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How to Study for an English Exam

Updated: May 27

Studying for an English exam can be overwhelming - whether it’s for IGCSEs, A-levels, IELTs, or SATs. Unlike subjects like Math or Sciences, English doesn't follow a straightforward checklist of concepts to cover, making it seem less structured. Moreover, there's no foolproof formula that guarantees a top grade in English - Its intricacies defy such simplicity. But there are a variety of communication and writing techniques that you can master to help you achieve a high grade.


student writing while listening to music

Action. Go: An English paper is full of wonderful, complex non-fiction texts. So, keenly reading, annotating and comparing a range of literary non-fiction as part of your preparation will both help you develop the analytical skills you need as well as giving you plenty of inspiration for the writing section of the exam. To get you started, look up the texts used in your exam board’s past papers. Read between the lines:

For each reading question, the first thing you need to identify is which analytical skills are examined. Some questions will want you to focus only on the content of a text, while others will ask you to analyse language, use quotations or summarise the text in your own words. If you know what’s expected, you’ll save time and write more effectively. Purpose, audience and form (PAF): For each writing question, make sure you know what sort of text you’re being asked to produce, the audience you’re writing for and what the question is asking you to accomplish. Whether it’s an article for an educational local magazine persuading schools the disadvantages of implementing uniforms or a blog entry for ‘Top 10 places to visit in Bali’, the purpose, audience and form suggested by the question should shape your writing. PAF should be included in your outline and will make planning for your writing piece simpler.

Know your texts:

If your curriculum requires you to study an anthology of non-fiction extracts, make sure you have annotated each one to the last dot! Develop an eye for detail, identifying specific observations about tone and content along with references to linguistic and structural techniques. Use highlighters to colour code your notes and make it easier to read and differentiate the different elements. Know them like the back of your hand, so that you’re able to tackle any question thrown at you!

Know your Linking Words:

When it comes to seamless writing, study and constantly review key linking words and phrases that can be used in summary and extended writing questions. It is extremely helpful to have a handful of linking words and phrases tucked up your sleeve for different purposes such as Furthermore, On the other hand, Consequently, In my opinion, Without a doubt, etc. Linking words can make your writing easy to read and understand.

Be prepared for any text:

Engage yourself with writing a range of different text types (letter, speech, article, journal entry, interview) and pay attention to the specific tone, language and structure found in these different forms of writing. You can make a mind map or draw up a table of the different types to make it easier to study and thoroughly review them before the big day!

Focus on accuracy: Accurate use of grammar and vocabulary can really hone your writing and make it engaging to read. Make a habit of learning a couple of new words every day and practice using them accurately while speaking and in writing. Aim to communicate your ideas with clarity and precision, using a range of grammatical structures to suit the specific needs of the question. If you are making the same mistakes again and again, this is the time to destroy them for good. Which is the grammatical mistake you are making most frequently

Now is the time to resolve it, so it doesn’t cost you marks in the final exam.

Be adventurous and develop your style:

Often, the difference between the top score in IGCSE English and everything else is your personal style. Specifically, how strongly it shines through your paper. If not, then this is an area you can think about working on. The means to display your own style include tone, and richness of language, unique structure, and many others.


Final Tip: Practice does indeed make perfect. Past papers should give you a better understanding of the English exam, and how to get familiar with the different question types.

Most importantly, they can give you much-needed practice. Practicing with past papers is almost the same as sitting for your own exam, especially if you keep track of time. So, be strict with yourself, use a timer, and see what you can do in the designated time for each question. Practice, practice, practice! 

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