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