Exam Practice Papers As A Learning Tool


Are you planning to prepare your class for high-stakes exams in the upcoming academic year? In this article, we will explore the benefits of incorporating practice papers in your syllabus and some useful tips to secure their effectiveness.


Exam practice papers can prove invaluable to students for quite a few reasons. Among others, they can help students evaluate their knowledge and skills before exams, identify areas of weakness, and improve.

Practice papers aid in recycling and consolidating the language recently taught, such as vocabulary, grammar points, language functions, while tracking performance and checking progress. If   students can transfer their current knowledge and skills to more and different contexts, then they should be on the right track.

Text by: Paul Bouniol

Additionally, practice papers acquaint students with the structure and main features of the exam, enable them to understand what examiners are looking for, and develop specific practice routines, such as producing concise answers to the questions set. What is more, they help students realise that their assessment is fair; exam aims, assessment criteria, expected answers etc. are open to all.

Practice papers can also enhance students’ time management skills provided they complete them under full exam conditions (within the time set, without aids or support from anyone etc.).

Interestingly enough, practice papers can allow students to mark themselves if guided by the mark scheme available with their practice paper; this should help them get a better and more accurate understanding of the allocation of marks, which is not always clear to the whole class.

Naturally, practice papers help students prepare psychologically for their exam day, tune to it, foresee the upcoming challenge, tackle exam anxiety, and hence feel even more confident. Not to mention that such practice trains them to stay focused and resist temptations, such as taking frequent breaks or resorting to aids to answer questions.

One more benefit of practice papers is that they can get students out of their ‘comfort zone’ and make them try harder. The fact that practice papers can provide results almost instantly helps them pursue their efforts until their exam day if encouraged and guided by their teacher’s feedback.

Finally, practice papers can motivate students to reflect on their own mental processes (metacognition). Research has consistently demonstrated that the awareness of one’s own thought processes can improve performance. Regular practice can, for example, facilitate remembering the reading strategies that one needs to better comprehend a text.  Of course, upon completion of practice papers, the teacher’s feedback is crucial.



  • Avoid introducing practice papers too early when students might not have the required knowledge and skills and feel insecure. However, do not leave exam practice until the very last day either, but more or less regularly incorporate a part of a practice paper at the end of your lessons or for homework.


  • Select tasks aimed at ‘success’ to motivate students and initially set short tasks, so as not to discourage the weaker learners. If followed by honest feedback, they should boost the students’ self-confidence.


  • Encourage students to do their practice papers more than once (especially those who are struggling with a section of the exam). This will allow them to monitor whether they are improving.


  • While doing a practice paper, remind students to rely on themselves only and not ask for help from anyone around or resort to other aids (e.g., their notebook or dictionary).


  • In case they get stuck in a particular section (e.g., in the Reading section), advise students to take some extra time to think about what they are required to do, make a note of it (e.g., what the issue was), move to the next parts, and on the following day review what they did not understand.


  • Prompt them to identify their weaknesses and work on them early enough. Make sure, though, that enough time is left for remedial work until their exam day.


  • Remind students that they are more likely to retain key information if they learn it spaced over time: ‘cramming’ a few hours before their exam is not advisable and brings out poor results.


  • Train students in marking themselves by setting a few tasks that you will score all together. Then, set a few more tasks, share a copy of the mark scheme, and ask them to mark their responses independently. Being a little stricter than the mark scheme is advisable as it will help them try a little harder until their big day.


  • Provide immediate feedback upon completion of a task or practice paper. This will help students better retain what was right and why, and they won’t risk retrieving incorrect information in the future. Repeated feedback gradually develops the students’ ability to monitor their own mental processes (i.e., their metacognition).


  • Make sure students have a comprehensive understanding of all key exam features before the exam day. Consider asking them to share or explain those key features to their peers,



As highlighted above, practice papers can offer learning benefits to students and create an excellent basis for the consolidation of knowledge and rehearsal of specific skills. The great number of research studies currently available demonstrate that practice tests (and tests in general), can substantially improve student learning.

Hopefully, this article provided you with all the necessary information and practical tips to effectively use practice papers and start mapping your syllabus accordingly for the next academic year.


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