Pigs might fly, over the finish line.

In honour of Hampshire Farmers’ Market’s Hog Race we thought we’d look at the pig’s place in the English language. The event is a repeat of last year’s success here’s a link to what it looked like. What is a “hog” and what is a “pig”. While the technical details are mostly only important to farmers all hogs are pigs but not all pigs are hogs.

Why all the hog/pig related stuff in Winchester? Well Winchester is the county town of Hampshire, the centre of county government if no longer the biggest/most important city, and a Hog has long been a symbol of Hampshire, a symbol of the long agricultural tradition and the county’s rich farmland.

photo credit: Phillie Casablanca via photopin cc

photo credit: Phillie Casablanca via photopin cc

To live “high on the hog” – implies that the people are living well, at least very comfortably possibly even enjoying serious luxury.

“Hogs back” both the name of a town in South Africa and a Brewery located near a hill with this name between Winchester and London the term also is fairly widely applied to long low lumpy hills that look, at least from one angle, like the shoulders and back of a pig.

To be a “hog” or to be a “pig” means to act in a way that prevents or discourages someone else from using something that should be open to all. Ex: “Stuart is a hog where the coffee is concerned, make sure you get a cup before he arrives or you’ll have to make a new pot.”

To “hog” something means to try to get or keep all or most of it for yourself. Ex: “People who hog seats on busy trains, for their bags really annoy me.”

If something is described as a “pig” it is awkward or difficult. Ex: “You’ll have to slam the door; it’s a real pig to get closed in this weather.”

A “pig’s ear” is a mess. Ex: “Carol made a real pig’s ear of the contracts the suppliers were not supposed to know about our 300% mark up.” Originally from the old saying “You can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear”.

Go the whole hog – means to do everything or do it all. My uncle went the whole hog and had 34 members of the family for Christmas dinner last year.

If you call someone a “pig” you’re insulting them it collocates well with things like sweaty, smelly, dirty, greedy, and fat. Try not to do this, it isn’t nice. “Pig” is also a derogatory slang term for a police officer, if you say it to their face you might get to try on “linked bracelets”.

“Piggy eyes” if you describe someone as having piggy eyes you mean small beady eyes (not normally considered attractive) it can also mean someone who doesn’t conceal their greed very well. Ex: “I brought the cake in and Norman went all piggy eyes at it, he must have eaten half of it.”

Pigs in blankets are sausages wrapped in bacon.

photo credit: ant217 via photopin cc

photo credit: ant217 via photopin cc

A piggy bank: traditionally a ceramic pig with a slot for coins in the top that you had to smash to get the money out. To raid the piggy bank, means to take money out of savings, perhaps inappropriately or unwisely. Ex: “We really needed a holiday so we raided the piggy bank and went away for a rest.”

photo credit: 401(K) 2013 via photopin cc

photo credit: 401(K) 2013 via photopin cc

To pig out: to eat excessively. Ex: “I know I’m supposed to be on a diet, but Catherine’s brownies are so good I couldn’t help pigging out and having one.”

Happy as a pig in mud (and sometimes worse substances) when you are really happy and content not worried about anything you are “happy as a pig in s- – -!”

“Pig’s swill”, a nasty unpleasant liquid can be called this, from the mixed organic waste that pigs were often fed mixed with water.

To “squeal like a pig” means to tell on people, usually to an authority figure and so the people get into trouble. Ex: “Harry was known to squeal like a pig if the headmaster so much as looked at him, so nobody ever told poor Harry anything”

“Pigs might fly” is an idiom used to express disbelief or amazement. Ex: “Gloria quit smoking! And pigs might fly she’s a complete chimney.”


Ivan went to Japan

A guest blog from Ivan Preston.

Japan Visit 2014

My name is Ivan

What is my role at ELTSU? The Head of English Language Teaching. Despite the long title, I also exist amongst the living too!!

Why am I writing this blog? Because James (teacher) thought it would be a good idea for me to share my experiences following a recent visit to our university partners in Japan.

. . . of course, I agreed and here it is.

