If your students are planning on taking an English proficiency test such as the TOEFL, they will want to do everything they can to get ready for test day.
Your students can spend lots of time studying grammar rules and vocabulary and that’s all good and well, but how do they get ready for the written portion of the exam? Is there a way to prepare for that? The answer is yes. You can equip your students for success on their soon to be timed writing exam in just a few simple steps.
6 Steps to Prepare Your Students for Timed Essay Exams
Learn about the Test
Before getting into the actual practicing of timed writing, your students should know what they are up against, what the writing portion of the test will be like. A simple google search on the standardized test your students plan on taking will give them the information they need. How much time will they have? What will the questions be like? What criteria will the judges use to score the essay? What constitutes a passing score? Keeping these things in mind as they prepare for the test and then take it will keep your students from wasting prep time on less important factors. For example, the TOEFL scoring guidelines state that essays will be scored on how well the writer addresses the topic, how well the writer supports their ideas and opinions, how clearly the essay is organized, if it is unified and coherent, and if the writer uses a variety in sentence structure and vocabulary. Therefore, students planning on taking the TOEFL should prepare for the written exam with these writing qualities in mind.
Break the Timing down into Prepare, Write, Review
It is possible to sit down and start writing an essay immediately for a timed test, but that’s not to the test taker’s best advantage. To write a strong essay, the test taker should spend time not only writing but also planning the essay as well as reviewing it. You should encourage your students to divide their test time that way rather than just jumping in to their essay. For example, the essay portion of the TOEFL gives the test taker 30 minutes to write. By spending five minutes planning, twenty minutes writing, and five minutes reviewing, your students can have a better organized more logical essay than if they just jump into writing from start to finish.
Tell Them to Choose the Point of View They Can Defend Best Rather Than the One They Necessarily Believe
The goal of timed essays is to see how well a person writes not to check out their personal opinions or values. That’s why I encourage my students choose a topic or position they can support best rather than one they feel strongest about. For example, if the test question asked whether smoking in public should be banned, a student who smokes might naturally want to defend public smoking. And while that may be their personal opinion, they may not have good reasons or support for that point of view. In other words, they believe it but they can’t support it. If they have heard the arguments against public smoking, they may be able to articulate those easier and more eloquently than their own opinion. Therefore, I would encourage that student to write their essay on why smoking in public should be banned even if they don’t agree with the support they are giving. The judges scoring the essay won’t care which side of the argument a test taker takes. They will only care about how well that person expresses themselves in writing. So during the planning portion of the essay time, encourage students to list the arguments they can make for both sides of the question and write about the side they can support with more facts, examples, and personal experiences.
Many of today’s standardized tests are administered via computer. That means that when taking the essay portion of the test, the test taker will have to type their essay. This can be a challenge, epically if the student’s native language uses an alphabet other than the English one. Encourage your students to spend some time before the test practicing typing on a standard computer keyboard. Timed essays are too short for hunting and picking keys. Students should be able to type at least as fast as they can write by hand to set themselves up for the best possible performance on their essay exam.
Write the Introduction Last
The introduction is often the most difficult part of the essay to write. How can you ease your reader into your topic if you aren’t quite sure where you are going with the essay? Point out to your students that though the pieces of their essay will need to be in order on the page, they don’t have to write them sequentially. Encourage students to leave the first half of the first page blank and then start in on the body of the essay below that. After writing the body and the conclusion, students can go back and fill in the space with an introduction that goes well with what they wrote later in the essay.
Practice in Class
This may seem like a no brainer, but if you really want to set your students up for success with timed writing exams, you have to practice timed writing. Plan on taking just as much time in class as your students will have for the exam. If possible, recreate the testing conditions as much as possible including having students write in a blue book or type on a computer in the most basic word processing program you have available. Remind students to use the strategies you have already discussed, and then signal start. On your front board, count down the time remaining for the essay by increments of ten minutes. Once you get down to the last fifteen minutes of the essay time, update your board every five minutes.
You can’t be in the room or at the computer when your students take their essay test, but you can get them ready for success beforehand.
By walking them through these simple steps and then taking plenty of time to practice, your students will feel prepared when they sit down to write and they will see success when they receive their scores.