How to prepare your students for foreign language efficiency tests

When it comes to big, general tests on foreign language knowledge, students often find themselves confused and unable to find a proper method of preparing for such exams. Not only students have a hard time preparing for general tests. Teachers also find it hard to choose a method by which they will cover these types of assignments. That's why, besides giving lectures and assignments, it's the teacher's responsibility to find the best possible way to provide his or her students with knowledge and confidence about such tests. 'Regular' lectures and assignments are not sufficient – while preparing for language efficiency tests, it's important to have separate classes focused solely on these types of tasks.

Focusing on fixed tasks

Most language efficiency tests have a lot of tasks that repeat test after test, following a same pattern. You should cover these types of tasks in detail and practice them with your students constantly. When it comes to English, whether it is an Oxford, Cambrige, ESL test, most tasks follow the same pattern. Listed below are some of the most common tasks and tips on how to cover them in your classes.

Reading tasks usually involve texts where a couple of people are talking about a common topic like leisure time, travel, jobs etc. These texts are followed by a series of questions with answers that can be read from those texts. How to do this type of tasks with your students? Make sure they are aware of common 'traps' these tasks contain. First of all, these texts should not be skimmed through. The first thing to do is carefully read all of the texts. Skimming should be reserved when looking for an answer you're already sure about. Also, the biggest problem with this task is that answers are often not that obvious, and more people can fall into a same answer. Below is an example of such a task:



So, the task is to answer questions starting with „Which person...?“ based on the articles you just read. The articles contains testimonies from six people: Alf, Bela, Cameron, Dawn, Eddie and Faye, their names representing a letter that you should enter in the answer sheet. You'll notice that no question has a clearly stated answer. For example, the first question is: Which person had visited the place before? Teach your students not to just skim through the text, rather, encourage them to be aware of facts and keywords from every text. As you can see, answers A and B clearly state that this was their first time visiting the place:

A: I went there because a friend said I should.

B: It was the first time I was in a foreign city all by myself.

Answers C and D don't mention anything about whether they visited the place before or not.
The key is in answers E and F:

E: I'd forgotten how dirty the place was.

F: I was familiar with the sights, having seen them on Google images.

This right here is a classic trap for someone who's rushing over the text. A student is looking for a sentence, structure or a keyword that will lead him to the answer. If a student is skimming through a text and sees the sentence „I was familiar with the sights.“, without reading the rest of the sentence, he can uncarefully choose this answer and, of course, get it wrong.

Let's take a look at another one of these questions – Which person was scared?
Person A mentions nothing about being or not being scared. However, person B states something that can be interperted as fear:

B: I was in a foreign city all by myself. ...being alone in a strange city.

Again, for someone who is skimming through the text, this alone could be enough to decide on this answer. However, you should accentuate this to your students: if an answer seems appealing, like this, but you're not absolutely sure if it's correct, continue reading to make sure it's the best possible option.

E: I'm afraid of flying so I went by car.

F: It wasn't what I expected, I'm afraid.

These can also be appealing answers because of the direct use of the adjective 'afraid', which is synonymous to 'scared'. However, the task revolves around people's holiday experiences, so 'the fear' should have happened during their stay. In (F), afraid is just a part of a phrase.

C: I was so high that I couldn't open my eyes.

This is the correct answer – it involves the person's fear of heights and requires careful and concentrated reading. For someone who skimmed, more obvious and appealing answers would be B or E. This is the most important lessons you have to teach your students when dealing with these kinds of tasks: read carefully and slowly and always check to make sure you're right.

Let's take a look at another type of a 'popular' task. A majority of English language efficiency tests will include a task like this. The point is to carefully (and I really mean carefully) read the article, and then simply answer questions about it. All answers can, of course, be found in the text.




The most important thing you need to warn your students about that AT LEAST two of these answers are highly appealing, sometimes it's three, but sometimes all answers have a certain argument which makes them 'possibly correct'.

Let's look at question number 14, which is answered in the 2nd paragraph: As a kid…

Bradley loved cycling because it gave him a sense of freedom.

„...felt he could go anywhere he wanted...“

Bradley loved cycling because he could explore his neighbourhood.

„...no longer restricted to the street where he lived...“

Bradley loved cycling because he was thrilled at the speed he could go.

„...as fast as the city traffic would allow...“

Why is A the correct answer? Surely, there is a great number of students who wouldn't hesitate to answer B. It's a matter of context of the entire paragraph. If you are a careful reader, you'll notice how, stylistically, the first answer is more empashized. Also, the first answer includes the phrase he felt, which directly answers the question: Why did he love cycling? whereas, it's not stated if exploring the neighbourhood was his primary interest.

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