How to Pass the Russian Preparation Exam at HSE

The Russian language preparatory exam is an extremely important exam for international students at HSE. Some of Huong Dang's experience will help you better understand this exam and pass it easily.

How to Pass the Russian Preparation Exam at HSE

The year of Russian preparatory studies could be considered the most comfortable period of my academic journey at HSE. The Russian language program was thoughtfully crafted, providing an engaging experience across four modules. In the first module, we were introduced to the basics of the Russian language. As we progressed to the second module, we began to apply simple Russian grammar and vocabulary to compose straightforward essays.

During the third and fourth modules, we were introduced to subject areas relevant to our chosen program, which for me was in the Social Sciences and Humanities field. These subjects included Literature, Social Studies, and History. Each course was taught by experienced instructors who were proficient in English and, notably, displayed a remarkable level of patience and understanding towards international students. Particularly for students like myself, with limited prior exposure to the Russian language, the teachers' enthusiasm acted as a soothing balm, creating an environment conducive to comfortable language learning.

However, the sense of comfort and lack of pressure during Russian preparatory studies led some students to become complacent with the preparatory exam, resulting in the worst-case scenario of failing to pass it. There was a case like this in my class as well. A student had a relatively good foundation in conversational Russian, so overall, he didn't attend classes regularly, thinking he already knew all the material taught by the teachers. As a result, he could communicate well but struggled with grammar. In an academic-focused environment like HSE, students like him find it challenging to continue their studies at higher levels. Eventually, he had to return to his home country. Of course, this was only a minority case at HSE. Most international students choosing HSE are aware of the rigorous academic environment here and are willing to dedicate a significant amount of time to their studies.

Nevertheless, there are still some difficulties for students to overcome the Russian preparatory exam as well as to prepare a certain knowledge foundation for the following years. Here are some insights I gained during my learning journey.

Don't limit yourself to one Textbook

Most of the time, when studying Russian, students are introduced to one or a few basic Russian textbooks, and the curriculum closely follows these textbooks. However, Russian textbooks tend to be monotonous and dull. Many students in my class felt that the readings in the "Дорога в Россию" textbook were outdated and not suitable for the current social context. Additionally, many vocabulary words are no longer commonly used in daily life. Therefore, if you only study and do exercises based on one or a few basic textbooks, you may easily feel bored and lose interest in Russian.

Instead, there are many new Russian textbooks on the market with vivid illustrations, interesting and realistic readings, simple and understandable grammar explanations, such as "Поехали!", "Жили - были, учебник", "Русская грамматика в картинках для начинающих", "Слушать и услышать", etc. You can use these books to supplement your learning at school.

Furthermore, when entering module 3, it's time to prepare for the Russian exam at the B1 level. However, for students without a Russian language background, class time mostly focuses on teaching new knowledge, leaving little time for students to familiarize themselves with the B1 exam. Therefore, you can also find comprehensive exam preparation books to gradually familiarize yourself with the exam structure and learn new vocabulary. Don't wait until the exam approaches to start familiarizing yourself with the exam; otherwise, you may find the exam difficult and discouraging. Additionally, for difficult grammar questions where you can't find the answer, you can ask the teacher for an explanation.

Read and explore more about Russian culture and history

Subjects like history, literature, and social studies often seem daunting to international students. Not to mention, the first encounter with the Russian language doesn't necessarily happen in the Russian language classes but in other subjects, making it difficult for international students to fully grasp the knowledge presented by the teachers. This is a challenge that most international students face, even those with a good command of Russian. The reason being the fast pace at which teachers speak in subjects other than Russian, along with the use of vocabulary that is often rare in basic Russian textbooks. The inability to understand lectures alongside numerous and challenging assignments is a major cause of frustration and the desire to give up. The only solution is to increase your interest in the subject through forms of entertainment that appeal to you.

For example, a friend of mine who is currently in their second year of graphic design studies decided to learn through famous Russian films like "The Edge," "White Tiger". As for myself, I purchased Russian fairy tale books to practice reading. During free time, I also visit museums or theaters to experience more about the history and traditional culture of Russia. This helps me develop a deeper affection for Russia and provides me with more motivation in my studies. Among the preparatory year courses, my favorite is literature. I've read many Russian literary works such as "War and Peace," "Quiet Flows the Don," "Doctor Zhivago," "Uncle Vanya," "The Adventures of Mitya Dots and His Friends," "The Golden Key and the Amazing Adventures of Buratino," and even love poems by Pushkin. The knowledge gained from these literary works has greatly assisted me in the literature exam. Therefore, there are many ways to increase your love for these subjects. It's not necessary to tirelessly memorize vocabulary in a dull manner. Let your love for Russia help you overcome these subjects in the gentlest way possible.

Focus on simple structures in essays

Essay writing is one of the relatively challenging aspects of the Russian preparatory exam. However, there are "tricks" to overcome it. Instead of trying to write complex essays with grammar structures that you struggle to complete or using lengthy and difficult academic vocabulary, try to express your ideas in the simplest sentence structures or simple compound sentences. Essays are not meant for teachers to evaluate your grammar skills but rather to assess your ability to analyze and argue about a topic, which is essential for higher-level studies. Therefore, to avoid losing points due to grammar errors, try to score by writing simply but effectively.

Secondly, try to memorize the structure of an essay. Each essay topic will have an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. If you are not someone who enjoys creativity in writing or is skilled in composition, these structures will help you complete your essay smoothly and logically. So how can you find a suitable structure? The answer is to choose from essays in the textbooks. You can select an essay that you find good and identify sentences suitable for most situations. But look at them, essay topics related to writing letters or analyzing events all have similar structures. Your task is to memorize the vocabulary or sentence structures related to these types of topics.

Comfort and confidence

The Russian preparatory exam often takes place over several days, so you need to prepare yourself with the most comfortable and confident mindset to successfully pass the exam. Many students in my class are always worried about their performance in the previous exams and cannot focus on studying for the next ones. The advice here is to set aside worries about past exams and give your all in preparing for future exams. Worrying and feeling uneasy won't help you pass the exam or improve your scores. Mistakes made in the past are lessons learned for the future.

Overall, the Russian preparatory exam is not overly difficult; its purpose is simply to assess the language abilities of preparatory students to determine if they are ready to continue studying at higher levels. However, we all know that one year of the Russian language study is not enough to use the language fluently; it requires gradual improvement over a longer period of time. Therefore, as long as you study diligently with a proactive attitude, the preparatory exam will be just a simple test. I hope the experiences shared above can help Russian preparatory students approach the exam with joy and comfort, achieving the best results possible.

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Huong Dang