English tests are all different. To study for an English test, you need to know as much as possible about the test you’ll be taking. In particular:
- Which skills will be tested
- How the scoring works
- How much time you’ll have
Our guide to English tests has all the details about the main standardized tests (TOEFL, IELTS, Cambridge, etc.), but if you’re taking a different English test, you’ll need to do the research yourself. Once you know how the test works, you can begin studying. Here’s our advice:
- Study what will be on the test. This may seem obvious, but when faced with a test, you’d be surprised how many people start taking random English quizzes online, go watch Netflix without subtitles, or pull out their course notes from 2 years ago, all in the name of studying for their English test. A good general knowledge of English isn’t going to hurt, but you can work on that after the test. Focus your energy on studying the material you’re sure will be tested.
- Don’t fear memorization. Learning English includes memorizing new vocabulary, expressions, and idioms. If those will be on your test, you need to learn them. Flash cards (or flash card apps) can help. You’ll recall things more easily if you memorize & review in tiny chunks throughout the day. 5 times a day for 3 minutes is better than 15 minutes all at once.
- Practice tests are your friends. If you’re taking a standardized English test, you can buy practice tests for that test. They’ll help you get more comfortable with the question style and grading criteria. If the English test you’re studying for isn’t standardized, see if you can get copies of the test from previous years with answer keys, or work with a classmate to make each other practice tests. The genius of practice tests is that they not only help you study, they also make you more relaxed on test day.
- Maximize your score. There are English tests where you lose points for getting something wrong but when you leave a blank, you aren’t penalized. There are English tests where the last essay is worth the most points. There are English tests that score for range of vocabulary as well as accuracy. Find out how your English test will be scored and figure out your strategy before test day so you’re not trying to juggle those calculations while the timer’s running.
Whichever exam you’re preparing for, the way you study for an English test will have a big impact on your results. Study hard, but also study smart!