Monday, February 6, 2012

LEARNING TO WRITE IN ENGLISH - PLANNING YOUR WRITING

This is the last of several entries on writing at Intermediate Level. We have discussed some common errors we make at this level when first learning to write in English. We have mentioned grammar and vocabulary points. We last discussed some confusing punctuation issues.

In this entry we will go over some tips on how to plan the writing and develop the text. We said that, at this level we should be able to write simple correspondence such as letters, emails, and postcards. We should also be able to write about personal experience in essay format. We may be asked to write a descriptive essay or an argumentative essay on a certain topic using specific grammatical structures and relevant vocabulary. There is usually a specified format that we have to follow and a number of words that we should cover. Read the task carefully. Follow the instructions closely. Respond to the questions provided thoroughly.

Some general things that we should keep in mind, regardless of the type of text we write in English, are:
1 Always plan your writing. Although it seems like double work, your outline will save you time in the long run.
2 Always keep your writing simple and clear. If you're taking a test, you will not be able to use a spell checker. Don't use vocabulary and punctuation that you are unsure of.
3 Support your main ideas with relevant arguments and examples. Give reasons and examples that clearly prove the point you are making.
4 Always leave time to review your writing. Go back and silently read the text to yourself. Check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. Correct them if you find any. Always hand in a clean and correct final draft.

The following are examples of the format we should follow when writing these two basic types of text: formal / informal correspondence (letters, emails, and postcards) and a general essay format.

FORMAL, SEMI-FORMAL, AND INFORMAL CORRESPONDENCE
Writing letters, emails, and postcards is very similar. Of course letters are more formal than emails and postcards. However, all three are considered correspondence.
In class we spend a lot of time discussing and practicing the format of letters, which is usually more formal than emails, and certainly more formal than postcards.

FORMAL CORRESPONDENCE (LETTERS)
We write formal letters to our bank, an airline, or a company. Very often these are letters of complaint or queries. We rarely know the name of the person we are addressing.
When we don't know the person's name we begin formal correspondence with the salutation:
Dear Sir,
(This is the correct salutation if you don't know the name, but you know you are addressing a man.)
Dear Madam,
(This is the correct salutation when you are addressing a woman.)
You would use the most formal salutation if you don't have any information about the addressee:
Dear Sir / Madam,
If you decide to open with the most formal salutation,
use the most formal closing:
Yours Faithfully,
(Signature).

SEMI-FORMAL CORRESPONDENCE (LETTERS AND EMAILS)
When writing to our landlord or our employer, whom we know, we use a semi-formal text. This could be either in letter or email format.
If you are writing to a man and you know his name (John Smith), the best way to start the letter would be:
Dear Mr. Smith (Mr. / Mr is the title for a man.)
If you are writing to an unmarried woman called Mary Jones, then you would address the letter/email:
Dear Miss Jones (Miss is the title for an unmarried woman.)
Dear Ms. Jones (Ms. / Ms is a title used for both single and married women.)
If you know that Mary Jones is married, you would begin with:
Dear Mrs. Jones (Mrs./Mrs is the title for a married woman.)
The correct closing for these would be
Yours Sincerely,
(Signature).

INFORMAL CORRESPONDENCE (LETTERS, EMAILS, AND POSTCARDS)
If John Smith and Mary Jones are your friends you can begin the letter, email, or postcard with:
Dear John, (Hi / Hello John,)
Dear Mary, (Hi / Hello Mary,)
For either of these salutations you can end with:
Best Wishes,
(Signature)
Best Regards,
(Signature)
Love, (quite informal)
(Signature).

Depending on the task that you have been assigned, choose the best way to open the letter or email. Organise your ideas. Each new idea should start a new paragraph. Begin the paragraph with the main idea, and then support it with reasons and examples. Depending on the salutation you have used, end the letter with the correct closing.  Sign the letter, email, or postcard with your name.

It's always a good idea to plan your writing first. Although it seems like double work and you don't like planning, make an outline of the main ideas. Ask your teacher to do some guided planning together in class first. When you get used to making an outline before you write, you will begin to write more effectively.

