The White Rabbit, ‘Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!’
(Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)
No matter how self-confident our students are, whenever the countdown for international language exams begins many of them start getting worried about going through that experience. That’s the time when us, teachers, have to swing into action and start building our students’ confidence so that they can achieve their peace of mind for what comes next.
Although some students may have already sat for previous international exams, some others may have not so they might not be familiar with the experience. The best way of dealing with the unknown is making it familiar. Some points I would recommend covering to address this issue are the following:
1. Go over each of the sections of the exam paper and spend time on the strategies for dealing with each of the exercises. There are usually tip boxes in the course books that are about exam preparation with useful pieces of advice on ways of approaching each of the tasks. In order to reduce anxiety, students need to know the exact format of the exam, the number of parts/sections and what it is expected from them in each part. Regardless of the level, if the students are not acquainted with the exam structure and the techniques about how to do each task, then they are at a disadvantage.
2. Timing: good time management in international language exams is a must. After having received precise information about the structure and sections of the exams, students have to be trained to perform the tasks within the estimated time. And this includes not only writing their answers on their exam papers – as they are doing the exam, but also copying the answers onto their answer sheets. Most mock exams also come with the answer sheets so we can provide our students with both, exam papers and answer sheets so they can time themselves on how long it takes them to do the whole thing, just as they will do on the exam date.
3. Many of the examinations institutions have lots of videos online showing, for instance, the speaking part of the exams. It’s not enough to explain the exam situation to the students; I mean, you can explain that they are going to work in pairs/individually, the number of examiners that they are going to find in the examination room, the time it takes to perform the task, among others. Nevertheless, a video can give them a clear picture of what to expect. Tips: a. you can recreate the exam situation as such with your students and some other colleagues, depending on the number of examiners that the exam may involve; b. you can video the whole situation so that then you can reflect with your students on their strengths and weaknesses.
4. Working on feedback together: give feedback but, most importantly, practice feedforward based on your students’ performance. Provide them with the tools and any language they may need to sort out their difficulties with the different tasks. If they have the “weapons” and a clear guidance of how to anticipate problems based on their frequent mistakes, they will probably feel more confident. Teach them to be “their own teacher” by resorting to self-correction the moment of submitting a final answer to their tasks.
Earlier this year on a teachers’ course on international English exams I was shown a very nice video about standardized tests in general but that can work well with our language learners. It’s called “This test does not define you”, by Kumar Sathy. I think it could be an excellent way to round off the exam preparation. I would play the video the very last week before our students actually sit for their exams.
So, are you ready to help your students get the motivation they need to take up the exam challenge?
(Image credits: The White Rabbit from ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. Downloaded from the British Library)