As an international student you will be taking tests in English before you go to study abroad, and after you have begun your studies in an English speaking country. Whether you are taking the IELTS or TOEFL, or a series of standardized tests in the country of choice, all the tests have similar strategies to test your English comprehension and skills.
Knowing how to take these tests can be crucial to your success.
Let’s look at a sample essay question and go over some strategies. These hints have been proven to dramatically increase test scores for second language learners. Remember, most essay tests offer the student two or three options to write about. Here is an example:
Question A: Is it better to encourage individualism or conformity in society? Why or why not?
Question B: If you could change one day in your life, what would you change? Explain your answer.
In the USA and the UK keep in mind that although many test proctors cannot give you any advice on a test, most may define vocabulary words for you. If anything is unclear feel free to ask them. If you are not allowed to ask these questions then choose the test question you understand the most. Do not try to answer a question that is not clear to you.
Examine the test question carefully. Pay special attention to the grammar and how the question is set up. In our example, note that Question A is written in simple present but Question B is written as a hypothetical sentence. This means your answer must be in the subjunctive mood or the future conditional. If you are unsure about applying this kind of grammar in your writing choose the simpler question.
When writing answers consider your time limit and always allow yourself five minutes maximum to either develop an outline, a mind map or a word/phrase cluster. You will be given scrap paper to do these functions; if not, ask for some before the test starts. Like most students, you will probably start to hurry as the time runs out; this causes good ideas to fly out of your head. Ordering your thoughts logically before you begin the main writing task allows you to refer to your outline or notes. This strategy ensures that everything gets down on the test paper despite the time stress factor.
Most students think that the more they write the higher their score. This is not true. Write no more than is necessary. Remember, official examiners are paid to read hundreds of exams, all with the same test questions. Long, rambling papers are not what they are like or consider as superior writing. High marks depend on precision and clarity. All good academic writing has logical sequences and good organization. Writers start with an introduction/thesis that has a lucid topic sentence. Next, you follow with a few nicely transitioned body paragraphs.
Finally, you end with a clear conclusion that offers a closing thought and restates your original topic idea. While writing please keep in mind that Western writing is rational, logical and linear, just as Western cultural norms are direct and to the point.
Before you hand in your essay, review it carefully. An excellent tip is to read the essay backwards, from the last sentence to the first. You can do this by using a blank sheet of scrap paper to cover up the sentences, so that your eyes follow only one sentence at a time. You can also read the paper “aloud” to yourself in your mind. This technique is used by professional writers around the globe to improve and edit their own work.
After you have handed in your paper let it go mentally. I’m sure that you have given it your best effort. You will waste valuable energy and emotion by worrying over the results. The answers will come whether you agonize or not, and many tests, such as the IELTS, may be taken over. If you must repeat a writing test it is not shameful. Hemingway wrote his stories, editing each over 60 times. Good luck!