ESSAY
Essay writing usually takes more time and is more complicated.
The very first thing you should do is pay attention and find out what the purpose of the writing is, and who will read the final product.
The second step is to decide what you want to write about. What makes this easier is planning. We mentioned this previously. Getting used to planning your writing will help you tremendously.
Outlines and mind maps are the best way to organise your ideas before you write your first draft. Here is a basic mind map you can follow for essay writing.

MIND MAP
Write the Subject / Topic in the middle of the page.
Draw lines branching out from the centre with the main ideas.
Main Idea 1
Main Idea 2
Main Idea 3
etc.
Each branch has its own sub-branches with the supporting ideas.
Main Idea 1
Supporting Idea 1
Supporting Idea 2
etc.
In the centre of the page write your Subject / Topic. This is the title of the essay in a sense. It is also the topic sentence which you can re-state in the introduction and conclusion.
Around the topic you can draw lines which represent the main ideas supporting this topic, or proving your thesis. For each main idea there should be at least two arguments or supporting ideas branching out. These are the examples that provide further relevant detail. When your mind map is complete use these notes to write the text.

Make your introductory paragraph interesting to engage your readers. State the topic that you want to discuss. Write in a simple and clear manner. Use vocabulary and punctuation that you are sure of. Show that you can use the underlying grammatical structures confidently.

Begin each new paragraph with one of the main ideas you mapped out. Use examples and reasons to support your point. Cover all sides of an issue.

End with a conclusion. Here you can re-state your topic. Finally, close with an interesting thought or idea.

Make sure you have supported your main ideas or, if this is relevant, you have proved your thesis. Go back and revise the text. Hand in a clean draft free of spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors.

You can train to use these methods by reading similar pieces of writing. As you read analyse the passage. Define the topic. Outline the main ideas and the supporting ideas. Find the grammar structures used in the text. Take notes on key vocabulary relevant to the subject. Practice the grammar structures and vocabulary. Follow the example and write a similar text. Use the grammar structures and vocabulary you practiced. Ask a friend, classmate, or family member to read the writing. Discuss it. If you find any errors, correct them. Hand in a clean final draft to your teacher and ask for further comments. These are some good activities you can do before sitting a writing exam, or participating in a writing activity in class.


These are some of the tips I usually give my students before we begin a writing course, or a specific writing activity. I am sure you will find these very helpful. Prepare well, and you will do a lot better the next time you write a letter, email, or essay in English.

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Further to one of your comments on punctuation

Emma Graham said...


Hi Alina, A very interesting website and I'm sure very useful for people studying English.
I am English myself and ashamedly my English grammer is probably worse than many foreign students.
I note that when you write a sentence which includes the word 'and' you often proceed this with a comma. I'm sure from my English calsses many years ago that you eaither use a comma, or 'and' and not both. Please let me know so I can use the correct grammer in the future. As you can see my spelling is not too good either.


Hello Emma
Thank you for your comment.  I apologise I haven’t  been able to reply earlier. 

I’m still experimenting with the format of the blog, and I’ve only just noticed your entry. 

Clearly my knowledge of English grammar is  based on what I’ve read and studied.  You are fortunate enough to experience the living language daily.
I could learn quite a lot from you.

What is customary?  Do the English tend to use a comma and a conjunction such as “and”?
In my experience it’s not always necessary, but it is certainly possible.  I tend to be influenced by Bulgarian punctuation when I write, even in English.

A common situation when you could have a comma + and is when separating a series of items.  When you have a complex and lengthy list it’s better to have the comma, although as you say it’s not necessary.
Example: He hit the ball, dropped the bat, and ran to first base.
Also use a comma + a little conjunction (and, but, for, nor, yet, or, so) to connect two independent clauses, as in "He hit the ball, and then he ran toward third base."

There’s a bit more information in my entry on comma splices.  Have a read if you’re interested.

As far as spelling goes I always advise my students to spell the word, and look it up when they're not sure. There are some great dictionaries, reference books, and grammar/spellcheckers out there. 

Alright, I hope I’ve been of some help.  I’d love to hear/read more about your troubles with English grammar.  Please, keep leaving your comments.
Alina

ps I’ll be sure to follow your blog.

