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Compiled by Bethe Lewis, Defense Language Institute English Language Center


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. “+” indicates a level of proficiency that substantially exceeds the base skill level but does not fully or consistently meet all of the criteria for the next higher base level. “ – “ indicates that the test taker failed to meet the language proficiency requirements for Level 1+. 
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.


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.


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.


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 which is a really good source of in-depth news reporting in sophisticated English.


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). 

General Advice

  1. A key element of the listening test is that you have time after each segment to check your answers. You also have time before each text to read what is next on your paper. Use this time. If you know what the possible answers say, you can listen for the ideas.
  2. In between each section, you will have time to relax and empty your brain of what has gone before. Please empty your brains thoroughly at this point so you are ready to listen attentively in the next section.
  3. Once you have answered a question, move on. Studies have shown that if you go back and start second-guessing yourself, you’ll change your answer from a correct one to one that’s not so much so. Go with your gut instincts when you’re not sure. There’s no penalty for guessing. If you can’t answer a question, make your best guess and then leave it.
  4. The questions will not test your knowledge in English on specific vocabulary or grammar, but your ability to understand both the key points and the details of a recording.
  5. You will have to read, listen, and write, in that order, so be calm and ready. Focus.
  6. The best practice you can do is listen to a variety of texts in a variety of accents. Our tests mostly use speakers with American and British accents, so focus on those. The internet and television are your friends, so use them both well.
  7. For sentence completion tasks, once you have written you answer, go back and reread the entire statement to make sure it makes sense.

Specific Advice

  1. Read the questions first and focus on the key words to listen for.
  2. The information in one question or answer may help you as a lead-in to the next, so stay with the flow of information. Your predicting skills can help here, so get out your crystal ball. Use what you read in the questions and previous answers to predict what’s coming next. This is not so much a conscious activity as subconscious.
  3. If you miss one question, forget it and go on to the next. It is much better to miss one question than to sit and rack your brain and miss the entire next text.
  4. Listen for synonyms from the question or stem. They are your friends.
  5. Try not to obsess about words you hear that you don’t recognize. Keep listening. You can figure some things out from context. Try to get the general idea, with some details.
  6. Always look at the example. It tells you what we’re generally looking for and indicates where question 1 will start.
  7. The stem you see in the question is a great clue to what we’re looking for. Based on the way it’s set up, you can even predict what grammar units we’re looking for.
  8. Sometimes we will want you to copy information directly from the recording (i.e., in a chart). In other answers, we want you to generalize and talk about key points, without quoting directly from the recording. In other words, sometimes we want you to use our words and sometimes your own.
  9. After you’re finished, go back and reread your answers to check for grammar and spelling errors. Then empty your brain for the next part.


The test takes up to 25 minutes. We will record it. This is for your benefit. In case any questions arise, we can listen again or have it reviewed by an outside source. There will be two testers: one will speak with you and the other one will listen and evaluate. They will give you a rating together. There are four sections in the test, a combination of monologues and dialogues.
  • The first part is the warm-up. You’ll be asked some questions about yourself and your job. (about 4 minutes)
  • The second part is describing pictures. You will look at two pictures, describe both of them in as much detail as possible in both concrete and abstract terms, and then compare and contrast them. You should also mention any thoughts or feelings the pictures bring up in you. (about 5 minutes)
  • The third section is discussion on several topics. The interviewer will ask you questions on different topics which vary from travelling and daily life to education, environmental and military issues. (about 10 minutes)
  • The fourth section is mini presentation. You will get a card that describes a problem. You will be expected to describe the issue, discuss all the different aspects, and finish with a conclusion. You may be asked to offer solutions; give arguments both for and against individual policies; speculate on the reasons behind an individual’s or organization’s behavior; evaluate someone else’s decision, especially with regard to its strengths and weaknesses; speculate on the origins of a particular problem; evaluate the effectiveness of certain public policies; and/or discuss the consequences of a person’s actions or organizational policies. (about 6 minutes, including preparation time)

General Advice

  1. The best practice you can do is…well, practice. Take every chance you get to speak English.
  2. The overview above tells you exactly what’s going to happen in the test. Practice. Look at pictures that have similarities and differences and talk about them out loud to yourself. This will help you and vastly amuse you co-workers and family. Practice conversations about the topics in your head. Think about what you would say about various areas: media, entertainment, health, etc. Think about the last time you had to solve a problem at work and talk about it in English.
  3. Pay attention to grammar and syntax. If you hear yourself make a mistake, correct it. We do not listen and write down every mistake. We are listening more for patterns of errors. It’s helpful to record yourself and then listen for your mistakes. But focus on your meaning, not the grammar. What’s really important is what you say and how you say it. Do not focus on the mistakes.
  4. Do not try to memorize chunks of speech to use during the test. If you start reciting, we will interrupt you and ask another question to get you on a different track.
  5. Remember that it’s completely normal to be nervous. All that adrenalin in your system will keep you more alert, so that’s a good thing.
  6. Once you have finished one part of the test, forget it. Concentrate on what you’re doing when you’re doing it. This is especially important in the speaking test.
  7. Pay attention and keep eye contact only with the interviewer/examiner who is talking to you. The rater is there to take notes and evaluate and will not react to anything you say. He or she is a “fly on the wall.” It doesn’t mean she doesn’t like what you say; she’s just very busy taking notes and listening for patterns.
  8. The interviewer will usually ask follow-up questions. It doesn’t mean you left something out; it’s a normal part of the test.
  9. Once again, PRACTICE. This is important because when we talk, we normally use the same regular vocabulary over and over. Try to practice using your whole range of vocabulary so you’ll do the same during the test. Practice speaking naturally and evenly (as much as possible). 

