Why I have taken international English exams 5 times

Last December I took my fifth international exam in English. “Why do you take exams?” is a question I get asked a lot. In this post, I want to answer this question.

First, my exam history:
2011 IELTS 8.5
2013 IELTS 8.5
2013 TOEFL 115
2016 IELTS 9
2018 C2 Proficiency A (CPE)

So what is this madness for?
1. I want to get an independent assessment of my English. I think my own assessment of my skills is less credible or reliable than an internationally recognized certificate with the C2 English level on it. Additionally, having my level assessed by strangers helps me identify my weaknesses and get a clear picture of what I am good or bad at. 2. I want to see if I can perform under pressure. To be brutally honest, I know my language skills are good even without taking any tests. But I see value in testing myself in high-pressure situations.

Many people underperform in exams because of exam nerves. It’s normal. But the way I see it is if I have great language skills and get low sco…

Cracking Britain. Part 1.

I am thrilled to present a guest post by Olesya Komarova, an avid traveller and English learner. In her post, she shares her experience of travelling in Great Britain and making the most of it on a tight budget. 
This is a story of how to spend 16 days in a country with average salary 10 times higher than yours and get the most of it.  You know this nice motivation-movie scenario: young people tired of wasting best years of their lives one day hit the road to prove the world how free and independent they are. I used to listen to such stories with awe, until I realized - they were not true. First, you can hardly call ‘freedom’ absolute dependence on other people’s benevolence (that is what hitchhiking is actually about). Second, sometimes this benevolence fails (that is when the ‘adventures’ begin). But being stuck on a road in the middle of nowhere having nothing to eat and nowhere to go is not exactly the type of adventures I was looking for. I figured out a more reliable kind of fre…

What I learned from my 100-day writing challenge

100 days before the New Year, a friend and a colleague of mine Daria Maslovskaya suggested doing a 100-day challenge. The idea was to do any activity for 100 days for the purpose of building discipline. I agreed. We both went for writing. I had always wanted to blog more consistently and was considering taking CPE, so the challenge was perfect.

The rules were straightforward. We had to write for 20 minutes a day. If we didn’t, we had to make up this time on another day.

In this post, I want to share what I learned from my 100-day writing challenge.
1 Time is plentiful. I had the time to write for 20 minutes a day on 90% of days. There were days when I absolutely didn’t have the time but very few. Most of the time I found for writing came out of my lazy time. No important activities were hurt.

Takeaway: “I don’t have the time” is an illusion. You do.
2 Inspiration is a stereotype. Pablo Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” This is very true. I didn’t …

To err is human or my thoughts on error correction

In June, I went to a great seminar on error correction in ELT conducted by Eva Kartchava, who is doing research in this area. As a warm-up, she gave us 5 questions she was going to cover and asked us to discuss them in pairs. My discussion partner turned out to be a “personal broadcaster”- she turned to me and started talking with total disregard to what the questions were, what I had to say, and whether I was even listening. Since I didn’t get a chance to speak then, I want to speak now. In this post, I want to finally answer Eva’s questions and talk about the way I deal with error correction.
1 Should errors be corrected? Yes. Uncorrected mistakes grow into fossilized errors which are virtually impossible to weed out. That said, not all errors and not always. Which brings me to questions 2 and 3.
2 When should learners’ errors be corrected? Errors can be corrected either immediately or after the speaking activity. The downside of the former is that the teacher has to break the flo…

C2 Proficiency. Writing Task 2. Review (of a film I haven’t seen).

I keep writing like crazy because I am preparing for the C2 Proficiency test (fka CPE). In my previous post, I shared my Writing Part 2 article. In this post, I want to share a review I wrote about a movie I haven't seen and give some insights into handling an unfortunate task.
TaskA film magazine has invited readers to submit reviews of films which are set in the future, but deal with themes relevant to today’s world, such as our relationship with technology or environmental problems. You decide to submit a review briefly describing such a film and explaining why its themes are relevant today. You should also consider how important it is for films set in the future to say something about contemporary society.(Cambridge English Proficiency 2, Test 2, Question 4).
This is a really unfortunate task for me because I watch very few movies, maybe 3 a year. But as I read it, I imagined myself sitting in the exam room not wanting to fail, so I had to come up with something.
How I dealt wi…

C2 Proficiency. Writing Part 2. Article. Ireland.

I am now preparing for the C2 Proficiency test (fka CPE) and writing like crazy. I know most people get the lowest score for the writing component of English exams (find out why here), which is not something I want to happen to me, so I write. In this post, I want to share my Writing Part 2 article about being close to nature.

A magazine is running a series of articles on people’s experiences of being close to nature, for example, visits to beautiful lakes and mountains, or encounters with wildlife. You decide to write an article in which you briefly describe an experience you have had when you were close to nature, and explain what you learned from this. You should also evaluate the role that contact with nature plays in people’s lives. (Cambridge English Proficiency 2, Test 1, Question 4).
My answer: Out of all the countries I have visited, Ireland stands out. Nowhere have I seen such scenic and serene places so close to city life. The country is literally lined with spectacula…

8 more common mistakes Russian learners make. Third post is the charm.

This is now my third post about common mistakes Russian learners make in English, so I’ll get straight to the point.

1 Actual problem
All these mistakes are actually a serious problem. They travel from generation to generation of learners and are rooted so deeply in their minds that they are almost impossible to weed out. ‘Actual’ means real, not imaginary, existing in fact; it does not mean актуальный (=currently important). The adjectives you can use with problem include but are not limited to: serious, growing, major, pressing, and urgent.

2 Big number
A large number of mistakes have their roots in translation. Sadly, a large number of people keep learning English through translation even at high levels, so the mistakes persist. A large number of learners pin their hopes on explanations. However, a large number of times explanations are of little help. A large number of repetitions of the correct version is what really helps.

(More about the intricacies of number in this great Lo…