Beyond the Practice Test: How to Get Your Class Ready for Exams
For some of us, as the year's end approaches, so does student testing time.
This may be in the form of placement tests for the new year, public school exams, or those last minute students trying to get their English qualifications before Christmas and the new year. Of course, it is important for students to take responsibility for their own learning and study, but how can we, as their English language teachers, support them best during this time?
Exam and test preparation classes can be stressful and boring, for both students and teachers. There never seems to be enough time to cover everything the students need, and it can be difficult to find enough materials for appropriate revision classes without submitting students to countless 'practice tests'. In fact, too many practice tests can not only be demotivating for students, especially if they perform poorly, but there is the very real risk that your teaching may turn into testing.
Instead, English language teachers can work to motivate their students through careful and transparent lesson planning leading up to test time, and by emphasizing that the students are not competing, but should be working together to all achieve their goals. It is important for students to feel confident going into any test or exam. Here are 3 key areas to consider when trying to help your students, and improve your lessons, leading up to exam season.
How to Get Your Class Ready for Exams
When it comes to test preparation, it is best to plan well ahead. Close to test time there are never quite enough lessons in which to both complete the coursework and have dedicated revision time. By planning ahead and consulting both your students and the school calendar, you will be much better prepared for test revision. If you do this carefully you will no longer be surprised when the exam preparation class you had planned gets interrupted by a prize-giving ceremony, field trip, or cultural event. You will have planned for the interruption, instead.
It is also a great idea to get your class involved in the planning and revision process. Find out any revision needs or preferences they have, and work out a schedule that will suit both them and you. This can be very motivational for students as it helps them to feel that they have some control over their study and revision, and like the plan has taken them into account. It is also a good idea to keep track of where the class is in the revision plan, and clearly highlight their progress. This helps students to feel like they are moving forward and helps reduce time wasting as students can see exactly how much the class has to cover and how long they have to do it.
Similarly, remind your students that they are not competing for test scores, but can instead work together to all achieve their goals. It is easy for lessons to become extremely teacher-centered and somewhat competitive leading up to testing. To counter this, try to keep your revision class cooperative and student centered, with activities where students help each other, or even teach each other. One useful technique is to get students to prepare presentations, either individually or in groups, about an aspect of the upcoming test and 'teach it' to the rest of the class.
It is very important that revision lessons leave students feeling motivated about the approaching tests. The key to this is helping students feel successful and competent, while maintaining enough of a challenge to make their achievements realistic. To do this, it is important to set manageable revision targets. Guide the class during the planning process suggested above so that you do not try to fit too much into revision classes, but do not let them slack off either. Depending on the class and the individual students in it, you can encourage learners to work on both class goals, and more individual revision targets. Make sure to physically tick these goals off on a list once the class or students has completed them, as it allows students to see how far they have come and what they have achieved, aiding in motivating them to continue with their revision.
As the teacher, you are in the unique position of directly being able to work to raise your students' self-esteem, and therefore their motivation, before a test. Ensure to give your students regular, though honest, praise for their efforts and achievements, even for routine and revision activities. This can help students to not only feel that they are moving forward and doing well, but helps to emphasize the importance and value of their revision, and motivates them to continue.
While your test preparation lessons should not consist solely of practice tests, it is important that students know and become familiar with how the test will be run, what it will look like, and what the examiner will be looking for in their answers. Simply setting practice tests for revision with no discussion of examination techniques only familiarizes students with the layout and timing of the test, which is useful, but should not be the focus of revision lessons. If students do poorly on practice tests it can actually be demotivating when it comes time to sit the actual test, not to mention that all the marking puts an added workload on the teacher. Instead, when looking at example test papers, focus on examination techniques, such as how to answer the different types of questions, what to do if they don't know an answer, and how to make the most of the answers they feel confident about. This can be a very successful group discussion activity.
You should also prepare your students for their examiners, even if their examiner is you. Explain to your class that marking tests can be a very long and boring job, and in some cases examiners may have to grade hundreds of test papers. Highlight to you class the idea that examiners are pleased by sensible, creative answers, and clear, legible handwriting. They should definitely strive to make their examiner happy!
Speaking of long and boring jobs, don't try to revise for exams or tests with your students every minute of every lesson you have together leading up to the event. Give you class some down-time to process the information and re-group mentally before learning some more. One way to help keep the revision process fresh is to incorporate a lot of variety into you test preparation lessons. Group projects, posters, presentations, listening, reading, writing - all the usual activity types can be used for revision, indeed they should be used to engage as many different learning styles as possible. Make to use all the revision resources available to you. A television show or music-based lesson may be just what your test preparation class needs to get students interested!
Even more effective may be the incorporation of technology into the test revision process. Encourage students to use the internet, or set up an online scavenger hunt based on the test materials. Have students use PowerPoint or Prezi for their presentations, and let them take photos of relevant information, such as class brainstorms done on the board, with their cells phones for later revision. All these things will help engage your students and make revision lessons more memorable.
As you can see, test revision doesn't have to be tedious, boring, or involve endless practice tests. Instead the process can be fun and motivating for teacher and students.
Genuine interest and motivation from the students will be a big help in their test situation. In short, make revision as fun as you can. Leave room for students to be spontaneous and work together. The enjoyment and support that can grow through this process will not only help students deal with stress and make the whole exam season easier for everyone, but hopefully aid them in earning a passing grade, also.
This is a guest article by Samantha Russel. Samantha currently teaches in South Korea. She has a BA in psychology and an MA in social anthropology. She has lectured at Massey University, New Zealand and has taught students at all levels. Samantha strives to empower students in their education and help them discover their own learning motivations. Interested in becoming a BusyTeacher author? Send us your ideas!
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