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Boosting student confidence and performance with online practice tests

Asian woman sitting using laptopAhead of our webinar showing teachers how to use the online practice tests available on www.oxfordenglishtesting.com, Stacey Hughes examines the benefits of online practice tests and explores how they can help prepare your students for their exams.

If you have ever taught an exam preparation course, you will know that students who take such a course tend to do better than those who don’t. These courses do several things. Firstly they help students become familiar with the structure and content of the exam. Secondly, they teach exam strategies – whether to skip a question and come back to it, for example, and how to approach different sections. Also importantly, they draw students’ attention to the assessment criteria so that they know how they are being marked. The topics raised in exam prep courses mirror those on the exam, so students who take these courses will have the advantage of having thought about and built knowledge and vocabulary around them. A final important benefit relates to confidence. Exam prep courses build student confidence when taking the exam.

Why use online practice tests?

In an exam preparation course, students will naturally want to practice taking the exam, and this is where the online practice tests available on www.oxfordenglishtesting.com are highly beneficial. In practical terms, because most of the test is automatically marked, teachers are saved marking time. This means that teachers have more time to spend giving valuable feedback on the speaking and writing parts of the test. Online tests are also easier to manage both because they don’t require the photocopying that paper tests do and because they can be taken by the students at school in a computer lab or at home. The results are stored and managed in the learning management system, so teachers don’t have to worry about carrying around a lot of student test papers.

Focusing your students on the exam

Teachers have the flexibility to assign the test in test mode or practice mode, giving them the added benefit of using the tests as a testing or learning tool. In test mode, students complete the test without any learning support, the same as they would in the actual exam. Test mode is useful towards the end of the course to help students get mentally prepared for exam conditions.

Helping your students learn from their mistakes

In practice mode, the tests can be used as learning tools. In practice mode students can:

  • get tips to help them answer the questions before submitting their answer. This extra layer of scaffolding supports students’ thinking about the right approach to arriving at the right answer.
  • get feedback on each question. This is beneficial because students learn the rationale behind correct and incorrect answers and strategies for dealing with each question. The extra support can also build confidence in weaker students. Because feedback is immediate, the response and context are still fresh in the student’s mind and this means the feedback is more likely to help students learn from their mistakes.
  • use the online dictionary. This extra learning tool in practice mode can help students build their vocabulary and get to grips with content and topics.
  • listen to their recording of the speaking section and re-record if they are not happy with the result. This feature gives students multiple opportunities to record and can build their confidence. There is also a useful language section to help support their speaking if they need it.
  • see a sample answer to the writing task once they have written their own answer, allowing them the benefit of seeing the type of response expected without hindering their own creative thinking.
  • do part of a test and finish it later. The teacher may also choose to assign just one part of the test. This flexibility allows teachers and students to focus on one particular task or section and can be a more manageable way to approach the test.
TOEFL iBT OPT support features

Practice mode gives students extra learning support

 

Tracking your students’ results

As students work through the test in test mode or practice mode, it is automatically marked and the results are sent to the markbook. The online markbook shows the score for each section and also which questions each student got right or wrong. The teacher can choose to allow the students to see their scores on most parts of the exam, and speaking and writing papers are sent to the teacher to mark. There is a space for the teacher to type in comments and a grade for the speaking and writing sections which the students can then view.

How can you use online practice tests during your course?

One approach would be to assign a practice test in test mode at the beginning of the course just to introduce the students to the format and to provide a springboard for discussion about the test: How many sections where there? How did you approach the … section? What sections did you find easy/difficult? Why? Were there any sections you weren’t sure about or didn’t understand? Did you feel you had enough time to complete all the sections? How did you feel about speaking on the topic? etc. At this point, the teacher might choose NOT to let the students see their scores since so early in the course low scores may be demotivating. The same test could then be used in practice mode with the teacher assigning different sections at different times after some work in class on strategies for completing them. The results of these attempts will be sent to the markbook so that the teacher can see if there is any improvement, and this information may be shared with the students. Towards the end of the course, the teacher could then assign another online test in test mode to get students mentally ready for taking the exam. This would also highlight any weaknesses that the students need to work on.

It’s easy to see how the online practice test can become a learning tool which help students become familiar with the exam, learn strategies for completing the different sections and gain confidence. The tests can be an effective additional tool in the exam course to help teachers and students prepare for their exam.

Ready to start using online practice tests?

To find out more about using the online practice tests with your students, including how to assign the tests, track your students’ progress, and see their results, register for our webinar Making the most of online practice tests on 1st May 2014.

You can also find out more about online practice tests at www.oxfordenglishtesting.com, where we are running a special 50% off promotion on practice tests.


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eFeedback: ICT tools I use to give my students high-quality feedback

Using Evernote on an iPhone

Image courtesy of Heisenberg Media via Flickr

Mohamed El-Ashiry takes a look at four online tools that have helped him deliver high-quality feedback to his students.