Monday, July 18, 2011

COMMON GRAMMAR MISTAKES WE MAKE WHEN WRITING AT INTERMEDIATE LEVEL

As promised we'll have a look at mistakes made by quite a few students when writing at Intermediate level.

Intermediate students of English as a second language are used to writing simple correspondence and longer papers, four to five paragraph essays, with an introduction, body, and conclusion. These include letters, emails, book and film reviews, biographies, descriptive essays, and narratives of interesting events.


They have a clear idea of how to organise a letter, an email, and an essay.

They should by now competently use all present and past grammatical tenses. They should have sound knowledge of the basic future structures. Some of the more experienced students usually experiment with conditional sentences, and the passive voice at this level.

We'll consider common errors made by learners when writing for a class assignment or an exam. The examples provided will give you a clearer idea of how to avoid making these mistakes. When writing in class students are not usually allowed access to resource materials, and are under a certain amount of pressure. When faced with a writing assignment without resource materials on hand plan your main ideas point by point. Flesh out these points and write a first draft then go back and correct it. Underline the words, verb forms, and clauses which seem incorrect and clumsy. Hand in a clean edited draft which you're confident has as few (hopefully none) spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes as possible.

Here are some grammar tips, topic by topic, which you could apply when going back and editing your writing.


DEFINITE AND INDEFINITE ARTICLES

Articles are easily omitted and misused. However, there are rules you can follow as you practice and become more confident with the structure.


The articles are: "A, An or The".
a - is the indefinite article used with words beginning with consonants.
She has a dog.
I work in a factory.

an - is the indefinite article used with words beginning with vowels (a,e,i,o,u).
Can I have an apple?
She is an English teacher.


The indefinite article is used with countable singular nouns when referring to one of a number of the same objects, and when talking generally about an object without specifying it.

the - is the definite article used when talking about a specific object that both the person speaking and the listener know.
The car over there is fast.
The teacher is very good, isn't he?


The first time you speak of something use "a or an", the next time you repeat that object use "the".
I live in a house. The house is quite old and has four bedrooms.
I ate in a Chinese restaurant. The restaurant was very good.


These are the basics. The following are some additional rules you should stick to:

DO NOT use an article with countries, states, counties or provinces, lakes and mountains except when the country is a collection of states such as "The United States".
He lives in Washington near Mount Rainier.
They live in northern British Columbia.


Use an article with bodies of water, oceans and seas.
My country borders on the Pacific Ocean


DO NOT use an article when you are speaking about things in general.
I like Russian tea.
She likes reading books.


DO NOT use an article when you are speaking about meals, places, and transport.
He has breakfast at home.
I go to university.

NOUNS
COUNTALBE / UNCOUNTABLE NOUNS
When writing about people or food we readily use nouns we’re not sure whether they are countable or uncountable, and sometimes use them with the wrong quantifier and/or verb. For example, one of my students was trying to describe a family member in a composition about family relationships. Influenced by the group’s native language Bulgarian the student used the word ‘hair’ as a countable noun with an indefinite article.

Example: He has a dark hair.

This would’ve been fine if s/he meant one dark hair out of many as opposed to a full head of dark hair. The correct phrase should be, of course:

He has dark hair. (hair used as an uncountable noun without an indefinite article)

Keep in mind that the way nouns are used in sentences also depends on whether they are countable or uncountable.

What are countable nouns?
Countable nouns are individual objects, people, places, etc. which can be counted.
books, Italians, pictures, stations, men, etc.

A countable noun can be both singular - a friend, a house, etc. - or plural - a few apples, lots of trees, etc.

Use the singular form of the verb with a singular countable noun:
There is a book on the table.
That student is excellent!


Use the plural form of the verb with a countable noun in the plural:
There are some students in the classroom.
Those houses are very big, aren't they?

What are uncountable nouns?
Uncountable nouns are materials, concepts, information, etc. which are not individual objects and can not be counted.
information, water, understanding, wood, cheese, etc.

Uncountable nouns are always singular. Use the singular form of the verb with uncountable nouns:

There is some water in that pitcher.
That is the equipment we use for the project.

Adjectives with Countable and Uncountable Nouns.

Use a/an with countable nouns preceded by an adjective(s):
Tom is a very intelligent young man.
I have a beautiful grey cat.

