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How to make your students enthusiastic test-takers

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Happy teenage English studentsTo celebrate the launch of Project fourth edition, English teacher, Marina Kopilovic, from Serbia writes about how to make your students enthusiastic test-takers.

Tests are usually students’ least favourite and most stressful school activity. But, there are some ways to make our learners feel more relaxed and enthusiastic about dealing with tests.

To begin with, think about yourselves as test–makers. Do you think a good test–maker  makes a good test–taker? I do.

During my first years of teaching, as a young and slightly overconfident teacher, I naively believed I was a very good test–maker. Then, in a very short time I sensed my first bitter flavours of the reality of testing results. Every testing time was another disappointment both for me and my students – more than half of them scored badly. In spite of that and completely unaware of the fact I should have changed something, I still believed my tests were great and blamed my students for the bad results. Fortunately, I met a more experienced English teacher who was willing to help – to ‘attack’ my tests before they were given to my students.

While doing the tests I had created, she kept asking me questions like “What am I supposed to do here? What does this actually mean? Do you think kids will ever use something like this? What do you want to test here?” She also complained about the time – “Thirty minutes have passed and I have completed only half of the tasks”or the context itself - “This sounds really stupid”etc.  I must say this was a major blow to my overconfidence as a teacher. I suddenly realized my basic errors and became more aware of the close interrelation between test-makers and test-takers.

I haven’t stopped searching for better testing techniques ever since then and have developed some strategies. Welcome to my ‘testing database’ and feel free to update it!

How about making testing time a regular routine by establishing a testing timetable in advance? Why not tell your students they are going to have a test after each unit or after every two or three units?  If they know this, they will be able to plan their revision at home in time.

Classroom preparation activities? Plan them well in advance and in the way that will make your students familiar with what you are going to test and the form of the test itself.

Make sure the instructions are clear. Be specific about the requirements and don’t forget to give an example. Students sometimes fail to complete their tasks not because they do not know English, but because they do not understand what they are expected to do. Have a look at the following reading task:

Insert the phrases into the appropriate gaps.

 a) a part time job
b) baby sitters
c) deliver newspapers
d) 60% of students
e) in the morning
f) 20% of students
g) in the evening
h) They don’t need
i) as shop assistants
j) they want

 In Britain, children can have ____________ (1) when they’re 13. Lots of teenagers work in the evenings or at weekends ____________ (2), or in restaurants and fast food places. Others ____________ (3) before they go to school ____________ (4).  Girls often find work as ____________ (5). In one school near London, ____________ (6) said that they had a part time job. It’s more than a half. Most say ____________ (7) the money to buy clothes and CDs. ____________ (8) the money for their families.

Do you think the instructions are good? Is it clear what students have to insert? The letters preceding the phrases or the phrases in full? There are eight gaps and ten phrases!

Offer a wide variety of interesting, challenging and carefully graded tasks to meet different learning abilities and preferences. Provide all necessary support. Test the language they are going to use outside the classroom.

Look at this example task that is part of a test covering different sets of vocabulary from two units. It is differentiated on three levels.

What kind of support are these three groups of students given? Will they come up with the same set of vocabulary in the end?

Students feel proud when they know what they can do. Negative statements will probably put them down and limit their ability to build self-confidence. Avoid them.

Mistakes should be indicated, but, if possible, let your students work out and correct them themselves. It is good to set up and insert mistake abbreviations – WO (word order), S (spelling), T (tense) V (vocabulary) etc. – to make it clear what they should focus on and think about. Peer correction works well too.

Think about the amount of tolerance you would allow with incorrect answers. It is advisable to reward every single achievement students make.

How would you mark “He haven’t been to London since his sister got married” if you want your students to show they understand the difference in meaning between The Present Perfect and The Past Simple?  Or will you take lorry-driver as a completely incorrect answer if the instruction is to write the job that is clearly illustrated in the picture?

What is your experience as a test-maker? What testing strategies do you use? Do you use and how do you manage peer correction?

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

The official global blog for Oxford University Press English Language Teaching. Bringing teachers and other ELT professionals top quality resources, tools, hints and tips, news, ideas, insights and discussions to help further their ELT career. Follow Oxford ELT on Twitter. Find Oxford ELT on Google+.

2 thoughts on “How to make your students enthusiastic test-takers

  1. I agree with this post. Test writing is a tricky thing and truly an art. So many students are smart, but are bad test takers. Teachers need to put more of an effort into writing better tests to accomodate more students.

  2. Pingback: How to make your students enthusiastic test-takers | About learning ... always | Scoop.it

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