All our Japanese partners send students to ELTSU typically on our seasonal schools, study abroad and academic English programmes. While our partners also visit us each year, it is important to ensure our face to face relations remain strong and that we demonstrate a commitment to each other for the benefit of the students and transfer of knowledge. When I travel to Japan it is also a great opportunity to try to understand how Japanese culture manifests itself. Without this experience it would be very difficult to connect with our Japanese partners, who make a similar effort to understand us. Those that I meet with have a student centred understanding of what we are all do in this one small, but significant corner of Internationalisation.

One thing I said I would do for the Unit is share my wider observations of Japan, which can only ever be a personal interpretation of places and things. You may have already experienced these and if so please feel free to share your own comments.


Shibuya Crossing

Japan is many things from the traditional to the super modern, but of the top 10 things to see while in Japan, Shibuya Crossing never fails to hit high on the list. Having found a couple of hours in my otherwise busy schedule, after checking into my hotel, I made my way to the well-known Shibuya Crossing to witness what was surely a demonstration in “ordered chaos” and to-boot; something of a spectator sport from the first floor of the Starbucks Coffee house. Here, where the world seems to collectively dissolve when the green light signals go from every direction, the red light resumes a sense of order more expected of the country I was in; truly, the entire open space fills as blocks of people descend upon each other from every possible direction. The crossing itself has five zebra-crossings; four of which mark the boundary of the very large area known as Shibuya Crossing and a seemingly pointless fifth marking stretching diagonally over the space. Within the space, which at an instant filled and unfilled with vehicles and people (regardless of which way the markings suggested one might like to walk) the crossings true sense of spectacle is in its ephemeral nature almost making each moment different to the preceding one. Chaos and order share a space that is like no other as vehicles and people switch between static and chaotic states; one opposing the other almost conscientiously pronouncing that this is our space as they perform the crossing, while the other waits in the sidings to advance. There is something forceful in how the vehicles leap into action and command the space as the lights change, somewhat in contrast to the pedestrians more sedate crossing demanding that the other wait. Even the cyclists cross with the pedestrians out of what must be a sense of self-preservation. I would otherwise say the Crossing is an accident waiting to happen, but in this case, in the Japanese case that is, it works! Sit in Starbucks and observe the spectacle if you are ever in Tokyo; you won’t be disappointed.

Photo: Ivan Preston

Photo: Ivan Preston

Hiroshima Peace Memorial

Travelling up country from Kokura to Nagoya I made a 2 hour hop at Hiroshima. The best way to get to the Memorial is via tram, some of which date back to the war itself. The memorial is a vast space encompassing a museum as well as the memorial landscape, the former I did not have time to visit unfortunately. This space represents so much, but yet is clearly means different things to the many that visit the site. A space teaming with people, school children on trips, organised groups, tourists from Europe as well as the US and those that clearly have a closer connection to the space and its meaning.

The Atomic Dome, Photo: Ivan Preston

The Atomic Dome, Photo: Ivan Preston



The Eternal Flame in front of the Museum, Photo: Ivan Preston

The Eternal Flame in front of the Museum, Photo: Ivan Preston


As I observed the comings and goings of what is clearly an emotively powerful space and paused to read the various tribute plaques – the children’s scripture being especially emotional and difficult to read – I gained a sense of what had happen here rather than being at a distance in space and time. Yet this sense of event could only be inimitable to me, as it may well be to everyone who experiences it. I cannot profess to fully understand what this place means to others and indeed to the nations involved in the 1940s, but suffice it to say that it is hard to get past the loss of so many and the innocence of those that were dependant on the political imperatives of others at the time. Have we learned??


How Traditional is Japan?

As I travelled across Japan I found myself in a nation increasingly occupied with and stationed at crossroad of change. The Japanese Government has recognised that to move its stalled economy into a position of sustained growth, it must increase its interaction with the rest of the world. This from a country that has an extraordinary high level of national consciousness for shared internal conformity. The Ministry of Education is helping to promote the globalisation of its national student cohort to ensure that its future business leaders are globally aware to conduct business even more competiveness.

This dichotomy is evident all over Japan as in many other modern economies around the world. The key difference is that Japan not only has deep seated reverential traditions to navigate, as it moves towards the modern urban imperative, but also the overwhelming need to conform as a collective society. If globalisation has taught us anything, it is it propensity to err on the side of the selfish. So what of Japan: I saw everywhere the Japanese ability to bring cultures together with a sense of both the global and self, so Japan may well fare better than the rest of us. This will not be without its growing pains and western vices, but one certainly has the feeling that it will be choreographed with a level of precision more typical of its longstanding traditions.


