How to Prepare Learners for ESL/EFL Exams

Most students who are studying English have to take an exam at the end of their course, others are planning to take a public examination in order to get a certificate which demonstrates their level of English. Whenever there is an exam involved, the teacher should consider doing the following things to prepare students for the exam.

1. Specify the Content and Skills to be Tested.

The biggest problem most teachers find with exams is that they are not aware of the content and skills that must be tested. They think that everything in the syllabus is relevant and can be included in the exam. This is not the case as you don’t need to include every language in the exam. Only specific language skills, active vocabulary and structures must be tested by the exam. Once you’ve identified that, you should start to prepare your students for the exam on them.

2. Give Key Information About the Exam

Make sure your students know exactly how the exam is structured, including the number of questions, the nature of each question and the marks dedicated for it. You can do some past or model exams with the students in the classroom telling them the key information about it.

3. Set a Time Limit

Introduce time limits for the model exams in the classroom. If students are trying to answer a question taken from a past exam, give them a time limit and then take their answers to check so that they will become used to working under pressure. Early on in the course, perhaps, you can give them more time to answer questions, exercises and exams but closer to the final exam, set the same time limit as they will actually have on the exam day.

4. Review and Give More Practice

Ask students to tell you which parts of the exam they feel are hardest for them. You might already be aware of this from having seen their work, but it’s useful if the students themselves recognize the areas they need to work on. Focus on these points of weakness giving students more revisions and practice on these parts.

5. Pre-Teach the Instructions in the Exam

Examinations often include vocabulary in the instructions that isn’t normally used in day-to-day English. Especially with lower levels, don’t assume the students are familiar with exam terminology such as gap fill or transformation. Pre-teach any words that are repeatedly used in instructions and check the students’ understanding.

6. Provide Copies of Past Exam Papers

Most examination boards or publishers provide copies of past exam papers written in the style of the exam. Students will benefit from practicing with these, either in class or at home. If the exam is produced by you or your school, then try to let your students take old versions of the exam or write one yourself that reflects the exam format and give it to students so that they will recognize what the exam will be like.

7. Give Sample and Model Answers

As well as giving the students past exam papers to complete, it’s helpful if you can show them examples of other students’ answers to see how they were graded. Looking at an answer for the writing question, for example, and seeing how it was marked can help the students understand the expectations for the exam. If you don’t have any sample answers, write your own answer to the question to show students what is expected to be the model answer.

8. Train Them to Answer

Many students make mistakes in the exam not because they don’t know the answer but because they don’t know how to answer. For example, in the texts with gaps which students have to fill in. Many students make the mistake of not reading the whole text at first and trying to fill in each gap apart from the others or from the whole meaning of the text, so train your students to read the whole text all the way through first and only then start to complete the gaps.

9. Ask Students to Write Their Own Exam Questions

Have students design exam-type questions for each other. Doing so makes students really understand how an exam is constructed and how questions are written. . Students enjoy playing at being exam-writers and the task makes them really think about various questions and their answers.


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