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6 steps to exam success: Balance your teaching

This is the second part of our exam preparation series: 6 steps to exam success. Read more about our first webinar with Lindsay Warwick in our post: 6 steps to exam success: Understand your exam.

In this article, she’ll look at techniques and activities to help you find a balance and meet the needs of all your students. At the end you’ll also find a link to watch a recording of her webinar which took place on February 27th.

Lindsay will also be speaking at IATEFL 2019 on Wednesday 3rd April from 5:30pm-6:15pm in room 1b.

She’ll be talking about the new Cambridge B1 Preliminary exam and how to help learners recognize success. Her workshop will provide hands-on experience of using learning intentions, models, success criteria and feedback for the revised speaking and writing papers to promote learning. The activities used come from the new Gold B1 Preliminary and Gold Experience B1 course books.

Do all students care about exams?

Helping students to prepare for an exam can be extremely rewarding. There’s a clear aim that everyone is working towards. We, and our students, can see the progress they make and at the end of the course we feel great when our students do well. However, these days, not everyone on a course plans to take an exam at the end of it. So, how can we deal with this situation?

The most effective thing we can do is plan lessons based around sub-skills and not around test tasks. Backwash describes the effect that exam teaching has on classroom activities. When the focus becomes too much about the exam, the real reason why students are learning English can be forgotten, producing negative backwash. Being able to underline key words in multiple choice questions and discern between distractors in a listening exam are really useful exam skills, but they don’t help learners to communicate in the real world.

A focus on sub-skills

What will help students is to focus on sub-skills that they need to both function in the real world and pass an exam. This means creating lesson objectives that aim to help our students to understand the main point of a conversation, listen for agreement among speakers or identify a speaker’s attitude, for example, in listening lessons. When reading is the focus, we can help students identify how texts are structured, find specific information or infer information implied in a text. In speaking lessons, we can help students interact when discussing opinions, develop fluency and pronounce sentences with effective intonation. Finally, in writing lessons, we can focus on how to structure different genres of text, write with an audience in mind and link ideas.

Planning a lesson around sub-skills

When focusing on sub-skills rather than exam strategies, we can help all of our learners to develop the skills they need to function in English in different contexts. But what might a lesson look like? Well, we can start by analysing a model, thinking more deeply about the sub-skill. We can then provide practice in using the sub-skill before giving students the chance to apply that sub-skill to an exam task.

Let’s take identifying a speaker’s attitude as an example. We can play a monologue and tell learners what the speaker’s attitude is. They listen to identify how we know the speaker feels a particular way. We help them to recognise the importance of intonation and what different types of intonation tells us about attitude. We can then play further monologues where students use what they’ve learnt to identify the speaker’s attitude. Finally, students complete an exam task where they apply this sub-skill, e.g. multiple matching.

It’s really important that we spend time on learner reflection so that our students recognise how the lesson will help them to develop their skills, as well as pass an exam. That way, all of our students can see how the lesson has benefitted them.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • How did you improve your listening skills in this lesson?

  • When might you use this skill in the real world? (e.g. work, studies, music, games, YouTube videos, films etc.)

  • If you’re taking the exam, did it help you with the exam task? Why/Why not?

By focusing on sub-skills and not only exam strategies, we can create a balanced syllabus that helps all of our students to improve their language skills, as well as prepare for an exam.

Source: Pearson Education


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