Specific Advice

  1. 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. You will be asked both general-interest questions and questions about your life and your opinions. This is not the time to be shy.
  2. When you are asked to describe someone or something, we want both concrete and abstract information. Describe what you see. What do the people look like? What are they doing? What kind of person do you think heshe is? How do the pictures make you feel? What is the “mood” of the scene?
  3. Be careful of “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. Be very clear in saying, “I don’t know the price of peanut butter in China, but I’m sure it’s not very expensive.” Now we know you understood the question & simply don’t have an answer.
  4. On the mini presentation part of the speaking test, many people forget to give an introduction and a conclusion. Pretend the tester doesn’t know what’s on the card. Tell him or her what the problem is. Make sure you answer all the questions on the card, but do not answer the questions as if you were reading a list. End with a conclusion. Pretend you are giving a 3-minute speech when you do this part, because you are.
  5. When the interviewer asks you a question, try to answer it using synonyms and not exactly the same words she used. It shows comprehension.
  6. When you are given the pictures, you will have one minute to mentally plan what you’re going to say. Use this time to look, think, and plan.
  7. During the mini presentation, you will be given two minutes to plan and take notes. Use this time to think and plan. When you take notes, be brief. You can refer to your notes as you talk, but don’t read them. Use connective phrases.
  8. There is no benefit in your score if you begin speaking immediately but what you say isn’t organized. People who start speaking immediately usually focus on the general aspects of the picture or question, rather than the specific details. We want both.
  9. It is not true that the faster you speak, the higher your English ability is. Some people who talk very fast are completely incomprehensible. At the same time, don’t try to speak slower than usual. Speak at a normal rate for you.

General advice

  1. Read the questions before you read the text. This is especially important if you are running out of time. You can then look for key words in the text. The questions may be paraphrases of something that’s in the text, so the exact words may not be there. Look for the meaning as well as key words.
  2. Once you have answered a question, move on. Studies have shown that if you go back and start second-guessing yourself, you’ll change your answer from a correct one to one that’s not so much so. Go with your gut instincts when you’re not sure. There’s no penalty for guessing.
  3. If you can’t answer a question, leave it and come back later. The back of your brain will be working on it while you do something else. You may have a “Eureka” moment when you come back and “suddenly” know the answer. Or you may not. At any rate, once you have finished each section, let it go and don’t go back.

The writing test has three tasks: a description, a job-related letter, and an essay. You have to do two tasks and you have 90 minutes to do them. When you are aiming for Level 2, you must write the description and the letter, and when you are aiming for Level 3, you must write the letter and the essay.

General Advice

  1. Time is very important in this test. Make sure that you have enough time to think, plan, write, reread, and check for errors.
  2. Count your words on both tasks. Make sure that you are not too far over or under the word limits (100 for the description, 200 for the letter and 350 for the essay). Don’t worry if you’re a little bit under or a little bit over.
  3. Try not to repeat exactly what the task says. Use synonyms.
  4. Use transitional and connecting phrases that help your writing hang together. Look at the list of these expressions and become familiar with them before the test. Don’t use them unless you are sure of their meaning and that you are using them correctly.
  5. Use adjectives, adverbs, and time expressions, but don’t overdo them.
  6. There are lots of different ways you can express yourself. Some functions you might want to use include: explanation, making a proposal, contrasting, comparing, and offering an opinion. You might also make general statements (not too many) or give specific examples. Finally, you could also talk about reasons, results, advantages & disadvantages, probability, conditions, facts, cause & effect, consequences, or purpose.

Specific Advice


  1. Read the instructions carefully and describe the object/person/place/situation in as much detail as possible.
  2. Start with the big picture.
  3. Avoid abstract and general words. Don’t just say that the girl is beautiful, describe her beauty.


  1. Make sure you follow the directions.
  2. Use a closing such as “Yours faithfully” or “Yours sincerely”and then put a name below it (not your real name). Remember that the letter is a semi-formal one, related to your job, so keep your register formal. Do not use slang or colloquial language.
  3. Make sure you have paragraphs within the letter. For a letter of this length, 3-4 paragraphs is good.


  1. Read the instructions carefully and follow them. Make sure you have an introduction and a conclusion, plus several paragraphs in the body.
  2. In your introduction, you should state your main idea for the whole essay and indicate what you are going to talk about. Develop your ideas fully, one per paragraph. You should start each paragraph with a topic sentence that indicates the main idea of the paragraph. The rest of the paragraph should support or explain that main idea.
  3. Use transitional expressions that help your paragraphs hang together. See the chart on transitional expressionsconnectives, and practice using them. Be careful of using these expressions unless you know what other phrases and grammar units go with them. Make sure you understand them before using them.
  4. In your conclusion, you should restate the main idea of the whole paper, mention each of your sub-points, and end with a final thought. It is a very good idea to take notes or make an outline for the essay.

Editing your Work

  1. Check your spelling.
  2. Pay attention to verb tenses. It’s okay to mix them up as long as they work together in the paragraph, but make sure you stay in the same general time frame within each paragraph.
  3. Check the agreement between your subject and verb and make sure they match. Mistakes such as “they has” really stick out.
  4. Make sure you have followed the instructions exactly and addressed the issue.
  5. Avoid a lot of repetition. You will be expected to repeat a little in your introduction and conclusion, but try to use synonyms.
  6. Check articles (a, an, the). They are often left out.
  7. Be careful with prepositions. These are also common mistakes.
  8. Practice editing something else you’ve written before the test, so you’ll be in the habit of looking for all these things.

For more help, see the following documents:

Last updated: 3. May 2023, 15:16

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