Down Town Kokura, Photo: Ivan Preston

Down Town Kokura, Photo: Ivan Preston


Farm near Kokura, Photo: Ivan Preston

Farm near Kokura, Photo: Ivan Preston


I hope you found this read enjoyable.


But wait… I speak English!

Welcome to our newest Guest Blog from Savannah King our Student Union VP international. Thanks Savannah!

                When you go to a country where the language is not your own, usually the expectation to feel some amount of distance from the culture and the language is common. On holiday, armed with a few phrases of the native language and a desire to experience the culture fuelled by your acknowledgment of its difference to you own, feeling out of your comfort zone is to some extent anticipated.

The same goes for international students for whom English is not their ‘native’ language, making the admirable and brave step to study in England. However, what about students like myself who are ‘international’, but have spoken English, often exclusively, since birth? Americans, Canadians, Australians, Jamaicans… those of us in this situation in the globalised world can often overlook the potential culture shock that might come from being in a country where the language is the same as at home. This English culture-shock for English speakers seems odd and insignificant compared to that experienced by Chinese, Norwegian, or Brazilian students, but is nevertheless a very real (and common) occurrence. Just as an example, have a think about the ways that American English usage is different to that of British English:

  • Using totally different words for the same thing: Sometimes the differences make since, such as the American counterclockwise indicating the same thing as the British anticlockwise. However there are countless occurrences of different words being unrecognizable to each other. Why is it you eat aubergine in England, but eggplant in America?
  • The same word having different meanings: such as ‘bill’. In the UK, this means a summary of charges, whilst in the States it has this meaning as well as also indicating a note of money, like ‘ten dollar bill’.
  • Connotations: When a room is ‘homely’ in the UK, it implies a positive sense of being cosy, warm, welcoming. However a homely room in America indicates a negative connotation of an unattractive or plain room.
  • Spelling: The classic, which will aggravate any British user of Microsoft Word who doesn’t change the settings to English (UK). Litre/litre, neighbor/neighbor, kerb/curb….
  • Phrasing and language choice: In the US, if someone asks ‘are you alright?’ it would normally be because they thought you were ill, or in some moderately significant distress. In the UK though, I ask and get asked this all the time, just as a polite and friendly greeting in everyday conversation. In this scenario in the US, ‘how are you?’ would be used in the same context.
  • Accents: The great variable in a language! Even if you KNOW you are both speaking English, the confusion, befuddlement, and infinite amounts of ‘sorry, could you say that again?’ present in your conversation can make anyone thing otherwise.
  • Pop culture references: These come from the culture in which they are used, so can be unknown to those from outside that culture. Saying that a hotel in the US was ‘like Fawlty Towers’, would only be understood if the person knew of the 70s British sitcom.

–          Idioms and expressions: When I first moved to the UK, within a few days I remember running into the expression ‘to take the Mickey’. I was completely baffled, thinking the person was talking about some sort of Disney kidnapping, rather than someone being unreasonable in one way or another.

Feeling disoriented in the UK, despite being from an Anglophone country, is a real occurrence, and it is not because either culture or language is wrong, they just often are very different. These differences though, and the opportunity to experience and recognise them are what make the experience of coming here interesting, stimulating, and full of cultural and linguistic flavour – or is that flavor?

Blogging IATEFL Lublin

Much of this post is written in the present as I was travelling and unable to do ‘live’ updates, everything in the present tense is that present not the moment as I post.

Welcome to our first international post. That’s right as I type I’m on a plane and I won’t be posting this from my desk as usual.

I’m in Lublin Poland. PIC Yes on Monday, I am supposed to be at ‘fresher’s week’ helping all of the new arrivals settle in before Week 1 at Winchester. And I will be. Tuesday at 3:00 for international students to meet Study Skills and ELSAC support.

This weekend I took the opportunity to go to a conference before things get busy with the academic year kicking off, and the conference happens to be in Lublin.