Do not use a/an with uncountable nouns preceded by an adjective(s):
That is very useful information.
There is some cold beer in the fridge.

Countable and uncountable nouns differ in different languages, and this can prove confusing for learners. Here is a list of some of the most common, easy to confuse uncountable nouns.

accommodation

advice

baggage

bread

equipment

furniture

garbage

information

knowledge

luggage

money

news

pasta

progress

research

travel

work


Click on the link www.esl.about.com for more examples.


THE POSSESSIVE CASE
Another common and very simple structure is the possessive case. It involves the apostrophe, a punctuation mark many students are not used to, as a result it tends to be left out. Remember you need to add the apostrophe " 's" to indicate possession.

Examples Peter's motorcycle
The building's structure


You can place the apostrophe directly after the 's' for words ending in "s", such as the regular plural form of the noun.

Notice that this construction can change the meaning from singular to plural.

Examples The cat's favorite food is tuna. (one cat)
The cats' favorite food is tuna. (more than one cat)


Be sure to revise the possessive words that accompany this structure.

Possessive Adjectives

Possessive adjectives are used instead of possessive nouns when the reference is understood.

For example: Tom is a dog lover. He takes his dog Spike everywhere!

In this case, it is clear that 'his' refers to Tom because of the context. Possessive adjectives are always placed in front of the noun they modify. Here is a list of possessive adjectives:

I - my dog

You - your cat

He - his book

She - her car

It - its color (NOT it's!)

We - our dog

You - your house

They - their farm

Examples

That's my dog in the picture.
Does your cat like tuna?


Possessive Pronouns

Use possessive pronouns to indicate possession when no noun is used. This is the case when the object of possession is understood from the context.

Examples

Whose book is that? It's mine. = It's my book.
Is this your pen? No, it's hers. = It's her pen.

In both cases, the possessive pronoun can be substituted for the possessive adjective because the object of possession is understood from the context.

Here is a list of possessive pronouns.

I - mine

You - yours

He - his

She - hers

We - ours

You - yours

They - theirs

Is this your car? - No, that one over there is mine.
Whose lunch is this? - It's yours.

ADJECTIVES
PARTICIPIAL ADJECTIVES -ED/-ING
When writing descriptive texts it‘s necessary that you have a good active vocabulary, rich in descriptive words such as adjectives. A group of adjectives commonly used are the participial adjectives ending in -ed and -ing. In order to describe different things you should know how these words are formed, and how they are used. A participial adjective modifies a noun and shows either the source of feeling or emotion or the receiver of that feeling or emotion.

The Present Participial Adjective -ing is an adjective formed from an active verb, which indicates the cause/source of the feeling or emotion.

Example: The clown was entertaining the family. (active verb)

The clown was entertaining. (present participial adjective - the source of emotion)

The Past Participial Adjective -ed is an adjective formed from a passive verb, which indicates the receiver of the feeling or emotion.

Example: The family was entertained by the clown. (passive verb)

The family was entertained. (past participial adjective - the receiver of feeling/emotion)

VERBS

THIRD PERSON SINGULAR (PRESENT SIMPLE)
Intermediate students should be proficient with this structure, and yet they do tend to leave out the -s for the third person singular (present simple tense). Always go back and edit the first draft. Make sure you've added all -s where necessary. Here are some additional spelling tips for the 3rd person singular (present simple tense).

Most third person present singular verb forms add -s to the end of the verb.

For example: work, he works - think, she thinks

However, if the verb ends in -s, -z, -x, -ch or -sh the third person present singular is formed by adding -es to the verb.

For example: watch, she watches - brush, he brushes

How to spell the forms of a verb ending in -y
The third person present singular of verbs ending in -y preceded by a consonant is formed by changing the -y to -ies.

For example: query, he queries - carry, she carries

The third person present singular of verbs ending in -y preceded by a vowel does not change the -y.

For example: play, he plays - stay, she stays.

PAST SIMPLE REGULAR AND IRREGULAR VERBS
Keep in mind that when telling a story, or an anecdote in the past, or reporting on an event, it's likely that all past tenses will be incorporated. Take the time to revise verb forms in the past and past participle which you find difficult. Organise the verbs in groups which sound similar. Drill them orally. 

