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Six Tips for Acing Your English Language Proficiency Tests

Six Tips for Acing Your English Language Proficiency Tests

  • Student Tips
Joanna HughesJan 7, 2016

If you’re one of the millions of international students thinking of heading to an English-speaking country during your time abroad, the English language proficiency element may be one of the most intimidating parts of the process. After all, insufficient skills can be a direct impediment to reaching your study abroad goals. However, there are a few simple ways to overcome your fears and conquer exam. Let’s countdown a few of our favorite tips and tricks for surviving English language proficiency tests.

1. Do Your Research

There is not a single standard English language test for non-native English speakers. Rather, the requirements vary from university to university and also from degree to degree. For example, a student who plans on studying English literature may be expected to demonstrate more competence than a student in the sciences or engineering.

The first step in preparing for the exam is understanding each prospective school’s language requirements, including which tests they use and acceptable scores. This information should be readily available at each school’s website.

2. Know the Test

Score du TOEIC, le test d'anglais international

Once you’ve identified which test you need to take, your next step is to familiarize yourself with it. For example, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) comprises four sections with reading and listening being the longest (60-80 minutes and 60-90 minutes, respectively) and writing and speaking being significantly shorter (50 minutes and 20 minutes, respectively). The more you understand the text's structure, the better you can focus your study efforts.

Luckily, there are abundant resources available to help non-native speakers study for the TOEFL and other English language proficiency tests. Use them!

3. Practice with a Friend

Students studying together

There are 335 million native English speakers in the world. Round one of them up and start talking! Perhaps you know an international student looking to practice in your language, or maybe there’s a local community group for English speakers? There’s no better way to hone your skills while growing in confidence than by using them in actual conversation. Practicing with others can also help you improve your pronunciation which will also be a test score booster.

4. Read Up

Woman reading book on the couch

Reading is another easy yet enjoyable way to expand both your vocabulary and language comprehensive. Put down that grammar book every once in awhile and pick up a newspaper, magazine or novel, instead. You’ll not only be exposed to different words and phrases through this diversity of reading materials, but you’ll get a much-needed break from the drudgery of academic texts.

Not sure which reading materials are appropriate for you level? This handy tool from TOEFL and Lexile can help you determine where to start.

Listening to the radio, watching television, and surfing the web are all over great ways to soak in some English.

5. Take Notes

young man studying at home, lifestyle

In English language proficiency test listening sections, you will only be permitted to hear the audio clip once. While this can be stressful, the ability to take good notes in English can be immensely helpful. During your study sessions or even when you're reading or watching television, practice jotting down essential words which can help you make sense of the lecture in order to respond in speaking or writing, as necessary.

Luckily these aren’t wasted skills: They’ll continue to come in handy throughout your academic career.

6. Pace Yourself

Asian beautiful female student studying in library with laptop

English language proficiency tests are marathons, not sprints. While practicing, dedicate a particular amount of time for each exam section and stay within those limits. While it’s easy to get stuck on a difficult question, doing so will detrimentally impact your overall score. If a single question is taking too much time, get in the habit of making you best guess and moving on.

Using practice tests is only part of the big picture. You must also prepare both your body and your brain for the length of the test. White short study sessions can be productive, be sure to also designate time to practice taking the full test.

One last word of advice? If you’re even thinking of choosing a study abroad destination with English language proficiency requirements, start your preparations early. Not only will this help you be good to go when you decide to make the leap, but there’s no downside if you opt for a different direction. Why? Because wherever you end up in life, English language skills are likely to be relevant.

Joanna Hughes

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.