What’s the Best Predictor of Success?

Soft skills are in-demand in nearly every company and every industry. A Wall Street Journal survey of 900 executives found that 92% said soft skills were equally important or more important than technical skills. But 89% of those surveyed said they have a “very or somewhat difficult time finding people with the requisite attributes.” Likewise, LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Report discovered that the four most in-demand soft skills are leadership, communication, collaboration, and time management.

Are soft skills a better predictor of success? According to Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence at Work, yes! In his research of 500 executives that emotional intelligence – soft skills – was a better predictor of top performance than previous experience or IQ. CEOs at some of the world’s top companies (Amazon, Xerox, and Tesla, to name a few) lead with emotional intelligence have designed their entire corporate structure around soft skills.

And soft skills aren’t just great for creating a fulfilling and pleasant work environment. The link between profit and leaders with high emotional intelligence is clear. In one study, CEOs whose employees rated them high in character had an average return of 9.35% over a two-year period, nearly five times as much as companies with CEOs who had low character ratings. The case for recruiting for soft skills is strong: but, there’s something to be said for balancing good leadership and communication with individuals who have honed their talent.

Don’t Ignore Hard Skills

Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, believes that to have a successful career, you must develop skills that make you an expert in something. There will always be a market for those with a depth of knowledge in one thing; certain fields will always demand new hires with niche skills and technical training. Newport argues that the more mastery you have in a skill or field, the more control and satisfaction it’ll give you in your career.

While it’s true that technical masters do become top CEOs – Steve Jobs and Bill Gates come to mind – other experts note that eventually, soft skills and emotional intelligence must be learned. Many programmers, for example, have some of the basic hard skills that it takes to run a company. However, they fall short on key EQ traits like listening. The best leaders can learn soft skills over time, but start as an expert in something.

Ready to increase you and your team’s soft-skills to level-up effectiveness? Let’s talk!

This article by Emily Heaslip originally appeared on Vervoe.com.

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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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Practical Guidelines for Developing Good EFL Test Items

Before providing you with some important guidelines for writing good EFL test items, I want to assure that you know the following terms used in testing.

Test Blueprint (or Test Specifications) identifies the objectives and skills which are to be tested and the relative weight on the test given to each. Being aware of this statement should precede any development of the test items. The test developer should construct the test according to these specifications. The existence of this blueprint is the crucial first step in the test development process.

One must be mindful that the test specifications cannot and should not remain static. Pedagogy is not static and the specifications for each test need to be continually reviewed and modified to reflect the current state of knowledge.

Test Items are questions on the test. Each item should measure only a single objective while each objective should be measured by one or several items, depending on the test specifications.

“EFL” stands for English as a foreign language.

“Good Test Items” means those test items which are described mainly as valid and reliable. To know the meaning of valid, reliable and more characteristics of  a good test, you can get a look at the following article on my blog:

Top 5 Characteristics of a Good Language Test

Item Type is the kind of the question which measures knowledge, skills or both.

The blueprint necessarily indicates the kinds of skills and the content to be measured by the item types. The selection of item types should be based on the kinds of skills to be measured and not on some personal like or dislike for a particular item type.

The use of multiple-choice questions, for example, may make sense for large group testing on knowledge of the mechanics of English. This type of item is not generally appropriate, though, as a direct measure of writing skill. If the intent is to determine whether a student can write a clear coherent essay, then an essay or free-response type is clearly more appropriate than a multiple-choice question type.

Multiple-Choice Item is the most common objective-type item. The multiple-choice item is a test question which has a number of alternative choices from which the student is to select the correct answer. It is generally recommended that one uses 4 or 5 choices per question, whenever possible. Using fewer alternatives often results in items with inferior characteristics. The item choices are typically identified on the test copy by the letters A through E.

Stem is the part of the multiple-choice item in which the problem is stated for the student. It can be a question, a set of directions or a statement with an embedded blank.

Options/Alternatives are the choices given for the the embedded blank in the stem of the multiple-choice item.

Key is the correct choice for the multiple-choice item.

Distractors are the incorrect choices for the multiple-choice item.

General Guidelines for Writing All Types of Items.

These guidelines should be considered when writing all types of items:

  • Write items to measure what students know, not what you know, or what they do not know.
  • Avoid humorous items. Classroom testing is very important and humorous items may cause students to either not take the exam seriously or become confused or anxious.
  • Each item should be as short and verbally uncomplicated as possible. Give as much context as necessary to answer the question, but do not include superfluous information. Be careful not to test reading ability to be able to answer the test item.
  • Keep each item independent from other items. Don’t give the answer away to another item.
  • Try to test a different point in each question.
  • Avoid items based on personal opinions unless the opinion is qualified by evidence or a reference to the source of the opinion (e.g., According to the author of this passage, . . .).

Consider the Following When Reviewing All Types of Items:

  • Whether the items as a whole measures knowledge or skills which are worthwhile and appropriate for the students who will be tested.
  • Whether there is a better item to test what any item tests.
  • Whether the items are of the appropriate level of difficulty for the students who will be tested.