We’re being hosted by the University here and the conference is IATEFL (the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) Poland’s

I’m speaking with Marek Kiczkowiak on equality and discrimination in EFL.

Ok, I know some of you are asking what my “little holiday” has to do with the work and language this blog is normally focused on. The answer is lots.

Any academic conference provides attending lecturers with a chance to meet and exchange ideas with colleagues at other institutions. This helps promote and spread good practice, deepens and broadens our understanding of the latest developments in our fields meaning we can share this with colleagues who didn’t attend and of course pass on the benefits to our students.

Having been to Poland before, (I lived there for a while 12 years ago) I thought I’d make my transfer from plane to rail but they’ve rebuilt everything and it would have been a very tight connection even if my Polish was still good enough to manage complex transactions, which it isn’t yet. It might yet come back but remember this, if you don’t use a language you lose that language. Getting a language back is much faster and easier than learning it the first time. But, it is more frustrating because one has the aphasic experience of knowing that you know the word, phrase, sentence but unable to produce it.

Ok so I made it to the conference having missed the opening ceremony. To top of my earlier slip ups my train was then delayed cross country.

In the end of Friday I saw:

– Anna Kamont talking about her use of Skype for lessons and student support. The take away for both learners and teachers should be try new things, specifically try new technologies, but if they don’t work for you dump them. Another point we discussed was the digital distraction factor, with 1-1 lessons where everyone’s on camera all the time this was a minimal thing, but might grow for larger courses. If you’re looking for a list of things to try look for @Annglish on Facebook where Anna posts new technologies she finds.

– Jeremy Day with his new presentation Order from Chaos: Towards a Taxonomy of ESP (English for Specific Purposes). He presents a personal view of how various sometimes inter-related fields and acronyms relate to each other. Sounds fairly theoretical right? What is the take away? How about be specific?

Teachers: What do you want your students to learn from this text, task, test?

Learners: What are you trying to learn? What exactly do you need/want from this lesson?

Now look back at your answers and be more specific, much more specific. I’d bet that half of you put ‘some English’, ‘some vocabulary’, ‘better grammar’ or something similar somewhere in your answers. The more goal driven and focused you aims the better the learning experience will be.

Last for Friday, but by no means least I attended Peter Medgey’s ‘How’s this for Fun’ where the ever versatile Peter proved his mettle as a stand-up comic as well as a diplomat, emeritus professor, theorist, and teacher. The serious bit? Where has the humour gone in ELT materials? Why? And what do we do about it? All of this after arguing, convincingly that humour is essential in learning and in language learning especially so.


First up Peter Medgey, De Ja Vu anyone? And his plenary talk “Why won’t the little beasts behave?”. Discipline comes from Latin knowledge and instruction. Partly a reflection on his return to the classroom in 2000 but also informed by notes from trainee teachers, and current literature. There is also a factor that re-occurs in educational research, writers and theorists frequently ‘don’t have chalk on their face’. As ever a humours look at his topic. The take away for learners, enjoy the learning instead of enjoying disrupting the learning, (those of you reading this blog probably have already converted here). For teachers, remember: this is natural; it’s relative; don’t take it personally, even when it’s meant that way. And for those of us shy of discipline control contributes to security (for not of the students) and that is key for learning, just go back to Maslow.

Next up was Hugh Dellar: talking about colligation and the importance of grammar beyond the verb phrase, and the model of tenses, aspects etc. The idea of collocation is much more familiar, originating in Russian academic circles where attempts were made to list words that typically went together. Such as sunny: with day but not night, but possibly also with garden or even room but not cellar or house talking about people you can say someone has a sunny personality meaning they are easy going, relaxed, usually happy, or perhaps expression, but you wouldn’t say a *sunny frown or a *sunny elbow. Colligation works in a similar way but with grammatical patterns, many but not all of them outside of the traditional verb phrase focus of EFL. Verbs of perception are often/typically followed by an object, then a gerund/continuous verb phrase (either finite or non-finite) and an adverbial or two. Carla smelt the honeysuckle and heard the bees buzzing through it sitting on the veranda behind the house in the afternoon. Noticing the kinds of phrases and their typical order is the study of colligation. My take aways from Hugh’s talk for teachers and leaners are: 1 noticing is important don’t stop at new words or the verb forms what else is happening both at sentence level and within and between sentences; 2 exposure and working in context are invaluable to successful language learning; 3 when translating do so in chunks, or sentences never just words or just grammar but both together and do so bi-directionally but independently. So if you want to use translation translate the sentence, then without looking at the original translate it back to check that the original meaning is preserved. One example from this weekend of a word that may not translate well is Kamizelka which probably should be something like a period terraced town house but it’s one of those things that doesn’t seem to have a simple equivalent between the two languages.

