Renewed: 12.01.2015, 11:16

Helpful hints

Compiled by Bethe Lewis, Defense Language Institute English Language Center

Introduction

 
The STANAG 6001 English exam is a proficiency exam that gives a four-digit Standard Language Profile in the four skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The purpose is to see your performance level. There is no real way to prepare or study for the exam because it evaluates what you can do in English. You can’t memorize anything for it. However, it’s good to know something about it so you’ll be better prepared. 
 
STANAG testing is not a process where we try to trick you. No one is out to get you. The testers will not be trying to lower your score; they will be trying to evaluate you based on what you do. Here is what the levels mean, in a nutshell.
0 – you are unable to function in the language
1 – you use some words and short sentences (often parroting memorized phrases)
2 – you can hold a job and work in this language
3 – you are advanced in the language because you are thinking in it
4 – you can do almost anything in the language
5 – you are the equivalent of a well-educated native
Summary of the levels can be found here
 
The purpose of this document is to help you prepare for the STANAG 6001 English exam. Think about the topics discussed below. Think about what you might say about each of the areas under speaking. Imagine some examples for writing and think what you might write.
 
After you have finished each test, let it go. Do not take what you think is a failure from one section into the next part. Each test gets a separate rating. In Estonia, the highest scores are usually reading and then listening;  speaking is third and writing tends to be the lowest score. As you can see, the receptive parts are easier than the productive ones. This is generally true in most of the world. Do not worry about any individual test. Just do your best, let it go, and go into the next test with a positive mental attitude. It really makes a difference.
  

How to Improve Your Score:

First, the bad news: there isn’t much you can do. The STANAG is a proficiency exam. The purpose is to see your performance level. It isn’t an achievement test where you can study and give the “right” answers to questions. 

The best way to “prepare” for the STANAG is to surround yourself with English as much as possible. Take some official courses. Watch movies in English. Read newspapers in English. There are a million websites you can read daily. Okay, maybe not millions, but definitely thousands. I recommend the NATO website, for one. The point is to read something in English every day. Listen to something in English every day (the NATO website is good for that as well). Take every opportunity to use English with others: on the internet, on the telephone, etc.

Having said all that, here are some things we look for that you might not have thought about, some more specific advice for each of the tests.

Listening

Practice practice practice. Listen to the BBC News every night for at least a month before the test. Watch movies with the subtitles off to see how much you can understand. Then watch again with the subtitles on to see how much you missed. Watch English-language TV shows, especially comedies. They have the best everyday language. Use whatever sources you can find on the internet.

Speaking

Practice practice practice. Estonians tend to answer questions with basic information and then stop. In the speaking test, we want you to talk as much as you can to show us the full range of your speaking abilities. Even if you don’t know a lot about the topic, they were chosen so that anyone should be able to talk about everything in the test. This is not the time to be shy. When you are asked to describe someone or something, we want both concrete and abstract information. If you hear yourself make a mistake, correct it immediately. Do not try to lead the discussion - follow it where it goes. Be careful of saying, “I don’t know.” You may mean that you don’t have an opinion or can’t answer a question but we may think you don’t understand.

Reading

Practice practice practice. The best way to improve your vocabulary is reading. Get on the internet and read something every day. The NATO website is very helpful. So are news sites. You get current events and vocabulary. If you want examples of level 3 and 4 readings, go to www.economist.com which is a really good source of in-depth news reporting in sophisticated English.

Writing

This is always the most difficult skill in any language. Make sure you read the task and understand it. Do exactly what you are supposed to do. Many people spend a lot of time dancing in the neighborhood of the topic, but never actually get anywhere near it. Read the directions very carefully and follow them. The most important thing is what you say and how you organize it. Pay attention to grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Mistakes are expected, but try to catch all the ones you can. 
NB! Plan your writing so that you have time to carefully read what you have written and correct your mistakes.

A special note on level 3 speaking and writing

It’s very difficult to be at level three unless you have lived and worked in a country where you have to use the language all the time. Many people misunderstand this level, thinking that it means a very good 2. It’s not. It really means someone who uses the language smoothly and effortlessly, with occasional errors, but no pattern of errors. It’s someone who is thinking in the target language, not translating in his/her head. 

An extract from a level 2 letter.
An extract from a level 3 essay.

A special note on register (formal and informal language)

Pay close attention to the tasks you are given. They tell you what the register should be. Some are formal and some are more informal. It is not appropriate to use slang in a business letter, but it might be in the speaking section. Do not use profanity in any part of the test, as it is not appropriate. Also, be careful of expressions that you might use regularly in Estonian that might not work in an English test: “it’s normal,” “of course,” and “why not” (used differently in English & Estonian). 

Headquarters of the Estonian Defence Forces, 717 1900, mil[at]mil.ee, Juhkentali 58, EE15007, Tallinn, Estonia.

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