- Languages: the   Qualifications
- Tips for Exam

You or your group may be working towards a recognised language qualification (see Languages: the Qualifications Map ).

All qualifications involve some kind of examination or assessment. Sometimes this is continual assessment - either based in a college or workplace - and sometimes a more formal series of examinations or tests, often divided into the 4 skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Alternatively, your college may have developed their own assessment tasks and tests to monitor progress.

Try not to think of an assessment or examination as something you need to, or are able to, cram for. Language skills are built up gradually through exposure and practice and any test or examination should be a natural part of this. A language examination is not like a geometry test - you can't leave the revision until two days before and then mug up on all the formulae. However, there are some things you can do to prepare both mentally and physically for an examination or important assessment.

General advice

Most of the general advice for examinations is common sense and designed to help eliminate unnecessary stress:

In advance:

  • Plan to start revising early - 5/6 weeks before the exam.
  • Plan your revision timetable in short but frequent slots (i.e. 20 minutes once a day rather than 3 hours once a week).
  • Familiarise yourself with the exam or assessment structure. Most qualification boards will make past papers available for you to practice (see Language Organisations: Exam boards ).
  • If possible, plan to do at least some of your revision with a friend or colleague.

On the day:

  • Get plenty of rest the night before.
  • Check you have all the correct equipment (dictionary, pens, etc.).
  • Make sure you know exactly where you're going.
  • Turn up early.
  • Go to the toilet before the exam.
  • Read the exam paper carefully and plan your time.
  • Allow time to check your answers - don't leave a question blank.

Language revision

The two main areas where you can most usefully revise for a language examination are vocabulary and basic grammar rules. You can also do things to improve your confidence in listening and speaking.


Vocabulary is a key pillar of language learning. It's not much help knowing all the different types of verb ending if you can't remember the word for "college" or "learn". The range and scope of vocabulary required for any particular qualification will vary but try to ensure you have instant recall of the key words and phrases and can spell them accurately. Some ways of revising vocabulary are:

  • Look at the glossaries at the end of the Access units. Cover the English and try to remember the words and phrases. Then reverse the process, this time saying and spelling out the vocabulary. Work your way down the list and also up to vary the order.
  • Write out vocabulary on small cards (up to 20 at a time), with the English on the other side. Shuffle the cards and try to recall the vocabulary. Keeping shuffling and checking until you can remember them all both ways around.
  • Write out the first and last letters of words, leaving blanks for the letters in the middle.
    Then try to fill in the blanks without referring to the original list.
  • Try to make sentences containing the word or phrase. This will help you to remember them.
  • Make up some games you can play by yourself or with a friend. For example, you could play the memory game: put 10-15 objects or word cards on a tray and look at for 30 seconds. Then cover and write those you can remember.


It's useful to look back at the main grammatical points before an examination or assessment, especially if you know you often make mistakes in particular structures. Concentrate on the irregularities and exceptions as these are harder to retain.

  • Look at the Structure summary at the end of the Access book. Write out your own summary notes. This will help you to remember the rules and you can also refer to the notes later.
  • Apply the rules - make up sentences or dialogues using the structure or go back to the relevant activities in the Access book and website.
  • Invest in a supplementary grammar reference and/or workbook, but make sure it's aimed at the right level.

Listening and speaking

Most language qualifications include a listening and speaking assessment. These can be intimidating, particularly the oral exam when it is common to complain that your mind goes "blank". Improve your confidence by trying some of these strategies:

  • Immerse yourself as much as possible in the language. Listen to radio and TV broadcasts; play the Access recordings and other language audio material; seek out native speakers and insist on practising on them.
  • Try to predict the topics that will come up. Prepare set phrases and conversation fillers to match the topics.
  • Set yourself oral tasks (such as talking about your family) and record yourself, or perform in front of a mirror. Recording is the most beneficial as it enables you to review and assess your fluency and accent.
  • Remember that saying something inaccurate is better than saying nothing at all.