How to Get Your Students Ready for Exams

Even for the most confident students, exams can be a stressful and nerve-wracking experience. Well, the truth is that unless your English learners are adrenaline junkies, they probably don't enjoy tests and exams! So, what can you do to help them to get ready and get top marks?

👉 Task Types

First of all, make sure that your students are familiar with the format of each part of the exam they are about to take. OK, there will probably be some reading and listening tasks, but will they have to answer open-ended or multiple-choice questions? How many times will examinees listen to the recordings? Will they lose points for incorrect answers? The better they know what will be expected of them, the less likely they are to face any unpleasant surprises.

Next step: focus on useful exam strategies and techniques. For example, have your students understood that they must always proofread their texts? Do they know how to use the skimming technique when they want to identify the main idea and key phrases and words in a text? Have they learnt how to use the scanning technique when they want to find specific information (such as a particular word, name or date) in a text? Do they know how to avoid falling for trick questions?

pro tip 🗸 Train your students to carefully read the instructions. If they don't know precisely what they are asked to do, they may miss the focus of the task. And it goes without saying that misreading a question could also have catastrophic results (no matter how interesting, imaginative or inspired an answer may be)!

👉 Speaking Panic

You should point out to your students that it is not a good idea to memorise speeches for a speaking test. A good examiner can always tell if an answer has been learnt and rehearsed (and this may influence the final score). However, they should learn and practise words and phrases that we all use when we discuss something. They should also show that they are able to interact spontaneously. For example, if an examiner sneezes, he/she expects that the other person will say ‘bless you’. Being kind and friendly matters too; for example, saying 'Thanks, have a good day!' at the end of the test will certainly leave a good impression. 

In addition, your students should be ready to answer the most common questions without any long pauses or hesitation. TV and radio presenters know that dead air can lead to terrible results; if there is dead air, viewers or listeners will just switch to another channel or station! You should also not forget to explain that sometimes it is better to force ourselves to slow down when speaking; by consciously slowing down, we give ourselves more time to think and we decrease the likelihood of using fillers (such as ‘um’ and ‘uh’) which show that we don’t know what else to say or that we are struggling to remember a word!

Examinees should also be aware of their body language and the messages it conveys. For example, they shouldn't fold their arms across their chests, slouch or keep putting their hands in their pockets. Instead, they should remember to nod, smile, make eye contact, show interest and look confident.

pro tip 🗸 Just like official examiners, you have to know how to apply the assessment criteria to evaluate your learners' speaking skills. That's why you need to make the most of handbooks for teachers and speaking test videos. Test yourself by comparing your marks and notes with those of the official examiners. You should also share at least a speaking test video with your students; it will help them to understand what happens on the big day and make them feel more prepared and relaxed!

👉 Time Management

eDo your students know how much time they will have for each part of the exam? Have they done plenty of practice tests in timed conditions? Have they understood that they should always leave a few minutes at the end to check their answers and/or transfer them onto answer sheets? Time isn't always on your students' side when taking a test, so they have to know how to use it wisely. There’s nothing worse than failing an exam because of running out of time! 

You should also explain that during the stressful period before the big day (aka the day of the exam) time management also matters. No one can learn everything a few days before a test. The road to success takes time and effort; and no one can improve at lightning speed! So, motivate your English learners to learn how to avoid procrastinating and how to set an effective study and revision routine. 

pro tip 🗸 A hack that helps many students is answering the easy questions first and leaving lots of time at the end for the harder parts of the exam. Starting with an easy task and moving on to the next question when getting stuck is a method that makes most test takers feel confident and calm, so it may work for most of your students too!

👉 Weak Spots

OK, you do know that every student is different. But how can you identify each learner's weak spots? Mock tests can help you to focus on your students' strengths and weaknesses. And reflection tasks and other follow-up activities can help your learners to concentrate on the specific areas they need to work on. 

Bear in mind that different learning styles and study habits may call for different strategies and schedules. Encourage your English learners to figure out what works for them.

pro tip 🗸 When taking a practice test, most students are more interested in their grade than their teacher's feedback. However, you should emphasise how important it is for them to concentrate on feedback, weaknesses and errors that could have been avoided. Moreover, you should highlight the importance of things most students don't pay attention to. For example, is their handwriting easy to read? Marking tests can be a tedious job; that's why all examiners truly appreciate legible handwriting!

👉 Relaxation Techniques

The sensation of a knot in your stomach when taking an exam is... well, unavoidable! But there are some special techniques that can help your students to deal with exam stress on the big day. They just have to start practising! Explain that the easiest and quickest way to calm down, relax and reduce your blood pressure is to slowly breathe in and out. Your students can get started with the ‘box breathing technique’. Just google it!  

Another tip that helps many students is the power of positive self-talk during a challenging test. Negative thoughts and test anxiety go in hand in hand, so managing to think positively when being under stress can work wonders! Motivate your English learners to learn and repeat encouraging phrases such as 'I can do anything I set my mind to', 'I've prepared for this exam and I'll give it my all' or 'OK, the clock is ticking but I've been on a strict deadline before; I'll succeed'. 

pro tip 🗸 Motivational posters and sticky notes with encouraging words on them can help you to create a positive classroom atmosphere. 

How do you help your students to prepare for exams and impress all examiners? If you have any other tips and tricks, we'd love to hear about them👇!

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