Click on the link for a comprehensive list of irregular verbs.

VERB PATTERNS
Intermediate students are using more complex sentences with more than one verb. It’s important that you are aware of the verb patterns in English, and know which form the second verb takes. Depending on the preceding verb it either takes on the infinitive (to do), the base form (do), or the gerund (doing).

Here are some examples.

Verb + Infinitive

This is one of the most common verb combination forms.

Example: I waited to begin dinner.

Verb + Verb -ing

This is one of the most common verb combination forms.

Example: They enjoyed listening to the music.


Verb +Verb -ing or Verb Infinitive (no change in meaning)

Some verbs can combine with other verbs using both forms without changing the basic meaning of the sentence.

Example: She started to eat dinner. OR She started eating dinner.

Verb +Verb -ing or Verb Infinitive (change in meaning)

Some verbs can combine with other verbs using both forms. However, with these verbs, there is a change in the basic meaning of the sentence.

Example: They stopped speaking to each other. =}; They don't speak to each other anymore.

They stopped to speak to each other. =}; They stopped walking in order to speak to each other.


Click on the link for a full list of the above verb patterns.

 
For further information on all of these topics click on the links:
English Topics for ESL
Participial Adjectives

Friday, May 6, 2011

COMMON SPELLING ERRORS WHEN WRITING AT INTERMEDIATE LEVEL

Further to the entry on comma splices and run-on sentences, I've thought about giving some tips on how to improve your writing at Intermediate level.
As I mentioned, I've had more opportunity to read papers written by students at this level.  I'd like to point out some common mistakes, and how they can be avoided.

The most basic mistakes are spelling errors. 
  • the present participle -ing (studying, listening, skiing, tapping)
  • the past participle -ed (stopped, planned, studied, played)
  • the third person singular form for the present simple (study - studies, play - plays)
Keep in mind that a one-syllable verb like stop, which ends with a stressed vowel followed by a consonant, will change for the -ing form and the past participle with -ed.  The final consonant doubles : stóp, but stopping, and stopped.

Past participle forms with -ed, and third person singular forms for the present simple for a verb ending with a consonant followed by y also change. The y becomes ie : study - studies, and studied.  This doesn't apply for verbs which end with a vowel and the consonant y: play - plays, and played.
  • plural forms (watch - watches, tomato - tomatoes, company - companies, holiday - holidays, loaf - loaves)
Similarly if a singular noun ends with a consonant followed by the consonant y the y also becomes ie: company - companies. For nouns ending with a vowel and y, as for most other nouns just add -s: holiday - holidays, piano - pianos.

For nouns ending in ch, sh, s, x, or z, and certain nouns ending in a consonant and o add -es: watch - watches, tomato - tomatoes

For most nouns that end in f and ef the f /ef becomes ves: loaf - loaves.

Don't forget there are also irregular plural forms: child - children, mouse - mice, etc.
  • adverbs formed from adjectives (usually, really)
Adverbs formed with the suffix -ly from an adjective ending in l will also double: real (adjective), but really (adverb)
  • adjective comparative and superlative forms (fit, fitter than, the fittest)
Again we have a short one-syllable adjective which ends with a stressed vowel í and a consonant.  The comparative and superlative forms of short adjectives, as you know, are formed with a suffix (-er and -est), therefore the final consonant doubles: fít - fitter - fittest.
  • easily confused words (quiet - quite, hour - our)
Consider the meaning of these words, and choose the one that best fits the context.
quiet: an adjective we use to modify a noun when we want to say that it isn't noisy
A quiet town.

quite: a word we use to modify an adjective to make it stronger
This task is quite easy.

hour: is a noun we use to speak about time
The exam lasted an hour and a half.

our: is a possessive adjective for the first person plural (we)
This is our car. (It belongs to us.)

