We take Exams Seriously!
Theodora Papapanagiotou, Greece
Theodora is a freelance ELT and DaF teacher. She has been working with children, teenagers and adults since 1992. She is also an active blogger. You can find her at: https://theodorapap.blogspot.gr E-mail: email@example.com
Exams are in our everyday lives. For us as teachers, it is very stressful to know that our students have to take exams in certain periods of time and for our students as well because they have to prove that they have taken in everything they have been taught and show their progress.
So why do our students and we take exams anyway?
- to prove the skills we have acquired.
- to get our efforts recognized
- to be able to go to college / university.
- to get a certificate and be able to work (abroad and in our country as well)
- to get our brains stimulated
- to get feedback by our teacher
And that is what the true meaning of the exams should be. But what is it like in reality? As a foreign language teacher, I don’t have only tests and progress exams to deal with, but also “language certificate exams”. In fact in my country, Greece, I have to face a “certificate” mania to be more exact. The language certification is blooming – there are numerous exams, certificates, levels, course that meet every student’s needs. I am not saying that there should not be any exams. But they should exist for a reason. There should be a valid reason for trying to get this desired piece of paper, which, ideally, should not be to have it framed on the wall. Exams and certificates serve a purpose; and this purpose is to actually learn a language. Learning a language means communication: writing, speaking & understanding. These skills have to be cultivated in order for the learners to be able to use a language. If learners are able to do these, then they will be able to pass an exam as well. First we develop the skills to pass exams and then we pass the exams. It does not go the other way around, I am afraid.
I have seen so many students trying very hard, doing lots and lots of tests in preparation for exams that they want to pass, because they are simply missing the point. I have people coming to me for lessons, and their exact words are “I want to get the B2 certificate” NOT “I want to learn English”. This is obviously what led us to e people who acquired a C2 level certificate years ago but right now they cannot even use English to save their lives, which is just sad. Learning a language knows no natural end. We can never be done learning a language. We can only keep practising, learning, honing skills, gaining experience and becoming more fluent. If we stop progressing, the language as the living organism that it is, will die and there will be no real knowledge or skill left behind.
The big question here is what teachers can do, since we are the experts, to make our students and their parents, our clients understand that we should not care about exams so much, but realize that we need to view language as an on-going learning process,
A idea worth exploring is to alter our way of teaching exam class. Instead of using endless exam practice books, I try to introduce ways to make exam preparation fun and also give students the chance to actually use the language in real life situations.
- Students analyse books and films: We can teach them how to write a book/film review, which is also a useful exam skill for many exams. After writing their reviews, they can talk about their feelings towards the specific film or book, make a poster presentation, a Powerpoint presentation or even video about it. The class can also present scenes from the book / film in the end of the year to fellow classmates, teachers and parents. In this way we manage to combine the writing and speaking exam preparation of our students which is done through a realistic and engaging task.
- In order to develop reading, speaking and writing skills, we can ask students to become little reporters and write article about a historical place in the city or an urban legend. They can also make videos and upload them on the class/school’s YouTube channel. It is important to remember that we need to make sure to get permission from parents if students are under age. Another similar idea is to use their mobile phones and upload small length videos or pictures with interesting facts about their subject as a Snapchat or Instagram Story.
- Vocabulary can be greatly enhanced through watching movies. This also hones listening skills and the supplementary activities prepared by the teacher can include speaking and writing tasks, which are also useful. Movie nights (students watch the films without subtitles) are easy to organise and they are also good fun. Teachers can have questionnaires prepared, which can be answered during or after the film. The teacher can also stop the film at various stages and ask students to guess what will happen next and also express their feelings about what’s happening. Speaking activities can include discussion around questions such as ‘’How would you react in a similar situation?’’ Students then write a story about the film as homework (How did they want the film to end? What would they change in the story? What will happen afterwards?)
- More vocabulary building and greater understanding of the language can be accomplished via poetry. Haikus and cinquains give wonderful opportunities for students to describe words and have them play with vocabulary.
If we make students realize what’s important in learning and get them curious and interested in the language, they will surely succeed in their exams.
Wong, M. (2009). Language anxiety and motivation to learn English: A glimpse into the form 4 classroom. Paper presented at the UPALS International Conference on Languages, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED515046
tesolmacth (2014). TESOL Macedonia Thrace 2014 Pecha Kucha Evening. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/8p6nYPl6OXQ?t=26m21s
ToBELTA Web Conference on Assessment (2015).We take exams personally! Retrieved from: https://lancelot.adobeconnect.com/_a875817169/p5g371e2ff5/?launcher=false&fcsContent=true&pbMode=normal
Keep on Teaching (blog) – Cinquain with students. Retrieved from
Keep on Teaching (blog) – Haiku. Retrieved fromhttp://theodorapap.blogspot.gr/2011/01/haiku.html
Keep on Teaching (Blog) –Movie night:
itdi issue on Failure: http://itdi.pro/blog/2016/03/26/failure/
Please check the Methodology and Language for Secondary course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Teaching Advanced Students course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the English Language course at Pilgrims website.