Guidelines for Writing Multiple-Choice Test Items.

The following are some guidelines that you should use for preparing multiple-choice test items.

  • The entire stem must always precede the alternatives and it should contain the problem and any clarifications.
  • Avoid negatively stated stems.
  • If one or more alternatives are partially correct, ask for the “best” answer.
  • If an omission occurs in the stem, it should appear near the end of the stem and not at the beginning.
  • Use a logical sequence for alternatives (e.g., temporal sequence, length of the choice). If two alternatives are very similar (cognitively or visually), they should be placed next to one another to allow students to compare them more easily.
  • Make all incorrect alternatives (i.e., distractors) plausible and attractive. It is often useful to use popular misconceptions and frequent mistakes as distractors.
  • Item distractors should include only correct forms and vocabulary that actually exist in the language.
  • All alternatives should be homogeneous in content, form and grammatical structure.
  • Use only correct grammar in the stem and alternatives.
  • Make all alternatives grammatically consistent with the stem.
  • The length, explicitness and technical information in each alternative should be parallel so as not to give away the correct answer.
  • Use 4 or 5 alternatives in each item.
  • Avoid repeating words between the stem and key. It can be done, however, to make distractors more attractive.
  • Avoid wording directly from a reading passage or use of stereotyped phrasing in the key.
  • Alternatives should not overlap in meaning or be synonymous with one another.
  • Avoid terms such as “always” or “never,” as they generally signal incorrect choices.
  • To test understanding of a term or concept, present the term in the stem followed by definitions or descriptions in the alternatives.
  • Do not use “none of the above” as a last option when the correct answer is simply the best answer among the choices offered.
  • Try to avoid “all of the above” as a last option. If a student can eliminate any of the other choices, this choice can be automatically eliminated as well.

Consider the Following When Reviewing Multiple-Choice Question

Consider whether the stem:

  • presents a clearly defined problem or task to the student,
  • contains unnecessary information,
  • could be worded more simply, clearly or concisely.

Consider whether the alternatives:

  • are parallel in structure,
  • fit logically and grammatically with the stem,
  • could be worded more simply, clearly or concisely,
  • are so inclusive that they logically eliminate any other option from being a possible answer.

Consider whether the key

  • is the best answer among the set of options for the item,
  • actually, answers the question posed in the stem,
  • is too obvious relative to the other alternatives.

Consider whether the distractors

  • contain one or more can be accepted as a correct answer,
  • are plausible enough to be attractive to students who are misinformed or ill-prepared,
  • contain one or more that can call attention to the key.

Guidelines for Writing Essay Test Items.

Essay items are useful when students have to show their writing ability. This type of item, however, is difficult to score reliably and can require a significant amount of time to be graded. Grading is often affected by the verbal fluency in the answer, handwriting, presence or lack of spelling errors, grammar used and the subjective judgments of the grader. Training of graders can require a substantial amount of time and needs to be repeated at frequent intervals throughout the grading.

The following guidelines may be useful in developing and grading essay questions:

  • The shorter the answer required for a given essay item, generally the better. Factors such as verbal fluency, spelling, etc., have less of an opportunity to influence the grader. Help the students focus their answers by giving them a starting sentence for their essay.
  • Make sure questions are sharply focused on a single issue. Do not give either the student or the grader too much freedom in determining what the answer should be.

Guidelines for Grading Essay Tests.

Because of their subjective nature, essay exams are difficult to grade. The following guidelines are helpful for grading essay exams in a consistent and meaningful way.

  • Construct a model answer for each item and award a point for each essential element of the model answer. This should help minimize the subjective effects of grading.
  • Essay items must be graded anonymously if at all possible in order to reduce the subjectivity of the graders. That is, graders should not be informed as to the identity of the students whose papers they are grading.
  • Grade a single essay item at a time. This helps the grader maintain a single set of criteria for awarding points to the response. In addition, it tends to reduce the influence of the student’s previous performance on other items.
  • Unless it is a test of language mechanics, do not take off credit for poor handwriting, spelling errors, poor grammar, failure to punctuate properly, etc.
  • Ideally, there should be two graders for each item. Any disagreements between these two graders must be resolved by a third grader. Normally, this third grader is the head grader or course instructor.

Guidelines for Test Construction.

The following are general rules, intended as guidelines for assembling test forms. When reviewing a test prior to administering, verify that the test conforms with the following test construction guidelines.

Test Construction Guidelines for Multiple-Choice Tests.

  • Set the number of items so that at least 95 percent of the students can answer all items.
  • The correct choice should appear about an equal number of times in each response position.
  • Do not use any pattern of correct responses, e.g., A, B, C, D. E, etc.
  • Directions to students should be written on the test to indicate whether guessing is permitted or not.

Test Construction Guidelines for Essay Tests.

  • All students must take the same items. Do not give them a chance to choose which items they want to answer. Meaningful comparisons normally can be made only if all students take the same test.

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