Followed by Ania Musielak, talking about communicative experience with drama activities, or drama games, or as she says “drama light”. Not all drama activity needs to be dramatic, or result in a performance. Using drama in the classroom has a number of benefits:

  • It relaxes the students
  • It promotes cooperation between learners
  • It removes some ‘loading’ from language processing as it masks the individual behind a character so the individual doesn’t need to ‘own’ errors
  • It encourages creativity
  • It creates/drives discussion

My take aways from this are: language learning can be stressful for individuals and mitigating the stress of competence anxiety can improve communicative competence. Language is essentially a communicative and creative activity, practicing it as such encourages real language use. This was a refreshingly practical and energising talk to go to just before my own.

Marek Kiczkowiak and I, as you’ll know from above, spoke about discrimination in TEFL and how despite EU law in many places 90% of the job ads require ‘native speaker’ as a qualification, and that regardless of linguistic competence, experience and qualification as a teacher, and a host of other factors that affect classroom and student outcomes many jobs, some entire schools remain closed to NNESTs (non-native English Speaking Teachers). Much of the industry seems bent on perpetrating a destructive false quality marker of ‘native’ teachers being better, despite the fact that this is not reflected or even suggested in any of the academic literature and studies from any related field. I could go on here however, this isn’t really what this post in general is about.

Next up was Grzegorz Spiewak talking on how integrating some life skills training into the classroom can offer language students a competitive advantage in the workplace, but that this integration should happen before they enter the workplace or even know what career(s) they are planning to peruse (next) (the –s and next are in brackets as education being followed by a job followed by retirement seems to be a thing of the past.) Grzegorz always has some interesting statistics in his talks. (Ok anecdotal data I’ve only seen him speak once before in Gdansk about 10 years ago.) Apparently only 4% of people trying to study something apply any type of study skills to their attempt. My take aways here again for both teachers and learners:

  • Breaking things down makes things more meaningful and more memorable
  • Knowledge can be applied across domains and this kind of cross fertilisation can offer benefits beyond the specific domain
  • Organising information makes it more meaningful and memorable, the act of organising information can deepen your understanding of it and improve recall.

My penultimate talk was Geoff Tranter from Mondiale Testing on the Common European Framework of Reference, and the importance of profiles over levels. That is understanding that just because someone’s interactive spoken communication is generally effective and fluent doesn’t mean that they will be grammatically accurate, use a rich variety of vocabulary appropriately, or that their competence stretches to giving a presentation. There was a good deal of quite specific information for teachers on how using the specific qualities of langue profiles can ensure the right sub-skills get the right level of focus. But, take aways from this talk include: communication is more often shades of grey not black and white; sending appropriate linguistic signals encourages more specific and contributive answers and enriches communication in dialogues; and that not all activities in life require the higher levels of language competence even in someone’s L1. Nobody buys train tickets at above about intermediate levels of language, because the language used in any situation is driven by the needs of that situation.

The last talk I went to was a case study examining the needs analysis of two groups of Academic English students at Universities in Bialistok, presented by Agnieszka Dudzik and Agnieszka Dzieciol-Pedich. I found that much like in service EAP support in the UK there was some need for general language support as well as purely academic terms, and that the students tended to need the most work in speaking, and that the provision was not really adequate for the needs, and that the students were not universally at the right level starting off, and that integrating the teaching with subject tutors would be ideal but so far has proven hard to achieve. (I think this year I’m starting to make some real headway in some areas). My take aways here are: wherever possible be specific about the need you are trying to meet, but be aware that other needs (such as GE) may be required to support the attainment of specified academic needs; and language learning works best with a little but very often. Literature suggests 20-45 minutes every day. 2 hours once a week isn’t frequent enough to make good progress.

