Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


17 Comments

Something old, something new…

Exam takerMarilena Chirculete takes a look at the revised Proficiency exam and shares her classroom ideas to help students prepare for the new exam format. This is the first part of a series of two blogs on the topic.

The time has come for those involved in the Cambridge English: Proficiency preparation process to face the latest challenge: preparation for the revised (and abridged) version of the examination which is to be released in January 2013. On celebrating its centenary, the Proficiency exam revolutionises tradition. Training students for such a prestigious certificate is never facile. However, the one aspect I admire in the new Cambridge English: Proficiency is that it seems to keep a much more logical and coherent transition from the Advanced level examination.

New in the revised Proficiency, paradoxically, are the very deeply rooted tasks of lower level Cambridge exams. Nevertheless the question remains: up to what extent and how are teachers and students expected to adapt? Vast as the field may be, in this blog I will focus mainly on the key changes and on what they entail in terms of exam preparation, and will introduce some guiding tips and ideas for teachers to employ in class.

Approaching the Reading and Use of English paper

Paper 1 – Reading and Use of English will consist of 7 parts, out of which the first four test candidates’ grammatical and vocabulary prowess, then the next 3 parts are dedicated to Reading items. There will be 53 questions to be solved in 90 minutes, so your students will need extra practice in managing time successfully, while still maintaining accuracy, attention and thoroughness.

The Reading Component

There is another element of surprise insofar as there are no similar tasks throughout this paper. Thus, reading comprehension tested through multiple choice items is now reduced to a single part, but multiple matching will be introduced to Proficiency. Does this sound familiar, by any chance? Anyone who has prepared students for the Cambridge Advanced will have felt their heart skip a beat. That’s right, multiple matching strikes again! Multiple matching The challenge of this task resides in the discipline and strategy one employs when solving it. The task presents candidates with a text divided into several sections. A list of 10 questions/ statements requires them to find the correlation to each one in a section of the text. Teachers ought to make students aware of the importance of a strategy which should be practised before the actual examination. There are a few stages to help with the task:

  • First, advise students to underline the key information in the 10 questions. Not all the words in the question are relevant and the danger they present is that they might even distract attention. Highlight significant concepts!
  • The next step would be to actually begin reading. It is not a matter of in-depth reading. Skimming should be enough and a close reading should be used only when in doubt between two sections.
  • Remind students that multiple matching does not also imply multiple reading. Their attention should be undivided. Recommend taking each section at a time in the attempt of answering as many questions as possible through a particular fragment, provided that the key words underlined in the questions have palpable contextually synonymic counterparts in the suspected section. No over-interpretation!

The Use of English Component

Of the 5 parts currently constituting the Use of English paper of C2 level only 3 will be kept: the open cloze, the multiple-choice cloze, and word formation. The gapped sentences are history! I expect that those of you who have prepared for the Cambridge Advanced feel the breeze of the revised Proficiency examination, which becomes less of a mathematical configuration (remember trying to find the one word that fits all three contexts?) and less of a poetic quest (students will be happy to know that comprehension questions are out of the way), but more of a test of skilful language use… which is why the key word transformations are back.

Key word transformations

The key to solving this type of task is the key word itself, which must remain intact, however structurally changed the original sentence may need to be. The challenge is two-fold: the meaning must remain the same as in the given sentence while, at the same time, the grammatical changes ought to be correct and natural. So how can you help students tackle this task?

  • Exposure to the language is a main aspect, since it develops flexibility in using it. Take every opportunity to show or elicit from students the various ways a statement may be rephrased in.
  • Practice makes perfect, it is generally argued and it is quite true here. Practising this kind of exam task will increase students’ dexterity in this respect.
  • Last, but not least, encourage students to challenge each other. Being given a certain sentence, a student could come up with a word to be used in rephrasing the given statement. This way, teachers are able to stimulate active processing. Essentially, the first student tries on the shoes of the test builder, by fully grasping the principles behind this type of exam item, while the other student takes on the responsibility of solving the puzzle.

In the next post I will be looking at strategies to help students prepare for the Writing, Speaking, and Listening papers. Details of the changes to the Cambridge English: Proficiency 2013 exam can be viewed here.


16 Comments

The importance of extensive reading – “Red Dog”

Statue of Red Dog in the town of Dampier

Jenny Bassett, Series Editor of the Oxford Bookworms Library (OUP), stresses the importance of extensive reading to improving language proficiency.

The new Bookworm just out is Red Dog by Louis de Bernières, an adaptation at Bookworms Stage 2. It’s a true story about a Red Cloud kelpie, an Australian sheepdog. There’s a life-sized bronze statue to him (left) in the town of Dampier, put there by his friends after his death. When Louis de Bernières was in Western Australia, he came across this statue and felt he had to find out more about this ‘splendid dog’. So he collected all these tales about Red Dog and published a book about him. ‘But I hope,’ he wrote, ‘that my cat never finds out that I have written a book to celebrate the life of a dog.’

Red Dog was a real character – I got to know him quite well while I was retelling the story and researching the background. Here’s a bit about him from the story introduction in the book:

Red Dog front cover - Oxford BookwormsRed Dog had many names. At different times he was called Tally Ho, Bluey, the Dog of the North-West, but mostly he was called Red Dog, or just Red. Everybody in the north-west knew Red. He never really belonged to anyone, but he had many friends. He was never without a place to sleep, or a good meal, before he moved on – because he was also a great traveller. It is a hard, hot country, up in the Pilbara region, but Red knew how to get around. He rode on buses and trucks, in people’s cars, and on trains. If people saw Red Dog on the road, they always stopped and gave him a ride.

But there was one thing about Red Dog. You really, really didn’t want to travel with him in a car with the windows closed…

Continue reading