English Test Guide

The English Test Summary
What: General English exams test student comprehension on subjects such as literature, reading comprehension and grammar.
Who: Students from kindergarten through college can expect English exams.
Where: Exams are typically given in a classroom setting with other students.
When: Tests may be frequent or infrequent depending upon the instructor; teachers usually distribute syllabi which list important test dates.
How: Usually paper and pencil, although sometimes electronic scanning sheets are used.
Type: English exams may test on spelling, grammar, language skills, reading comprehension, or composition skills, among other areas.
Why: Such tests help determine a student's compentency in areas of English literature, grammar and writing.
Time: Allotted time for an exam varies by teacher; it is a good idea to distribute time for the completion of each section of an exam.
Language: English
Preparation: Looking over notes, primary reading materials, and textbooks are reliable methods of familiarizing oneself with test material. If further assistance is desired, extra insight may be gained from a teacher or nearby tutoring center.
Cost: None
English examinations are a major part of public and private school curriculum. In addition to basic skills for learning the English language, the subject deals with reading comprehension, syntax and grammar and composition skills. English classes are taught in every grade from kindergarten through the twelfth grade, and most colleges have compulsory composition or literature courses.

How General English Tests Work

Exams are typically administered in a classroom setting. Most often, exams are paper and pencil, though some multiple-choice exams are filled out with electronically-graded bubble sheets. Questions on the exam draw from class lecture and homework material, and the exam itself may be a standardized version from a textbook or other source, or uniquely crafted by the teacher. Time allotted for the test and the number of questions will vary by teacher. Test format may include multiple-choice and true-or-false questions, and English exams typically involve more essay and fill-in-the-blank questions than do other subjects.

The material covered on an English exam varies, depending on grade level. The following is a generalized overview of curriculum found in US public schools:
  • Kindergarten — Oral language; the building of basic language and communication skills, alphabet characters
  • Grade 1 — Connections between storytelling and information/idea gathering, sentence formation
  • Grade 2 — Basics of language structure, pattern forming
  • Grade 3 — Basic rules of grammar, sentence structure
  • Grade 4 — Expanding multisyllabic vocabulary, independent reading and story comprehension
  • Grade 5 — Vocabulary and spelling, composition basics
  • Grades 6-8 — Classical literature and prose, advanced reading comprehension
  • Grade 9 — Basics of essay writing, advanced grammar and syntax
  • Grade 10 — Expanding written expression, comprehension of theme and plot, literary devices
  • Grade 11 — American literature, composition of research papers
  • Grade 12 — World literature, comprehension and analysis of various literary forms
  • College — Almost all colleges and universities require a basic composition course and at least one literature course

Types of English Exams
In the earliest stages of school, English examinations are often given orally between teacher and student. A teacher may read several sentences from a book and ask the student to relay the general idea behind the story or for specific details within. Spelling tests usually involve an instructor reading a word, giving its part of speech and reading it within the context of a sentence for the student to spell on paper.

Written examinations become commonplace as students progress. The format may vary between test and teacher, but the most common forms of questioning may include true or false, multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank or essay questions.

How to Prepare for English Exams

A basic understanding of grammar and syntax and logical organization for ideas goes a long way for successful essay responses. Knowing the source material is invaluable, as questions often ask you to draw on specific examples from a text through memory. Teachers will often give some idea of what to expect for exam questions, and asking never hurts.

Other tests that are based on memorization (vocabulary or spelling, for example) are best prepared for with small, consistent study sessions. Flashcards are beneficial for many students. Most teachers will prepare study guides for important tests, and these serve to narrow down the most important concepts to study. These concepts are usually addressed in class notes and textbooks.

If a student is having difficulty preparing for English exams, local test preparation or tutoring centers can provide valuable help while working at the student’s preferred pace.

How to Interpret English Exam Scores

Exams are usually scored and returned to a student within several days after an exam. Electronically scored tests may provide results immediately, while essay examinations may take longer for a teacher to evaluate. For subjective formats like essay, teachers may formulate a rubric and assign numerical values to different skills and ideas generated within the writing. Otherwise, grades are calculated as the percent of correct answers out of the total number of possible correct answers. For instance, answering 17 questions correctly out of a possible 20 questions equals a score of 85%. This percentage is often translated into a corresponding letter grade, as determined by school administrators.

Interested in extra preparation for an English exam? Visit our English Test Directory of helpful test prep providers and resources.  For more information on Grammar tests, see our Grammer Test Guide and Grammar Test Directory.  To learn more about Literature tests, see our Literature Test Guide and Literature Test Directory.

Sources: Virginia Department of Education, New York Department of Education