How do you approach teaching Exam Classes? #ELTchat summary – 02/03/2011

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How do you approach teaching Exam Classes? #ELTchat summary – 02/03/2011

The noontime #ELTchat on 02-03-2011 focused on teaching exam classes, a topic which @sandymillin had been putting up for a vote for weeks!!!!! Well, its time came eventually, or we all succumbed to Sandy’s obvious keen desire to talk about exam classes ūüôā


After the chat @BrunoELT offered to write up the summary and here it is, copied from his blog! Thanks, Bruno!

ELTchat – How to approach exam classes


This morning’s ELTchat discussion was on the experiences on how to approach exams classes. International EFL exams is an endlessly growing market in which teachers’ need to be prepared for.

Chatters started sharing their experiences in teaching exams. The range of exams was very comprehensive and included: Cambridge exams (YL ‚Äď Starters, Movers, Flyers,¬†KET and PET and Main Suite ‚Äď FCE, CAE and CPE.) ; TOEFL, IELTS, OTE, Michigan, Trinity, TIE and TOEIC. Needless to say, someone pointed out that not everyone is familiar with all this acronyms. And the agreed definition of an exam class was one where the endgame is to take a pass a specific test but not leaving behind the acquisition of language as well.


In the very beginning of the discussion chatters agreed that concerning exams practice is key and should never be taken for granted. The insights were:

–¬†*¬†Some students can develop their own techniques to deal with tests

–¬†*¬†Some other students may completely turn a blind eye on the techniques you‚Äôve taught when they actually do the exam

–¬†*¬†Sometimes students get bored of all the practice and just want to talk

–¬†*¬†Students need to be guided on how to do the test.

–¬†*¬†The knowledge students need to have for an exam does not come up naturally. It is about the combination of what they can learn generally and the techniques for the exam.

–¬†*¬†There seems to be little transfer from what students learn for the exams to real life and perhaps teaching techniques may help

–¬†*¬†A good way to prove that taking exams without practice can be pointless is telling them that regardless their level of the language, if they don‚Äôt have the techniques; they‚Äôre likely to face big problems.


However, it was skillfully pointed out that a lot of teachers focus on practice exercises and forget about teaching the language ad skills. And what chatters had to say about it was:


–¬†*¬†Sometimes students just want to talk for the sake of talking

–¬†*¬†It is good from time to time to tell your students to throw away the book and watch telly.

–¬†*¬†Teaching students the necessary skills/strategies involved is vital as well as practice

–¬†*¬†Concerning band exams such as IELTS, teach beyond the exam students are working¬†and then they will be comfortable for a lower band

* The points in which teachers felt that were issues in exams were:

–¬†*¬†The maturity of students when taking the test. Some reported that 14 year-old-students wanted to take CPE and failed miserably for lack of experience.

–¬†*¬†Too much obsession in taking exams

–¬†*¬†The stress and pressure put on students and expectations both teachers and students have towards a great result

–¬†*¬†Too often students don‚Äôt have the subject knowledge depth for the exam (even in L1)

–¬†*¬†Some students who passed the exams can hardly speak

–¬†*¬†Students who don‚Äôt have a good enough level but are in exam preparation classes and intent on doing the exam anyways.

–¬†*¬†When asked to write an essay students can‚Äôt even think of ideas in their L1

–¬†*¬†Some colleagues find exams classes too serious to make fun and play

–¬†*¬†Lack of familiarization with the exams

–¬†*¬†Lack of learner autonomy ‚Äď work outside classroom is necessary to do well in exams.

–¬†*¬†The mindset of result seekers

–¬†*¬†Some students only see the certificate at the end important rather than the process

–¬†*¬†Students can hardly find time to come to class let alone studying outside the class

–¬†*¬†Most of students don‚Äôt have enough linguistic resources strategies

–¬†*¬†Parents who only care about the certificate regardless their child‚Äôs abilities

–¬†*¬†Many teachers see little point to the YL exams

–¬†*¬†Most of the exam preparation books are not good and interesting enough


Great ideas to lessen the pressure on students, how to improve their achievements on exams were and to create a less boring environment were:


–¬†*¬†Have students examine the tests, then make their own projects and items for them, then ‚Äėtest‚Äô each other

–¬†*¬†Have students write their own questions in the style of the exam and promote a quiz with classmates

–¬†*¬†Use a Task-based approach and let the exam items and formats create some parameters

–¬†*¬†Create pop-quizzes

–¬†*¬†Teaching unplugged is a great way to approach exams. Teach naturally what needs to be taught going for teaching moments.

–¬†*¬†Give students advice on what exams they might want to take in the future

–¬†*¬†It‚Äôs good for students to start up from the very first tests so that when they get to the advanced ones they are confident enough

–¬†*¬†Compare several descriptions of the exam, see if you can spot any contradictions, and then decide which one is the easiest to understand, most comprehensive and/or concentrates on the most important points.

–¬†*¬†Get exam preparation students to be responsible for themselves

–¬†*¬†Photocopy each text and blow them up. Put each one on a different wall and give students the questions can be very dynamic.

–¬†*¬†The potential vagueness/looseness of Dogme and the constrained/contrived nature of exams make for a positive mix

–¬†*¬†Exams have to be looked at differently depending on whether formative or summative; different psychological effects and practical purposes

–¬†*¬†Talk about your own experiences in taking exams with students

–¬†*¬†Do the “getting to know the exam” exercises for students in textbooks and self-study book


Useful links:

Resources for FCE, CAE, CPE:

On-line CPE grammar:

On-line CPE vocabulary:

FLO ‚Äď JOE place for teachers and students¬†

WyŇľsza SzkoŇāa Informatyki in BiaŇāystok provides the following CPE

Project Gutenberg gives opportunity of reading classics:

Collection of FCE and CAE

They have hundreds of classic books you can read

Cambridge exam (FCE/ CAE) style exercises:

Churchill House test for Cambridge exams:

Better writing:

Free on-line tests:

On-line exam (KET/ PET/ FCE/ CAE/ CPE/ IELTS/ TOEFL/ tests)

Longman exam centre:


5 Responses

  1. Tara Benwell says:

    Thanks Bruno! I missed this chat and was excited to read the summary. I’ll share it with any teachers who ask for ideas about teaching Exam Prep.

    This line is so true! “When asked to write an essay students can‚Äôt even think of ideas in their L1”

  2. Hi Bruno! Thank you very much for the summary. I participated and you have outlined all the main ideas that were discussed. The pace was extremely fast as usual, so it’s great to recap with the summary. One thing – I can’t seem to open the links – a Microsoft Outlook screen appears which is very strange!

    Thanks again for putting in the effort to provide us with this great summary!

  3. […] How do you approach teaching Exam Classes? #ELTchat summary ‚Äď 02/03/2011. […]

  4. leap says:

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  5. […] For more opinions on exam-prep, see also:¬†this article in HLT Mag by Alex Case, Professor Costas Gabrielatos’s critique of exam-oriented teaching in Greece, and Marisa Constantinides’s discussion in ELT Chat. […]

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