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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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Web apps and teaching – who uses them and why?

Oxford English Testing logoDo you use any web apps for your work? For blogging, project management, collaborating, referencing, lesson planning? If so, what’s been your experience of them? Are there any you’d recommend for teaching?

In July 2009 we launched our own online testing and practice web app for organizations – oxfordenglishtesting.com. A smaller version for students had already been launched the year before. The app hosts the Oxford Online Placement Test, online exam practice tests, online skills practice and a Learning Management System to manage it all.

We felt this was a good time to thank our customers, and do some research on what they thought about the app.

When we launched the app it was a bit of a leap in the dark. Yes, teachers had been downloading resources from the Internet for a while, used it for research and showing interesting videos, and yes our research and user testing showed they liked our new testing app. But would the reality of using the Internet work for them? Would it make their work easier? Would students respond well?

So to find out, we ran a competition asking for their favourite feature and what they’d like us to improve. In this post we’ll look at the three winning favourites. Next time, we’ll report back on their suggestions.

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Are we finally bringing placement and practice testing into the 21st century?

Oxford English Testing2009 proved to be the year when long periods of investment by a number of publishers and exam boards in the application of new technology to language testing have finally came to fruition and resulted in a range of significant new additions to the repertoire of resources available to those involved in ELT. In particular, the new OUP website, oxfordenglishtesting.com, represents a remarkable step forward in the online provision available to learners, teachers and language teaching institutions in two key areas, placement testing and practice testing.

As someone who has been involved for many years both in test design and as a test user, my initial professional interest in the site was primarily in the new placement testing facility developed by OUP, where the benefits of what can be achieved with the latest ‘custom built’ software can be seen not only in the learning management system (LMS), which allows for efficient and flexible administration of the test, but most crucially in the design of the placement test itself. The Oxford Online Placement Test is a CAT, a computer adaptive test, ‘the test you do with a mouse’. CATs are very difficult and expensive to produce, but when a CAT approach is taken to placement testing it brings huge benefits, because of the very nature of placement testing and the fact that it involves the need to determine the language levels (and ideally the language profiles) of learners of unknown levels. Traditional placement tests, even the best of them, are unavoidably inefficient in the sense that a proportion of the items will always be wasted, either being far too difficult and/or far too easy for a learner at a given level. CATs, because they are based on item banks from which items are chosen based on the testee’s previous responses, tailor the test to each test taker. They are thus able to achieve the ‘holy grail’ of placement testing, in that they can be quick and accurate, as well as being far more secure than their ‘pen and paper’ cousins.

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