Upon introducing tablets into my classroom, the biggest gains I have received have been in assessment and feedback. In my experience, ICT tools facilitate the process of giving timely, relevant and effective feedback to my students. Brown & Bull (1997) argued that feedback is:

… most effective when it is timely, perceived as relevant, meaningful and encouraging, and offers suggestions for improvement that are within a student’s grasp.”

Black & William (1999) wrote that:

… improving learning through assessment depends on five, deceptively simple, key factors:

  • the provision of effective feedback to pupils;
  • the active involvement of pupils in their own learning;
  • adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment;
  • a recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation ​and self-esteem of pupils, both of which are crucial influences on learning;
  • the need for pupils to be able to assess themselves and understand how to ​improve.”

I use a variety of ICT tools in my classroom, all of which the students can access from their tablets or mobile devices. I will introduce the four main tools I use and explain ways in which they have facilitated assessment and, more importantly, giving feedback in my classroom.

1. Socrative

Socrative is an immediate student-response system, where students access the teacher’s ‘room’ using the ‘room number’ and the teacher can push out multiple choice questions, true/false questions, or short-answer questions. The teacher can also assign full quizzes and exit tickets. I have found that when using Socrative, projecting my screen to the students makes it even more beneficial, as they can see the statistics and class responses that are shown on my screen. For example, when asking a short answer question, students can see all responses being submitted, which I then use as a basis for an evaluation exercise: students look at all submitted responses and vote on the best ones, whilst giving reasons why.

This is a very useful literacy-building exercise and I use it to show model answers and what makes a well-structured written response. This process enables me to give immediate feedback to the students, and actively involves them in the process.

My favorite feature of Socrative is definitely the ‘Exit Tickets’ though, as that gives me an immediate pulse-check of the class’s learning, which I can then immediately use to adjust my teaching for the next lesson.

2. Edmodo’s ‘Quiz’ feature

Edmodo is a class learning management system (LMS) that is designed for schools but still looks a lot like Facebook (which engages students more due to its familiarity). I have often created quizzes and polls on Edmodo. When using the ‘Quiz’ feature with my students, Edmodo allows you to show them the answer key once they have submitted their responses. Students also immediately get their score on the quiz. This automatically gives the students timely and relevant feedback, as the assessment has only just been concluded and is still fresh in their minds. I also project the statistics Edmodo compiles for me in front of the class, and we discuss those statistics to highlight strengths and areas for improvement.

3. Google forms (& Flubaroo)

I wrote before about how I use Google Forms in my classroom. I often use the “Flubaroo” script whenever I create a quiz or test using Google Forms. Flubaroo automatically grades the quiz once the students submit their responses, and can also email them their score, a copy of their responses, and the answer key. I then project the spreadsheet of the student responses in front of the class and we discuss the most well-constructed answers. This is another example of how an ICT tool such as Google Forms has enabled me to deliver timely and immediate feedback on my students’ assessments.

4. Evernote shared notebooks

I published a blog post before about how I use Evernote in my classroom. As I have a ‘Premium’ account with Evernote, I can create notebooks for my students that we can all edit and contribute to, even if the students only have a ‘Free’ account. I have benefited immensely from this feature, as I created a set of notebooks for my history class where the students would do all their work. I would then be able to add voice notes with my verbal feedback or even annotated rubrics/checklists for the assessments.

I have noticed that most of the talk about eLearning and tablets in classrooms revolves around engaging students more with learning and encouraging them to create multiple things. While these are very valid benefits of introducing ICT tools into the classroom, I personally believe the biggest benefit can come from how these ICT tools can facilitate the process of assessing student learning as well as delivering timely and meaningful feedback to the students on their learning.

References:

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1999). Assessment for Learning: Beyond the Black Box, Assessment Reform Group, University of Cambridge, School of Education

Brown, G., Bull, J., & Pendlebury, M. (1997). Assessing student learning in higher education. London: Routledge.


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Webinar: Prepare your Foundation-level students for IELTS success

Older man interviewing young womanNick Thorner explores the challenges of preparing Foundation-level students for IELTS from his webinars on 21 February and 7 March entitled ‘Prepare your Foundation-level students for IELTS success’. Watch a recording here.

In my experience, what really worries students about the IELTS exam isn’t their grammar or their vocabulary – it’s having nothing to say. They worry about tricky Speaking Part 3 questions such as: ‘What can governments do to promote international cooperation?’ or Writing Part 2 topics with a word they haven’t studied before, such as ‘obesity’ or ‘rehabilitation’.

Often students have never thought of such questions and topics, and even if they have, they’ve never tried to discuss them in English. And of course their IELTS score suffers as a result: I find that when students are less confident or don’t have great ideas their pronunciation becomes flat and they start hesitating or repeating ideas.

The fact is that knowledge itself, or at least the confidence that comes with having it, underpins a successful IELTS performance. But do we teach students knowledge, or even how to access knowledge and express it?

