This is the sixth part of our exam preparation series: 6 steps to exam success. Read on to find out how you can make your exam courses more effective for your students and even more enjoyable to teach.
Author John Wolf has a master’s degree in Applied Linguistics and a Delta qualification. After working in language schools and teaching mainly younger learners and teenagers, he branched out into exam English, business English, and teacher training.
At the end of the article you’ll find a link to watch a recording of his webinar, which took place on 26th March, 2019.
Who gets excited about exam classes?
I love my job. Ever since I was in high school I’ve wanted to be a teacher. Maybe I’m just cut out for it, like some people destined to be engineers or athletes. Maybe I’m a people person, or maybe I secretly like to tell people what to do and to have all the answers.
Whatever the reason, I love teaching, and one of the clearest reasons/consequences (I’m not sure what came first: the chicken or the egg) is that I enjoy it. It’s fun, dynamic – almost chaotic at times – and provides the kind of autonomy necessary to be creative and driven.
Despite this, I’d be lying if I said I enjoy every minute of every lesson. Some lessons are far less enjoyable than others – case in point: exam courses. Who gets excited about taking, not to mention preparing for, an English exam?
Nevertheless, it’s all part of the job and requires finding ways to make exam courses effective for our students and enjoyable for us.
Our job satisfaction is heavily dependent on our effectiveness as teachers and feeling like we actually accomplish something in the classroom – and is a key factor in avoiding burnout (Maslach & Leiter, 2016).
While passing an exam is a concrete, achievable goal – a task we are able to accomplish – it also serves as a stressor, a general source of tension and anxiety. So how can we turn this around and enjoy teaching our exam courses?
Six ways to enjoy teaching an exam course
1. Deflate the pressure of the exam
There’s no magical way to stop students feeling stressed about an upcoming exam, so the best strategy in the classroom is to prepare them as best as possible.
Outside the classroom, encourage students to take a break and not leave everything until the last minute. They could even try the Pomodoro Technique to help them focus.
2. Ready your repertoire
All teachers have a few tricks up their sleeve: a bank of activities we use on a regular basis that we know are effective and enjoyable.
This also applies to exam courses – just because your students are studying for an exam, it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun in class!
Whatever your favorite classroom activities are, try them out. Just remember to give them an exam twist!
3. Delegate task creation
I’m always finding ways for my students to take part in teaching activities. Asking students to create their own exam tasks is a great way for them to exercise autonomy, and learn more about the format of the test.
Allow students to find their own texts and create comprehension questions to go with it. Alternatively, they could turn it into a Use of English exercise by removing words from the text and having their partners try and complete the gaps.
If you’re struggling to find interesting or relevant photos for the speaking paper, get students to bring in their own pictures – or use the ones they have on their phones. Once they know how the exam works, they can even try creating their own questions to go with them.
4. Monitor progress
I’m a big fan of tutorials, where students feel comfortable sharing their feelings with the teacher about how they are progressing.
I get them to write down three things they like about the course and one thing they think could be better.
You can use this in your 1-to-1 tutorials or use it to spark a group discussion. There’s a good chance they’ll all say similar things, and it will allow you to do more of what they love and also to address any doubts they have.
5. Manage exam practice
Don’t overload students with exam tasks, especially at the start of the school year. Many students won’t, in the beginning stages of the course, be prepared for these tasks. Failing or getting bad scores early on can be demotivating and can impact their confidence long term.
Like taking sips of hot coffee, exam practice should be dished out in small doses, with frequency increasing as the exam approaches.
6. Mark writing efficiently
Instead of marking each mistake on every piece of writing, identify common and repeated errors, and focus on those as a whole class. Not only will this lead to better results for students, but it significantly reduces marking time, too.
Along with this strategy, having a clear system that our students understand is also highly effective for saving time and reducing stress. Create a checklist they can use to assess their own work before submitting it, or create a code you can use so they can easily identify what your feedback relates to (grammar, vocabulary, register, etc.).
Remember to also give feedback on things they do well, and always give them the opportunity to submit a final draft with your feedback taken into account.
Enjoyment is contagious
For a large portion of my teaching career I’ve worked with younger learners and teens, and the energy I bring to these lessons is often shared by the students. On days when I feel lethargic or don’t exactly love my job, I find that my students express similar emotions or behavior. This also applies to the days when I love my job and feel energetic. Enjoyment is contagious, like a yawn or laughter. The more we, as teachers, can enjoy our work, the more our students will enjoy their lessons.
1. Maslach, C., Leiter, M.P. (2016). Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry. World Psychiatry, 15(2), 103-111.
Want to learn more? Watch John’s webinar here.
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