During, a much needed coffee and a chat with some of the other delegates. We talked about how the ‘sponsored talks’ all contained a sales pitch of some sort, and they seemed to be put only a couple at a time in big rooms and that individual talks were too many, at the same time. Hopefully in future this could be a bit more balanced. There were also a number of exhibition stands in the arterial corridors making it quite challenging to get a coffee, stretch your legs and get to the next session on time. However, these are fairly minor gripes and the conference as a whole was very successful and well organised.

All this left me with precious little time to explore and experience the historic city of Lublin, I’m already writing this on the train back to Warsaw to fly back to attend meetings, welcome students and start the semester in Winchester. Wow is all that happening tomorrow, yes it is. And conveniently I’m pulling in to Warsaw where I know a wi-fi hotspot to post this from. Don’t worry I have plenty of time before my plane. My photos of Lublin will follow and I’ll populate this with links from my desk over the next week or so.

Last minute list for International Students

Last minute tips for International Students coming to start studying in the UK.

The Dos

  • Bring a range of clothing. The UK has changeable weather and you want to be prepared for it. In Winchester it is rarely below freezing and usually not for long if it is but winters can be chilly here. I’m sure nobody will be surprised if I tell you that the UK can also be rainy.


  • Come prepared to dive into a different model of learning. Whenever you change institution the way you learnt probably shifted. This is likely to be a bigger shift and it is a shift for everyone but the lecturers leading your courses will be focusing on the majority who are shifting from UK 6th form colleges to University. Your change is likely to be bigger but also much more difficult for your lecturer to understand, that means that you need to help them help you.
  • Experience culture shock. Ok this is an obvious one but the UK is different culturally and socially from other countries. There are almost bound to be things that you hear and see here that seem strange or even alien to you. Try to notice and accommodate these changes. While remembering that some of your behaviour and habits (your perfectly normal behaviour and habits), may seem a bit odd to your classmates here.
  • Ask questions. This is the fastest way to understand and feel comfortable in any situation that you find yourself in. The more you ask the faster you will learn and in all probability the better your experience of learning and living here will be. (This probably means you’ll do better on your programme as well.)
Creative commons from Edublogs

Creative commons from Edublogs

  • Immerse yourself in your chosen field of study. The more reading and looking around you do within your field of study the better you will do in it. Most undergraduate programmes have only a couple of hours teaching per module per week but the time you are expected to put into the module outside of class is much more.
  • Find out about and follow up on all opportunities for support and help. Your lecturers will have office hours, pay them a visit. Access study skills, the international student society and English Language Support in Academic Contexts.

The Don’ts

  • Bring your English study books, these are extra weight in your suitcase and are very unlikely to help you, (unless you manage to use them as a doorstop).
  • Carry a bi-lingual dictionary or an electronic gloss (computer dictionary). There will be new language for all students on all programmes. The language is also contextual, it needs to be understood and used within the context of the subject you are studying. Looking up the words takes you out of the lecture, and distracts you from focusing on the context.
  • Bring a year worth of food. There is an old (and hopefully nearly dead) stereotype that English food is terrible. It isn’t it might be different, and can be expensive, but either in quality, healthiness, or taste is no better or worse than many cuisines.
Source Wikimedia

Source Wikimedia

  • Assume that life and learning in the UK will be exactly like it is at home, just in a different language with worse weather. If it was you wouldn’t be coming here. These differences are exactly why you are coming here and represent a huge learning opportunity for you. Good news and bad news here: the good news is that there is no exam living the experience is the test of it, the bad news you don’t get any extra credit for it, well except for a degree.

Reflections on learning and teaching for the Cambridge Advanced CAE exam

Recently, we’ve been delivering intensive courses preparing for this exam; here are some thoughts for those preparing, or teaching it. There have been a number of changes in this exam and a revision to modernise the exam is due in the next year (2015) so this post has a shelf life in a way. However, many of the observations will remain valid. Leave a comment if you’d like us to update this post once the new specifications are in place.

Currently, the exam has five sections (the five papers) each with a number of tasks or parts.

