In my article about how to optimise your course descriptions on italki, I listed a few possibilities of courses you may offer and promised to go more into detail as far as teaching them is concerned. So let’s start today with an article about how to teach test preparation.
Some teachers like to prepare students for official language exams, some hate it. Personally, I wouldn’t want to do this exclusively. Yeah, we already know that I find niching down boring, I need variety and the possibility to teach different things.
However, helping students to prepare for an exam has advantages. Your student will most likely be very motivated and also willing to pay a higher price for your lessons when passing the exam is important or perhaps even essential for him. This is often the case with IELTS for English but I’ve already worked with students who needed to pass an official German exam, too.
How to prepare as a teacher
Before you offer any kind of test preparation, make yourself familiar with the exams which exist for the language you’re teaching. Then have a look at the different kind of exams. You should be able to download model tests for every exam. Have a close look at them, do them yourself. Don’t teach exam preparation without knowing what the student has to expect. For the oral part, there are often YouTube videos available.
Most students are not that afraid of the reading part but especially for the higher level exams (B2/C1/C2), it’s not uncommon that students score less than they had expected. In many cases, they do understand the texts but struggle with the questions. So when you start preparing a student for an exam, let them do one reading comprehension part as a homework. If the student has many mistakes, dedicate some time to teaching him how to approach such tasks. Here are some suggestions of advice you can give:
- Don’t try to understand every detail of the text and don’t spend too much time on one passage. Instead, skim the text and look for keywords in the questions which will help you to decide which parts of the text are important.
- Read the questions first and make sure that you understand them well. This is especially important when the task requires you to choose the best solution.
- Once you’ve read and understood the questions, read the passages one by one and try to find each passage’s main idea. This is often possible by checking the beginning and the end of the passage for ideas which seem to repeat.
- Don’t spend too much time on one question. If you find it very difficult, skip it, go to the next one and return to the difficult questions once you’ve finished the easier ones.
- Some answers can easily be dismissed. Words like “always” or “never” are typical for wrong answers, especially for the upper-level tests.
- Double-check your answers but be aware that you don’t replace correct ones by wrong answers. This easily happens when we think too much.
- Don’t leave any questions unanswered. A guess with the chance to get it right is always better than no answer at all.
- Make reading in your study language a part of your daily routine. People who read regularly usually do better on the reading comprehension part than those who only read as part of their test preparation.
I’m not a listening teacher. Normally, I assign listening comprehension tasks as a homework. However, listening is an important part of every language exam. In many exams, the candidate is played the audio twice but there are exams where you may listen just once and that’s really difficult.
The lower level students normally have the problem that they don’t understand everything while the upper-level students struggle with focusing on the most important information they will need to answer the questions.
Before being played the audios, studying the questions carefully is key. If the students are allowed to make notes or write on the test paper, advise them to write down or underline key words from the questions. As soon as they audio is being played, it’s mainly a matter of concentration and dealing with nervousness. Therefore, the student should do as many audio tasks on his own to get used to this part of the exam.
Most people write too little in their target language. As a result, they often don’t score high when having to write a text for a language exam. The writing tasks are often quite standardised. Depending on the level, students are required to use certain expressions, connectors, apply correct grammar and show their range of vocabulary.
It’s best to assign a writing task as a homework. If there’s enough time left until the exam, correct the text together with the student. I normally highlight everything which is not correct before the lesson and then ask the students what may be wrong or how they could improve their text.
Sometimes, students don’t have enough time or can’t afford too many lessons. In that case, I correct the text and add useful comments which explain why I corrected or changed certain things. It’s then the students’ responsibility to learn from those mistakes on their own.
By the way, you may offer “correction of texts” as a special course. These would be lessons without Skype but make sure that provide quality. Simply correcting the text is not enough. You need to add comments, explanations and examples so that the student can benefit from your course. I’ve seen one teacher who films her screen while correcting the text and explains orally what she’s doing and why she’s doing it. Also a nice solution.
The speaking part is the one most students would like to focus on when booking lessons for test preparation because it’s the only part you cannot prepare on your own. As a teacher, it’s extremely important that you’re familiar with the requirements of the speaking part. What exactly does the student have to do? Does he have to talk about a given topic? Does he have to describe a chart? Does he have to interact with another student?
Most of the tasks for the speaking part have little to do with a natural conversation. That’s the case with German exams at least and I suspect that it’s not much different for other languages. That means that even students who speak the language well will struggle when starting to prepare for a test. This already starts with the introductory sentences. Test preparation books normally offer useful expressions the student can memorise. As a teacher, it should be your task to make sure that your student uses these expressions while not sounding too unnatural or too formal. But keep in mind that examinants want to hear certain expressions so your students shouldn’t sound too informal, either.
Another hurdle is the given time. Many students are worried that won’t be able to say enough but in most of the cases, the opposite is true: There’s too little time to say everything they want. So when preparing a student for the speaking part of a test, pay attention to the time. It’s totally all right to let the student do the same task twice if he spoke twice as long as allowed, for example. After a while, the student will develop a better feeling for the allowed speaking time.
Maximum speaking time is closely connected to content. Most tasks have more or less the same structure. Often it’s something like: Introduction – short summary/description – advantages/disadvantages – situation in the student’s country – own opinion. And for all this, the student usually has no more than 5 minutes. So you have to keep it short in order to address everything. This is something you will also have to practice with the student. In my experience, most students already exceed the 5 minutes when starting to talk about advantages and disadvantages.
Remarks, questions, criticism? Have I missed anything? Please don’t hesitate to write in the comments. And please share this article if you found it useful. Thanks.