Summary of #eltchat: Differences in approaches between regular classes and those with an exam focus

Summary of #eltchat:  Differences in approaches between regular classes and those with an exam focus (FCE, CPE, IELTS…)

Wednesday, 8 February 2012 at 9pm GMT

The discussion kicked off by asking participants if they taught exam classes in a different way to other classes such as General English.  “Apart from exam skills, what is actually different?” prompted one of the moderators.  The learner objective is quite explicit so this changes our approach in some of the following ways:

  • There can also be a tendency to test rather teach.
  • Aims of exercises may need to be explicitly pointed out to sts.
  • Often a greater writing focus than with Gen Eng.
  • Just plain dull?

But who is it that thinks of them differently?  Is it the students or us as teachers who make such a big deal out of them?

There was some talk of why exams are so important for students and what motivates them beyond the mere taking of the exam, and the commonly cited reasons of university entrance, staying in a current job or improving future career prospects, migrating or studying/working abroad.  There was discussion of differences in difficulty level between exams, the lack of authenticity of tasks, and insufficient varieties of English in certain tests.   

Overall, exam English was really coming up for a bit of a slagging!  Other downsides of exam classes included:

  • too much focus on exam skills rather than actually improving overall or general English level, particularly closer to the exam date
  • short length of many preparation courses
  • a stronger focus on covering the syllabus as opposed to dealing with naturally emergent language
  • exams don’t cater for sts´ future needs and often have little practical relevance
  • student expectations are not always realistic
  • less freedom with material and themes, although this may be an institutional issue
  • quality of materials sometimes not up to scratch, irrelevant topics and the nature of many coursebooks encourages constant testing

Some excellent practical tips for exam classes were offered:

  • focus on the test format but try to keep this as communicative as possible vickyloras
  • importance of awareness raising activities as to how exams are actually constructed e.g. recognising distracters  MrChrisJWilson
  • general test familiarisation, sts should be familiar with all parts
  • try to provide lots of backup material on blogs & wikis and get students involved in projects hartle
  • for longer courses, explicit focus on the exam should be left for closer to the exam date ManosSY
  • getting sts to create their own exam exercises
  • use the same recycling activities that you would in a Gen Eng class chiasuan
  • paying attention to individual learner needs within the larger class group vbenevolofranca
  • practise working with allotted times vickyloras
  • teach sts marking criteria to bear in mind whilst writing ChristosPas
  • try to make writing tasks more realistic/authentic  e.g. write to a real person ljp2010
  • gets sts to write their own questions and compare them with the original ones MrChrisJWilson
  • ensure sts read a great deal, particularly of different genres vbenevolofranca
  • expand on practice tests with discussion, skills work, vocab development, etc  hartle
  • Reading & listening challenges for extra independent work -giv list of exam topics and have Ss find extra stuff to do in own time  Marisa_C
  • get sts to listen/record themselves in class and reflect on their performance Room2Chris
  • Use Voicethread or Voxopop for extra speaking practice Marisa_C
  • Make an exam guide booklet for your ss – how to be successful in exams – include any tips, tricks in there – get them to add stuff   Marisa_C
  • Use vocaroo after every unit to record reading progress about  once a month  Shaunwilden
  • Get Sts to collect writings of the same genre from diferent resources to identify relevant features, also looking at good and bad models   toulasklavou


And of course it wouldn’t be #eltchat without more useful links flying around than you could poke a stick at!  Here they are (feel free to explore them, have only cited each site once, not individual pages):  A handy one-stop site to find all things exam .  Test & study prep skills.  Online cloze test maker. Blogspot on exams and testing.  and flo-joe on facebook  A classic. Tips on preparing sts for FCE, CAE, CPE speaking. Cambridge phrasal verb site. Speaking activities. An example of some voxopop threads. Overview of exams + some useful links. Speaking skills for advanced learners.

So in conclusion, exam preparation involves awareness of exam strategies and practice (or as leoselivan dubbed them, the 3 Ts – Techniques, Tips & Tricks) without losing sight of General English and the overall goal of communication and communicative competence.  Apologies for any misquotes or omissions.  Too many great ideas and not enough space. 

See you all again at the next #eltchat!

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