And, so on. Click here for more examples.
  • capitalisation (I, Friday, August, English, Dear Mr. Smith)
There is a lot we can say about capitalisation in English.  Some basic rules are:
  • always capitalise the first word of a new sentence.
  • always capitalise the first person singular personal pronoun I, regardless of where it stands in a sentence. 
  • capitalise days of the week, holidays, and months of the year. Do not capitalise seasons.
  • capitalise countries, languages, and nationalities (adjective form of a specific country).
  • capitalise letter salutations (openings) and closings.  
    • Examples: Dear Mr. Smith,
      Best regards,
Of course these rules apply for all levels from Beginner to Proficiency. I have been teaching mostly at Intermediate level, and that is why I am taking it as a point of reference.

In a next entry we'll discuss common grammar mistakes that we make when writing.

Below are some useful sites with further examples. Bookmark these.  They are excellent reference tools.

Plural Nouns
Confusing Spelling
The plural of mouse

Adverbs Spelling -ly
Basic Adverbs Spelling

Easily Confused Words
Common Errors in English
Homophone List for ESL Learners

Capitalisation
Capitalization Rules

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

EASTER ACROSTIC POEM

Here's an activity related to Holy Week leading up to Easter.  It's an idea I borrowed from the British Council website, and it worked quite well with a group of restless junior high school students. 
They love to do projects.  A good way to get them involved is to incorporate their creative skills such as drawing, colouring, decorating, singing, acting, even sculpting.  For this project I allowed them to spend two entire lessons drawing, colouring and decorating A5 sheets of construction paper with an EASTER theme.  You can suggest ideas and of course teach the relevant vocabulary: the Easter Bunny, Easter egg, decorating eggs, Easter egg hunt, chocolate eggs, Easter basket, hot cross buns, a Christian holiday, Lent, fasting, Easter Sunday Mass, etc. 

Prior to this we had spent a lesson discussing the relevant vocabulary and writing an Easter acrostic poem.  It then became the central part of the Easter themed drawings.

Here is how to plan the acrostic poem. Write the letters of the word down the left-hand side of the board:
E

A

S

T

E

R

You can leave a line between letters to give students the chance to experiment with words before writing the poem.

Brainstorm, as a group, words that begin with these letters and are related to the holiday.  It's a good opportunity to use a thesaurus.  I always encourage students to refer to a dictionary when necessary.  Once you have a good list start thinking about writing the poem. 

Give them time to work in pairs or individually.  When ready, choose a few to read out loud for the class.  Write an example on the whiteboard.

Finally, we organised an exhibition and decorated the classroom with their illustrated EASTER ACROSTIC POEMS.
  
You can even have a vote on the best poem, or the project that gives the best visual and mental image for the Easter holiday.  It's up to you.

Here are some ideas you could use:

E aster Day is in
A pril this year
S pring is here
T ime for holidays and
E gg hunts with
R abbits and hot cross buns

Click on the link for the original British Council activity and much more.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

EXAM PREPARATION

In order to perform well on any test not just in the study of a foreign language, you should have good learning techniques. Be clear when setting your goals. 
If your goal is to perform well in a subject or a course, make sure you understand the course objectives and criteria. 
When setting your goals for a course, be aware that the grade you receive on an exam is usually less than 50% of your final course grade.  Be aware of all course components which will be graded throughout the course, these usually prepare your for the test/s, and incorporate them into your study plan. 

1 Attend as frequently as necessary or possible, and plan your time so that you are available and not feeling overwhelmed by other projects before and after the exam. 