The first paper is writing and while there’s no time to lounge around time should not be too much of an issue here. Arguably, there is plenty of time to read, brainstorm, plan, write, revise and proofread. There are five tasks in each writing paper. The first is mandatory, (you must write this one) you then write one more of the remaining five. Do not try and write all of them, you don’t have time to do this well. In general terms:

  • Write and revise single texts, don’t waste time copying and recopying work. This means leaving space around your work to allow for revision etc. Write on every other line, and leave margins. One additional benefit is this helps make your work look neat and organised (not actual grade criteria, but generally considered a good idea).
  • Be aware of the target genre (always in bold in the question) and what that means in terms of writing conventions, lexical choices, formality (register) etc.
  • Task analysis is a key here; make sure you answer the question/task as it was set. While you can add details, and even personal opinions (in some tasks) don’t add so many that you go over length or miss out on parts of the task.

Next you’ll face the reading paper. Here time management is key, the trick is to work quickly enough to give you enough time to address all of the parts properly, without going so fast that you make mistakes and or miss key details. Even lifelong English language professionals will miss some of the answers if they work too quickly, and if you take all day answering part one, you’ll likely get full marks there, even if you sacrifice the other sections with zero points. Alternately, it can be represented as “doing well enough, quickly enough”. As with many receptive skills tests the detail can be quite important and some of the distinctions may be subtle.

  • Remember to work from the text. This is not an exam of what you know but of what you can get from the text in front of you.
  • Remember to manage your time, (as above this is the key pressure for many candidates).
  • With multiple matching exercises remember to consider all options for all answers.
  • With multiple choice exercises remember that you can often find the right answer by eliminating wrong answers.

The third paper is called ‘Use of English’ this is where you’ll be tested most keenly on your linguistic dexterity, and the extent of your vocabulary and degree of your mastery of various grammatical structures. While each part of the test focuses on specific activities, in general these guidelines should help.

  • Trust your gut reaction. You get points for having the right answer; often candidates know the answer but waste time trying to work out why it is the answer. If you have time later you can always come back for this.
  • Narrow the possibilities. If you don’t know what works, what kind of word/phrase would work? Can any of the given options be ruled out?
  • Try to think laterally, (or outside the box if you are into business buzzwords). Many times the answer is slightly tricky, and often it’s almost in front of your nose.
  • Read the sentences you are completing back to yourself? Does it still make sense? Is it grammatically accurate?
  • Remember to work at sentence level in this section; less than the full sentence and you might miss something, more and it might take you extra time.

The penultimate section for us to cover is the listening test. If you think this is the part where you listen to a recording (usually CD or MP3) to find the answers then you’re spot on. What more can be said right? Still some things to remember follow.

  • Work from the text. Sometimes an idea might be implied or even seem obvious from the text, without actually being there.
  • Don’t make assumptions, the speaker’s knowledge, experiences and views are what are important.
  • Avoid listening for keywords. This can feel like a safe way to find the answer but paraphrasing is used to stop a simple keyword approach. You need to work for deeper understanding.
  • Work at the speed of the text. This is the one part of the exam where time management is totally out of your hands.

Finally this brings us to the speaking part of the exam. This section, while the shortest at least time wise, is worth just as many marks as the others. It also seems to punch above its weight as far as causing stress to the candidates, perhaps because there’s very little time management here, and there’s very little time.

  • Speak; it’s the speaking test after all. If you don’t speak, or try to say a little as possible to limit mistakes you will be letting yourself down. The larger the sample of language you produce the better more the examiners can find to be impressed by.
  • Be yourself, a polite, friendly and easy to talk to version of yourself. There are no correct answers here so don’t try to second guess what they want to hear. That said being deliberately rude and offensive is almost never a good idea.
  • As with the other sections remember what you actually get marks for: Language Resource this includes the range/extent and accuracy of your grammar and vocabulary usage. Interactive communication, interrupt if you need to, invite your partner to speak when appropriate. Discourse management, aka organisation, or if you are changing the subject tell them you are changing the subject. Pronunciation, but don’t worry about sounding ‘English’ whatever that sounds like, this is all about being clear and easy to understand.

If you keep all of this in mind as you come up to the exam it should help you improve your scores, and perhaps make preparing a little less confusing and stressful.