Secrets to the Use of English (Grammar) Level Test

Nick and Akin

By: Sarah Weekley

The Use of English (grammar) portion of a level test can be the most mysterious– and frustrating– part for many students.  Even those with a strong understanding of grammar and vocabulary may find themselves confused by the Use of English tasks.  Often this is because students don’t really understand what the questions are asking.

On a Use of English test, you’ll see a mix of all the grammar and vocabulary that you are learning in your level, so you can’t predict what exactly you’ll see (mysterious).  This also means that studying in the usual way probably won’t help you very much (frustrating).

Fortunately, there are ways to improve your Use of English score.  Knowing what to expect on the test is key to boosting your results.

1. Know what language you’re likely to be tested on.

Check the grammar and vocabulary section of your level descriptors.  Should you know phrasal verbs?  Food vocabulary?  Present perfect?  Having an idea of what grammar and vocabulary you’re supposed to be able to use at your level will give you a clue what to keep an eye out for.

2. Familiarize yourself with the format.

You can save time by knowing what the question is asking.  Different tasks are designed to test how well you can use grammar and vocabulary in different ways.  Here are some common Use of English tests that you might find on your exam:

Word formation– In this task, you will also see a short text with some gaps.  The difference is that you have to fill the gaps with a form of the word you are given.  This means that you might need to add a prefix and/or a suffix to the word, and possibly make other spelling changes.  That’s right, spelling counts!  Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Generally, prefixes change the meaning, and suffixes change the part of speech, i.e. noun to adjective.
  • Check to see whether you need a verb tense or plural ending, or whether the word should have a negative meaning.

Try this example: _______________, we missed the bus, so we’ll have to walk.  FORTUNE

Did you guess Unfortunately?  Give yourself another point!

Keyword transformations– This task essentially asks you to paraphrase a sentence.  Attention to detail is essential here.  Make sure you follow the instructions: use the correct number of words, and don’t change the keyword.

Now, try to recognize what grammar the question is testing.  Some common grammar to keep an eye out for includes direct and reported speech, gerund and infinitive, relative clauses, active and passive sentences, modal verbs, phrasal verbs, and comparative structures.

Here’s one for you to try:

I have never traveled by train before.   FIRST

This is the ____________________ by train.

Did you say first time I have traveled?  Three for three!  Knowing how to say the same thing in different ways is a valuable skill, but it will take some practice.

So keep these “secrets” in mind as you prepare for your next Use of English test, and know that you’ll be able to tackle the tasks effectively.  Good luck and happy testing!