Your Questions About Proficiency Tests Answered

q&aLast month we ran a series of free webinars — as well as a live Facebook Q&A session with Lucy Gibbs from our Assessment team — to help you improve your English language skills and learn how you can best prepare for your proficiency test while studying at home. We received so many great questions from students attending these sessions, we decided to share the most popular ones with you here, in case you find these answers helpful too. 🙂

How can I speak English well?

If you’re preparing for a speaking proficiency test, you will be marked on things like pronunciation, fluency, grammar and vocabulary; also, on how well you organise your sentences and how well you answer the question. It will help to improve your knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, but the main thing that will improve your speaking is to practise as much as you can.

Thinking before you speak is never bad! If you work on your fluency and try to speak for longer periods of time about a wide range of different topics, you should find your thinking time gets shorter. Another useful speaking practice tool is Oxford iSpeaker on OALD Premium, and you can now request free access to OALD Premium until 20 July!

What is the easiest way to improve my writing skills?

A great way to improve your writing fluency is to keep a diary. It doesn’t matter if your writing isn’t very accurate, the important point is to get in the habit of writing regularly, so writing becomes less challenging and more enjoyable.

Get into the habit of editing your work, this will help you to focus on the accuracy of you writing. When you finish writing something like an essay or an email that other people will see, take the time to read and check it — think about the grammar, the spelling and the organization, and make changes to improve it where necessary. Strong editing can take a piece of writing from good to great.

Generally, I struggle to express my ideas in English. I always make the same mistakes, and I think in my native language first. Can you give me some advice?

It takes time and lots of practice to learn another language and to think in that language.  Practice speaking as much as possible — even if you’re just talking to yourself —  and don’t worry about mistakes. Some things that seem like simple mistakes, such as not adding ‘s’ for verbs with ‘he’ or ‘she’ are actually quite complex, and even advanced learners can still make those errors.

I can speak well in English but I struggle when I listen to others speak. Do you have any advice on how I can improve my listening?

Building your language knowledge — vocabulary and grammar — is really important as well as practising listening as much as possible. Sometimes we only need to understand the gist of what the speaker is saying, and sometimes we want to understand details, so practising both of these skills is really useful too. For example, when you listen to the news, if you just want to understand the main details of a news story, then you are listening for gist, but if you want to capture specific information then you are listening for detail.

Listening to things you enjoy or are interested in can also really help your motivation — so if you enjoy listening to music, then English songs are great to listen to. Watching films in English and reading the subtitles can be fun, too. It can also help to find listening materials that are at a level where you can understand most of what is being said, such as audiobooks which have been created especially for English learners. These should be marked with a CEFR level (B1, B2 etc.) on them to help you find one that is a suitable level for you.

How can I find practice materials to help me improve my English?

You can find practice materials such as our Practice Tests, Speaking & Writing Tips & online demo for the Oxford Test of English on our website, and more resources for learning English on our Learning Resources page.

I’m in search of some English books which will help me to improve my written English. Do you have any suggestions?

Oxford University Press publishes a large range of Graded Readers. Choose a book that interests you at the right level and, as you read, make a note of useful words or expressions which you could use yourself. It’s best to build your confidence using words you already know in your writing, rather than trying to use completely new expressions. You can get free access to 148 Graded Readers until 31 August at

I often get confused between American and British English how much does this matter in my exam?

American and British English sometimes varies in vocabulary and spellings, as well as having some small differences in grammar. Check out our blog article Jenifer’s English: a General English story to learn more about these similarities and differences.

It doesn’t matter too much which one you learn, but if you are taking a proficiency test, you should check first if it is testing American or British English so you are not penalised for using the wrong spelling. However, the Oxford Test of English is a general English proficiency test, and accepts both English and American spellings; as well as featuring a variety of English accents in the Listening module.

How can I improve my pronunciation?

There are several ways you can improve your pronunciation. A good method is to watch videos of people speaking in English — be it your favourite movie or clips on Youtube — and copy what they say. Or you could try recording yourself speaking and listen to the recording. If there are parts where your pronunciation isn’t clear, try saying them again. Sometimes it also helps to use pronunciation tools when you practice, like the Say It app.

How are the writing and speaking parts assessed in the Oxford Test of English assessed?

Responses are marked by our certified assessors and, to ensure fairness and reliability, responses for each of the modules are divided into two scripts. In the writing module, for example, part 1 is one script, and part 2 is another script. Then these scripts are sent to separate assessors, who both use analytic criteria to mark the responses. There are four criteria for each one; for writing these are: grammar, task fulfilment, organisation and lexis. For speaking the criteria are: grammar, pronunciation and fluency, task fulfilment, and lexis. You can find more information about our marking criteria on our website.

How will the Oxford Test of English for Schools questions compare to the ones seen in the normal test?

Oxford Test of English for Schools questions will be the same task type as those seen in the adult test but the Oxford Test of English for Schools has more of a teen focus. So the level and format is exactly the same as the Oxford Test of English, but the content is tailored to suit the interests and experiences of teenagers.

How long does the Oxford Test of English score stay valid for?

Your Oxford Test of English certificate is valid for life, however some recognising institutions may not accept an OTE certificate that is more than two years old.

Don’t forget you can still submit any questions you have to our team on our Instagram and Facebook channels. You can also get the exclusive links to our Get ready for your English proficiency test webinar recordings by signing up to our Learning English with Oxford newsletter packed with tips, advice, and support to guide you through your English-learning journey.


Author: Oxford University Press ELT

Every year we help millions of people around the world to learn English. As a department of the University of Oxford, we further the University’s objective of excellence in education by publishing proven and tested language learning books, eBooks, learning materials, and educational technologies.

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