2 Prepare well, you know you will do better if you prepare for several weeks rather than for several hours before the exam. It is very likely that the topics will be presented in unfamiliar ways. 
  • Learn the material thoroughly so that you can approach all tasks/problems flexibly. 
  • Join a study group, and see the material presented in different ways.  Exchange information, ideas and study tips with your peers.  
  • Studying in different ways can also increase the effectiveness of your learning.  You can re-copy your notes, or do extra problem sets from a different textbook on the same topic, and other techniques. 
If you are studying for an ESL exam, then focus on the vocabulary and grammar topics presented in the Study Guide.  Prepare writing samples on the writing topics you have covered in class (a letter, an email, a descriptive essay, etc.).  Very often you can use these in future for the Writing component.  Preparing in this way will also help you organise your ideas for the Speaking tasks.  The topics are organised in Units which utilise the same vocabulary themed lists, any way that you find useful to practice these vocabulary lists (defined as dictionary items, or in context) will benefit you greatly to widen your vocabulary.
  • Create your own dictionary with words that are used in business, travel, and commerce. Use them in context. Doing this will not only familiarize you with the word, but also with the context and meaning of the word. 
  • Read aloud regularly. Reading aloud will help you improve your comprehension of the English language. For this task, read a wide variety of materials. You can read newspapers, books, magazines, brochures and even pamphlets. This will expose you to a wider vocabulary.
  • Expose yourself to media. Watch the news, sitcoms, TV shows or listen to the radio. Hearing other people speak the language will help you get accustomed to its tone. Read advertisements, announcements and billboards.
  • Be aware of how fast you speak. For other people to comprehend what you are saying, you must avoid speaking too fast. You need to be understood, so be sure to pace yourself when you are speaking. 
  • Practice pausing in between sentences. Pausing in between your sentences will help the listener get the tone of what you are saying. Your ideas will be clearer and more transparent.  This is very useful, in particular for the Speaking part of an ESL exam.
Regardless of your performance, preparing for and sitting a test is part of your learning process.  It helps you build confidence in the subject.  If you have learned the material well, then this will be reaffirmed by the test results.  If you have missed out on some topics, then you will know what your weaknesses are.  You will be able to go back, and strengthen those areas which are more difficult, and become more competitive for the following test. Make sure you spend more time researching the areas in which you need to improve.  Practise and perfect your skills.

As your goal is to do well overall, you will need to go through the same process for all course components.  In ESL, there would be a Writing and Speaking component apart from quizzes and tests.  Prepare well and on time for all graded assignments.  It's a good idea to recycle the tasks given on the tests or exams and prove to your tutor that you have improved and have strengthened your weaknesses.  Very often these assignments (which are part of your ongoing grade) will balance out your final grade, despite exam performance.  Therefore, you should approach the course holistically - in a flexible and balanced way.  Don't be afraid to approach your teacher with any questions, or worries. All teachers would be happy to give thorough answers to your queries, and make sure that you perform better. After all they are there to help you.

If your goal is to improve in a certain field use the course to acquire as much current information as possible. Use the tests and exams to sum up your weaknesses and strengths, and improve in the areas in which you are lacking. Build up your confidence and knowledge by re-taking exams.  Create a professional relationship with your peers which would benefit your growth and development in the long-term.

If your goal is to do well on an exam, be it an entrance exam or one of the standardised tests recognised globally such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), familiarise yourself and know the different parts of the test.  Speak with your peers who have already taken the test.  Research it online.  Borrow books with practice tests from the library, or buy a couple for your own archive.  Take a refresher course, and use the above tips to help in your preparation.

If you are sitting the exam to enter a university or to apply for a job, enquire what the entrance or employer grade requirements are. Different employers and universities require different grades. It is always helpful to know what you should be shooting for. Again, if you're not happy with the test results, re-take it. With standardised tests it may be a bit costly, but in the long-term it benefits your academic and work profile.

Here are some standardised tests that are often asked for when applying for a job with English: the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), the Cambridge Certificates: First Certificate in English (FCE), Certificate in Advanced English (CAE), Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE).

Following are some more Dos and Don'ts.
  • Teach your language to an English speaker. Teach your native tongue to someone who has spoken English their whole life. Doing this will force you to converse with them in English. You will eventually learn new words, sentences and expressions.
  • Begin writing in your journal using English. Write down your daily experiences and feelings. By doing this, you practice your writing skills and help you improve the way you express yourself in the English language.
  • Never cram. Try to spread your studying over a long period of time. Doing this will help your mind remember more details with ease. When you cram, you force your mind to process and remember huge amounts of information for a very short period of time. The result is, by the time you are taking a test, there may be some pertinent information you won’t be able to recall.
  • Listen to your instincts. When you start studying and you are presented with numerous practice tests and answers, it would be helpful to listen to your instincts since there are many trick questions especially in questions asking you to pick the best answer.
Most importantly practice and approach the entire process in a positive way.  Hopefully these tips will help you improve and become more efficient in your work and studies.

Some of this material has been taken from the following websites.  Click on the link for further information.  
EXAM PREPARATION
ESL STUDY GUIDES

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