: listen to it, write it, read it and speak it.

To improve your listening skills, watch English-language speaking news channels and listen to sports commentaries. Listening to speakers with different English accents can be helpful. Try watching newscasts from the UK, India or Japan; lectures or presentations by famous people; and cooking demonstrations on the web or YouTube.

Read an English-language newspaper. First read to understand the general idea of the article, then read more carefully and look up words that you don’t know in an English dictionary. This is a good way to increase your vocabulary, increase your reading speed and practice your reading comprehension without the pressure of a timed test.

Find ways to use English in your daily life. When possible, talk to others in English and send e-mails in English to your friends. Consider keeping a daily journal in English.

Become familiar with the format of the test. Is it multiple-choice or fill in the blank? Will you have to write an essay? Will you have to speak? Take practice exams and use the results to see what skills you need to improve.

Get plenty of sleep the night before the exam.

Tips for Taking the Exam

If you’re feeling nervous right before the test, breathe deeply to help you relax. Practice “positive self-talk” – repeat a positive thought or phrase such as “I can do this.”

When you receive the test, read the instructions carefully and understand what you are being asked to do in each section.

Focus on the questions, paying particular attention to words such as ALL, NONE, SOMETIMES, FREQUENTLY, DO, DO NOT, ARE and ARE NOT. Look for ALL OF THE ABOVE, NONE OF THE ABOVE answers. They can be especially tricky.

Underline key words in the questions so they are easy to find. Do the easy questions first. Look for questions with specific data such as time, dates, or measures.

Pace yourself so that you can complete the test. If you don’t know an answer, skip it and go on with the rest of the test. Come back to skipped questions later if you can; maybe another part of the test will jog your memory and help you out with a previous question.

Be aware that often antonyms or synonyms are used in the analogies in the reading and auditory portions. Things are said in the positive, yet the answers are given in the negative but mean the same thing. For example:

1- Trends in the last quarter have been surprisingly high.

2- The results of the last quarter were not as anticipated.

3- Here, “surprisingly” and “not as anticipated” have the same meaning.

The reading comprehension portion may have passages that are long and boring, but answer the questions as best you can. Again, if you have trouble with a question, skip it and return to it later.

If you have time when you are finished, look over your test. Make sure that you have answered all the questions. Change an answer only if you misread or misinterpreted the question, because the first answer you choose is usually the correct one.

If you don’t know an answer to a question, use the process of elimination to narrow down the possibilities. Taking a guess is better than leaving it blank. A blank is guaranteed to give you no points; however, a guess has a chance of being correct.

Watch out for careless mistakes and proofread your essay and/or short answer questions.

With some preparation and a few tricks of the test-taking trade, you can be sure to pass your next exam with flying colors!

Some other interesting tips.

Bring at least two pens/pencils with good erasers, a calculator with enough batteries and any other resources that your instructor allows you to.

Bring a watch to the test so that you can better pace yourself.

Keep a positive attitude throughout the whole test and try to stay relaxed. If you start to feel nervous take a few deep breaths to relax.

Keep your eyes on your own paper, you don’t want to appear to be cheating and cause unnecessary trouble for yourself.

When you first receive your test, do a quick survey of the entire test so that you know how to efficiently budget your time.


Test taking .

Taking tests can be a very scary experience. Bruce Kahn shares his fears but also tells us that if you are well-prepared and confident you will be less scared. He emphasizes the importance of practicing and studying for your test, especially for an English language test. He offers a lot of advice on preparing for and taking an exam.

He says you can prepare physically by getting a good night’s sleep and practicing breathing exercises to help you relax. Before taking the test you should try to immerse yourself in English: listen to it, write it, and speak it. Watch English-language news and read English-language newspapers. You should also become familiar with the format of the test. Learn about the different types of questions and take practice exams to see what you need to study more.

During the exam itself, you should breathe deeply to help you relax and practice saying positive phrases to yourself. Focus on the questions, underline key words, and pace yourself so that you can complete the test calmly. If you don’t know an answer, skip it and answer the rest of the questions. When you finish the test you can go back to the questions you did not answer before. By following the author’s advice you can be better prepared for your test and feel confident when you take it.



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