I think too often the texts and materials we work with have arcane topics that don’t challenge our students to think, respond or engage personally. IELTS lessons should be a window on the world that will fill students’ minds with ideas and provoke them to respond at every turn, making them confident and enthusiastic candidates.

In my upcoming webinar, I’ll be showing you how you can help your students to build the confidence they need to express world knowledge and discuss it. I hope you can join me.


Nick ThornerNick Thorner is co-author of Foundation IELTS Masterclass. He lives and works in Oxford, where he has been teaching IELTS courses for several years. He is also an experienced IELTS examiner.


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Get your students ready for Trinity success!

Trinity GESE exam successDr Mark Griffiths shares some thoughts about his webinar, “Get your students ready for Trinity success” (watch a recording), which looked at some of the key features of the Trinity College London Graded Examinations in Spoken English (GESE) exams, focusing in particular on Grades 3-4. Mark is a professional linguist, teacher, teacher trainer, author, researcher and language consultant with more than 25 years’ experience in the fields of English language education and linguistics research. As a specialist in the field of Trinity, with more than 10 years’ experience of training teachers in preparing students for the exam, he offers a range of ideas, tips and preparation strategies.

Have you prepared your candidates for a Trinity exam? Or are you thinking of preparing them for Trinity in the future? Maybe you’re just interested in activities that create a more communicative classroom?

I’m Mark Griffiths and in my webinar I’ll be looking at some of the key features of Trinity College London’s Graded Examinations in Spoken English, (or as many people call them, the GESE exams). I’ll show you lots of practical activities you can use in your classroom to prepare for Trinity, and to improve your students’ communication skills.

We’ll look at the format of the Trinity GESE exams and we’ll see how this changes from Grade 3 into Grades 4, 5 and 6. We’ll look at the language focus of the exams, especially the very popular Grades 3 and 4, and we’ll also explore a range of different ideas for practising the grammar and lexis communicatively.

One of the most important aspects of the Trinity GESE exam is preparing a Topic to discuss. We’ll explore ways of helping your students to think of a Topic and we’ll discuss how we can help them to prepare material for their Topic presentation that is both communicative and personal. And would you like to know some typical examiner questions for the Trinity GESE exam? I’ll show you some in our example ‘Aim at the Exam’ practice section, and I’ll share activities that you can use in the classroom to practise the conversation between the examiner and your students.

Many teachers also have questions about grading. Which Trinity GESE grade should my students do? Are they ready for Grade 3? Could they pass Grade 4? I’ll show you a grading tool that will help you to check if your students are ready for the Grade and show you how the typical examiner questions can help you to decide the best Grade for each student.

All of the material in this webinar has been developed in consultation with Trinity College London and so you know that all of the grammar and lexis, the example questions, and the types of practical activities included in the webinar will practise the language and communication skills that the Trinity examiner wants to hear.

This webinar really is ideal for anyone preparing Trinity. I’ll offer a range of ideas, tips and preparation strategies for Trinity and show you how to pass the exam, how to impress the examiner and how to avoid those typical mistakes!

I hope you can join me.


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Making Good Tests

Teacher and two students

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Larry Zwier shares some thoughts about his upcoming webinar, Making Good Tests. Larry is a series consultant for Q: Skills for Success, the author of Inside Reading 2, and an Associate Director at Michigan State University (East Lansing, Michigan, USA), where many of his duties involve making tests, administering them, and evaluating their effectiveness.

Students often talk about test anxiety. Some say they freeze up and can’t show what they really know because they’re “not good at taking tests.” Teachers may experience their own form of test anxiety. A teacher may feel completely confident in handling a classroom, presenting material, directing students in individual and group work, and so on, yet that same teacher may freeze up when assessment time rolls around. On February 6, I’ll present a webinar about getting past that freeze-up stage and writing good tests.

Specifically, I’ll make reference to using material from OUP’s series, Q: Skills for Success. I know that series intimately. I am one of the series consultants, and I was in on the discussions from the very start about what Q should be and how it should play in the classroom. Part of that “classroom role” aspect involves testing. How should we assess whether students are understanding the passages (reading or listening), picking up the vocabulary, and developing the language skills we practice? What feedback can we give students that will boost their performance in the future?

In the first part of the webinar, I’ll tell participants how to take advantage of testing materials already prepared for Q by Oxford University Press. These come in various packages – via CD and online – and I’ll explain how to get them and use them. In the second part of the webinar, I’ll approach a somewhat tougher topic: How to write good tests on your own.

Of course, testing is a huge topic and we could spend dozens of hours discussing it. I’m going to keep the webinar basic and practical. Issues I’ll address include:

  • What’s my testing goal (fluency/accuracy, syntax/lexis, main ideas/details, etc.)?
  • What are the stakes?
  • What format will work best in my classroom circumstances?
  • How can I identify good points to test in a reading / listening passage
  • I’m a teacher, not a cognitive scientist. How can I know whether a test is good?

I look forward to the webinar—a great chance for me to interact with colleagues from around the world.

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