Published 17th November 2015


Teaching exams is just one of many different varieties of TEFL teaching that you may find yourself doing. English exams are big business at the moment, since they are used by universities for admissions, employers looking at employee linguistic competence, and immigration agencies for visa purposes. It’s no wonder that millions of EFL students all around the world take some form of EFL exam every week.

If you have never taught an exam class before you are probably unfamiliar with the exam and so will feel apprehensive about teaching it. This is only natural, but making yourself aware of the different exams and getting experience teaching them will make you a valuable commodity to any employer. Let’s now look at one of the most recognised international EFL exams: IELTS.

IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System, but not many people actually know that and it’s not really important. The IELTS was originally used for admissions procedures to universities in English-speaking countries, but is now also widely used by immigration agencies to decide whether or not to award a visa to a particular country. There are two IELTS tests: the General and the Academic. They both consist of four parts: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking – though they differ with respect to the Reading and Writing papers.

The Listening test consists of four parts. Students need to listen to dialogues or monologues in a general or academic context. Tasks may include note-taking, filling in a table or sentence completion. It’s only half an hour but the difficulty with the Listening paper is that the different parts include a variety of accents and students can only hear each recording once.

The Reading test consists of three parts and lasts an hour. The Academic test readings are dense and relate to academic topics, like textbooks. The General test readings relate to more general topics and are a lot of shorter texts rather than three long ones. All the readings require the students to find specific information and interpret texts quickly.

The Writing test consists of two parts, both being done within sixty minutes. In the first task, General test-takers will write a letter of complaint, apology or a letter asking for more information. The Academic test-takers will need to interpret visual information in a graph, chart or diagram. The second task for both tests is to write an argument in the form of an essay.

Finally, the Speaking test lasts about 12 to 15 minutes. The Speaking test is divided into three parts. First the student will be asked general questions about their life. Next, they will need to speak for two minutes on a given topic. Thirdly, they will engage in a more in-depth discussion on a particular topic. The students will be assessed on fluency, accuracy and range of grammar and vocabulary.

Taking an EFL exam like the IELTS can be daunting for both the TEFL teacher and the EFL student. However, exam students are usually motivated and have a clear goal to work towards. If you make sure you are familiar with the format of the exam, you will be able to help your students perform to the best of their ability.