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