Younger learner exams/tests are becoming more and more popular. The demand is growing and many parents seem to be keen for their children to enter. Teachers are preparing the children for tests at a younger and younger age. Naturally, publishers and coursebook writers have responded to this and by trying to give the teacher as much help as possible.
However, some children do not perform well in test situations. You hear stories about people who have sat their driving test over 50 times! They are perfectly competent drivers, but when it comes to the test situation they ‘freeze’. It’s the same with some children: they do well with classwork but when it comes to a test/exam situation they fall to pieces.
What can a teacher do about this? The problem is that the teacher needs to prepare them for the test. (Remember, knowing how to do the test is halfway to passing it!) Yet, overt exam preparation can heighten tension for some children and make them less able.
Well, one thing we can do is make preparation for the test a linked event for home and school. That means the first thing we need to do is prepare the parents. Look in your coursebook: is there a list of exam advice for parents (tips for parents)? If there is, send a copy home to parents. It will be full of fun, easy-to-use ideas.
For example the children can take home the word list for Cambridge Starters, Movers, or Flyers. It can be stuck on a pinboard or put onto the computer. The words can be highlighted or crossed out when the kids have learned them.
These tips for parents will help them prepare their children for the exams. And don’t worry about the linguistic competence of parents. In this day and age, many parents will be able to handle the level!
Parents will be doing things like pointing at objects and asking ‘what’s this?’ or ‘what’s that?’ Getting the children to say things like, “it’s a green ball’, or ‘it’s a big, red chair with purple stripes’. They can practice saying and understanding the English alphabet by asking their children, ‘How do you spell “duck”?’
To be fair, it does get a bit more difficult with Flyers. The children need to be able to count up to 1,000 in this particular test!
Some parents take these tests very seriously and why not? After all, they pay good money for the children to enter. But this shouldn’t blind them to the affective side of exam practice. Fun practice makes perfect.
Tell parents that it should be enjoyable and that it shouldn’t become a chore. Whenever possible they should try and turn the practice into a game. Suggest that the children should practise little and often, rather than do full-scale exam practice! It really shouldn’t need saying, but say it anyway: tell the parents to give their children plenty of encouragement.
Have a look in your coursebook and see if there is a list of advice for parents and a page of exam practice ideas for teachers. With the strong trend towards CYLET type testing for young learners, the more up-to-date coursebooks should carry this type of advice for teachers.