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Exam Tips and Grammar Checklist

Careless mistakes can be the bane of a student’s life at exam time, often resulting in significant point deductions and disappointing grades. Students with the potential to get over 90% find themselves surprised to get closer to 70%. Here are a few tips to avoid mistakes and boost grades:

Always leave time to double check your work

Leave 5-10 minutes at the end of the test to double check your work. In the heat of the moment, mistakes are not easily seen; leaving extra time at the end allows you to read your answer to yourself in your head and hear any mistakes.


Consider leaving difficult questions to the end

Don’t waste time on difficult questions, especially if they’re not worth many points; skip over them and come back at the end of the test if you have time after answering and checking all the easier questions you can score points on.


Look over your punctuation

Check you’ve correctly used full stops, exclamation marks and question marks at the end of sentences and that you’ve not let any comma splices slip through (remember: if it could be a full stop, it can’t be a comma). Don’t forget to check for capital letters too, especially in short forms (e.g. MTR and NASA) and names (e.g. Mr Wong).


Check for the commonest mistakes

The majority of grammar mistakes occur in verb endings for tenses. People often forget to check these as they know the grammar rules well and assume they won’t have got them wrong. Even in something as basic as simple present tense, you’ll be surprised by the errors that slip through when you’re in a hurry. For example, students often forget to add an S/ES or change Y to IES on third-person-singular (HE/SHE/IT) verbs:

He runs.
She catches.
Mary flies.

Note: we do not add an S/ES for third-person-singular modal verbs, nor the verbs that follow them:

He can run.
She should fly.


Learn and check collocations and their associated rules

In gap-fill exercises, students often miss marks because they put in a close but not quite correct verb or preposition. There are lots of verbs that only collocate (match) with certain prepositions, and you have to get them exactly right or your sentence is incorrect. For example, we can say, ‘She shot the arrow at the target,’ but not ‘She shot the arrow to the target,’ and we could say either ‘She threw the ball at her sister,’ or ‘She threw the ball to her sister,’ but they have very different meanings.

Changing a verb into a noun can also mean the rest of the sentence must change quite significantly, so whenever you make a small change, make sure to reread everything around it. For example, we can change, ‘I prefer to eat cake,’ to a sentence that uses the noun form of prefer, but we must change several other words in the sentence too: ‘I have a preference for eating cake.’


Follow these simple tips to cut down on careless mistakes and boost your exam grades.