Language Exams: To Take or Not to Take

I could write a book about what I think about language exams because it’s so complicated 😀 However, I’ll spare you that and just summarise my points as concisely as I can in this blog post.
Language exams definitely require a lot of preparation and they often not cheap. Like any exams they’re also stressful. This means that it’s good to have a reason to take them. Here are some of the motivations.

You Have to Pass an Exam

This is the most common motivation for taking language exams. Maybe you’re considering moving countries or studying abroad, maybe your boss told you you need to do it. If that’s the case keep the following in mind:

  • Make sure that you know where and when to take it. Also, register in advance and ideally pass it way before your deadline to allow additional time for a retake.
  • Prepare for this specific exam
  • Make sure you know what score you need and plan your study accordingly

Remember that you have to be realistic about your timeline. People can learn a language very fast but you should know your limitations. If you’re short on time, invest in an intensive course or ideally both that and a private tutor.

You Want to Have Some Proof of Your Language Skills

This one is more tricky because then you have more options when it comes to choosing exams. Consider your needs carefully and make sure that you take an exam that will suit you. Any official exam will do for general professional purposes. If you would like to have more options for the future, however, you may want to choose a specific exam. For instance, with English exams the US may have a strong preference for IELTS but European countries often accept other official language exams too.
Honestly, I haven’t seen a difference in how potential employers and clients treat me since I passed French language exams. Many companies still have internal language tests. There’s a good reason for that too! I’ve heard of a number of situations when someone exaggerated their languages skills and was unable to perform their job.
It doesn’t have to be wilful misleading: sometimes people pass language exams but completely abandon the language after them. Two years of no language exposure can really get you from hero to almost zero. Many places prefer exams taken in the last two years, some exams also have an expiration date.
If you want to make sure that an exam can really help you Google is your friend. You can also contact student advisors of local language schools and ask them for help.

You Want Some Motivation to Keep Learning the Language

With your main motivation for the exam being, well, motivation, taking a language exam is a great tool. By preparing to an exam you have to practise your active and passive skills on a variety of topics. Your vocabulary will grow and you’ll definitely see a lot of improvement in your spoken and written language skills. You’ll also learn a lot about the country’s culture and history, while working with old exam papers.
The best thing you can do for your motivation is to commit to an exam date. In other words, don’t be me! I’ve been postponing my C2 Italian language exam for over a year now. In my defence it’s mostly, because the local Dante Institute refuses to organise it for one person only and flying to another city here costs and arm and a leg.

Should You Take a Language Exam?

If you have to do it – yes! If there’s a chance it’ll improve your career prospects – yes! If it help you to motivate yourself to keep learning – yes!
So when not to take such exams? Well, language exams are academically oriented. This means that to pass them you need to learn how to write in for official and non-official purposes. At higher levels you have to write essays and give speeches.
If you’re only having fun with the language or speaking it is enough for your needs, preparing for such formal exams may suck the fun out of it.
What’s more, it’s questionable how much such exams really prove. As I mentioned before, many companies will still give you some kind of test to check your skills. This often means that your performance will be tested during job specific tasks.
Sure, it’s great that you have your German exam but can you communicate with a Germn speaking client? This is what your employer wants to know. In other words, an exam can be helpful to get your foot in the door but don’t count on it being a free pass to get jobs requiring language skills.

I hope that you’ve found your answer to the question: “Should I pass a language exam?” in this blog post. If you have any questions, the comments’ section is there for you 🙂 À bientôt mes amis ! Udanego weekendu!

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