English Verb Tenses: tips and strategies for Hong Kong students

Most ESL school exams contain tense exercises in the form of passages. These can be very difficult for Hong Kong students and are one of the areas where marks can be dropped easily.

It is easy to buy books and worksheets containing practice for individual tenses but passages containing multiple tenses are difficult to find. Click the link on the left for more information about my printable e-books.

Invite your child to try my tailor-made elite-kids free tense practice tests (links on the right) to see how they are doing.

Here are some proven strategies for tackling tense exercises which I have used over the years to help my students cope well with passages.

How to tackle tense exercises

Always skim through the whole paragraph before attempting the blanks. Each passage is like a mini comprehension exercise. Students need to connect with the meaning.

Look at the type of text. If it is a story or diary entry, it is likely to contain a lot of past tense.

If it is an article, it may contain a wide variety of tenses.

Trust your first feeling. If you start questioning yourself, you are more likely to make mistakes.

Look for clues in the sentences:

Time words: these indicate changes in tenses

Other verbs: these show the tense or relationships

Beware when there is direct speech. Tenses change a lot in direct speech.

My three-step strategy for tackling tense exercises. For each blank:

Step 1:
Think about whether the answer is active or passive.

To do this, you need to look at the subject. Can the subject 'do' the action or is something/someone doing the action to the subject.

Step 2:
Decide on the tense/verb form.

To do this, you need to look at the time clues and the general meanings contained in the passage.

Here are uses of the common tenses:

Present simple tense

Present continuous tense

Past simple tense

Past continuous tense

Future tense

Future continuous tense

Present perfect tense

Past perfect tense

Future perfect tense


Other verb forms include:

gerunds (-ing forms)

infinitives

Step 3:
Think about the agreement.

Agreement just means using the correct form of the verb. For example for present simple, we need to add the 's' in the singular form.

Many students get step 1 and step 2 correct but then get the agreement wrong.

Download and print the tense chart from the link on the right.

For tense passage exercises to prepare for Hong Kong exams, click the link on the right to contact me.

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Free downloadable and printable tense chart (English verb tenses) - click here for PDF

Print and use for reference


Tense exam practice e-worksheets for Hong Kong