The Days Before the Exam

Of course you’re nervous.  If you weren’t, you’d have a problem.  The question is:  what are you going to do with your nervous energy?  Will you be able to use it to increase your focus? Or will it overwhelm you and disperse your concentration?  As the day of the exam approaches, you need to be able to take that nervous energy and focus it on large, fundamental ideas, not the thousands of mini-details that are running around your head. So what I’d like to do in this blog entry is review the key ideas that you need to focus on in each section of the test so you will be able to use your energy productively. Let’s start with the Reading section.

Reading:  This blog has gone over tactics for specific reading questions, but as the exam approaches, make sure your plans for the Prose Summary and Fill-in-a- Table Questions are solid.  For the Prose Summary,  ask yourself the following:

·  Have I read the top line to make sure I know what information they are looking for? Words like «methods», «factors» or «differences» can help make clear what is required.

·  Can I distinguish between major ideas (fully developed, summarize paragraphs) and minor ideas (briefly mentioned, little explanation and development)

For the Fill-in-a-Table Question, consider the following:

· Are you clear about which paragraph(s) correspond to each category in the question?

·  Do you have a method to begin answering? (i.e. do the easy ones first, then work on each category by re-reaading the paragraph).  There are multiple methods to doing this question well but the important thing is to have a consistent, organized way to start.


Again, there are blog entries that cover the details, but the fundamental things to focus on are the following:

· Do you check your notes before answering? Are your notes understandable? Have you taken too many notes?

·  Are you focused at the very beginning of the conversation/lecture to catch the main idea of the class or problem of the student? When you evaluate the answers of detail questions, do you consider them in terms of which answer is most consistent with the main idea(s)?


Unfortunately, this blog hasn’t gotten into the details fo this section of the exam, something I hope to remedy soon with a series of videos.  As a preview, here are some general ideas for each question.

Question 1:  Answer directly with very little introduction and a rising intonation on the direct answer to the question.  Never forget this is an argument in favor of your point of view.  Examples and details must all support this argument.

Question 2:  Avoid the expression «it depends».  Take a strong position in favor of one of the options and defend it.

Question 3:  Begin with the point of view of the person mentioned in the question, then summarize the information in the reading that explains what his or her point of view is about.  Then transition to the person’s reasons.  Make sure that the focus is on the person mentioned in the question.  If the question asks about the woman, you don’t need to discuss the man’s point of view.

Question 4:  Focus on the question as it will tell you the information you need to include (and the information you can leave out).  Express your understanding of the logical relationship between the reading and listening (contrast, definition/example)

Question 5:  Directly state the student’s problem, then give the friend’s two recommendations, also including any objections the student may have.  Then transition to your opinion with about 15-20 seconds remaining, justifying that opinion with a reason.

Question 6  Your first sentence should give a general overview of the lecture.  Then follow the professor’s  organizational structure as you summarize the main points.  Remember that short, direct sentences can often cover more material than long, complex sentences.


Again, this is something covered in a previous blog, but on the day of the exam, keep these things in mind

Integrated Task:  Like question 4 in the speaking, make clear that you understand the logical relationship between the reading and the listening.  A complete summary of the reading isn’t necessary, but you must include all of the information that is relevant to the listening.  Look for opportunities to explicitly contrast or connect the information in the reading and listening.

Independent Task:  Make sure your reader knows your diret answer to the question in the first paragraph.  The introduction should also mention the reasons that you will develop in paragraphs 2 and 3.  You should include at least one example to support your argument and this example should be as detailed as possible.

Finally for both writing tasks, you will need a clear idea of what your typical errors are, and where they are likely to occur.  Reviewing these before the exam will help you avoid them.

Stay tuned for more updates in the weeks ahead.