Is a General or an Exam course right for me ?

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Many new students at HLS want to know which type of course best fits their needs, and after successfully completing one course others want to know which class will best help them maintain and build upon their progress. This post will give you the main information you need to determine what kind of course is right for you, but if you want more personalised information just speak to your teacher, they know you as an individual and will be able to give you advice which tailored to your individual goals.

- Difference between General and Exam courses. 

The first thing to think about is the difference between General and Exam courses. General English courses are available at every level from Elementary to Advanced. You will develop all  4 main language skills (speaking, reading, writing and listening) but the focus will be on speaking, giving you the skills, knowledge and confidence to communicate effectively in real life situations. Teachers usually use a coursebook as a guide to make sure the course has a clear structure and covers a variety of themes, but they have a lot of flexibility and can adapt your lessons to suit the interests and needs of their students. For example, some groups might want to practice language they can use at work, or when looking for a new flatshare, others might prefer to learn through different team games and imaginative topics. Taking an active role in your learning is the most effective way to progress, so your teacher will always be happy to hear suggestions about what you’d like to cover in class.

Exam classes are designed to prepare you specifically for different international English exams. Of course, your teacher will always want to make sure you’re enjoying your classes, but they won’t have as much flexibility in what’s taught as in the General English classes. The content of the class will be very structured, and you’ll have to commit to studying outside of class in order to progress. 

- IELTS, TOEIC, CAE, CPE, FCE, TOEFL… Which Exam is right for me?

You might have decided that an exam course is best for you, but there are a huge number of different ones to choose from, and it can be difficult to know which one is right for you, but we can help you!

At HLS there are two main types of exam we prepare students for: IELTS, and the Cambridge ‘First’ and ‘Advanced’ Certificates. These are some of the most well known, respected, and useful international certificates available, and we offer different courses which meet in the daytime, evening, and weekend, so whatever your schedule, you can find a slot which suits you. 
The grid below includes some questions that can help you decide which exam is best for you. 


What do I need the exam for?

This is the most important question to ask, if you require an exam for a specific visa or university course, this will guide your decision

How important is the final grade?

IELTS: is graded on a scale from 1-9. Everyone takes the same exam and receives a score, so it’s not actually possible to ‘fail’, but most people have a specific minimum score they need to achieve for their specific purposes.

CAE/FCE: You take the Cambridge exams at specific levels, either First Certificate (B2) or Advanced (C1), these are assessed through different exams so it’s important to be confident about your level before you enroll and pay for it.

Do I need the certificate urgently?

IELTS: You can take IELTS every 2 weeks, and will receive the results 13 days after taking the exam.

CAE/FCE: You can take Cambridge Exams every 3 months and will need to wait approx. 6 weeks for the results.

When am I going to use this exam?


  • Official validity expires after 2 years (but it’s always a good idea to put the certificate and score on your CV)


  • Permanently valid.

(although universities and employers will obviously look more favourably on you if the certificate is recent)

What kinds of exam task are best suited to me?


- you will be required to write a written description of a graph or diagram as well as an essay.
-you will be alone with the examiners in the exam room.


- you will have to write an essay and another type of extended writing such as a formal letter, report or review

-you will have to answer specific questions testing your knowledge of english grammar, vocabulary, and structure

- you will do your speaking exam in a pair, and your social interaction with your partner forms part of the assessment

Unlike some other exams, it’s very easy to take them at a local test centre, and they also test all 4 skills, so you can be sure that you’ll comprehensively improve your English as you prepare for them. However, our teachers also have experience preparing students for other exams, such as TOEIC and TOEFL, so if you know that you require a different exam in order to meet your goals, don’t hesitate to speak with us about private classes. 

-What’s the best way for me to study?

As with all types of lesson at HLS, you can choose to study in a small groups of students, or in a private class either alone or with a partner or friend. 
The option you choose is up to you and the learning style that best suits you. Some students prefer the individual focus of a 1:1 class, while others learn better by interacting in a group dynamic. In either case you’ll be being taught by the same dedicated, experienced and well qualified members of the teaching team.


If you’re new to Bristol or to HLS, don’t hesitate to come in for an appointment with a member of the academic management team, they will be more than happy to speak to you in person about how HLS can help you to meet your language goals. 

Blog by Caitlyn Herrity