Published 3rd March 2017

Teaching exam classes is one thing, but being a student in an exam class is a whole different kettle of fish. Students wanting to take an exam have to deal not only with their level of English but also with their test-taking abilities. Let’s face it, not everyone performs well under pressure and even our most well-prepared students can have a bad day or freak out in the test centre.

As the teacher, your job is to make sure your students are prepared to take the exam. This means ensuring their English is at the appropriate level they need, helping them get to grips with the format of the exam and dealing with their pre-exam anxieties.

To help you with this, here are a few of the most common concerns students have about EFL exams, and reasons why they shouldn’t be worried.

1. What if I have nothing to say?

A lot of students worry that they won’t know what to say or won’t have anything to say in a speaking exam. The important thing to remember about English exams is that they are testing English ability and not general knowledge.

If students find themselves tongue-tied and are really struggling to say anything, they should try communicate that as best they can. Teaching them phrases like I can’t think of anything off the top of my head, Nothing seems to come to mind at the moment, That’s something I’ve never really thought of will provide them with ammunition for moments such as this. They won’t get marked down for not being able to think of something on topic, but the student must be able to communicate this and attempt an answer.

2. What if I am not familiar with the topic?

In either speaking, reading or listening exams, you are not expected to know about the topics. In fact, topics are often chosen because they are uncommon so that some students won’t have an advantage over other students if they have background knowledge of the topic. In terms of speaking exams, they should respond using the phrases related to not having anything to say.

For reading or listening exams, any knowledge that you need to answer the questions will be found in the text. The students won’t need to bring in any external information in order to answer a question accurately and appropriately.

In terms of a writing exam, it is, of course, unacceptable for a student to write that they know nothing about a topic. Instead, they need to be able to put something down on paper relating to the question topic. However, the questions for a writing exam will always be based on very common topics, which can be dealt with during class.

3.What if I don’t understand the examiner?

Many students worry about not being able to understand the examiner when he or she is asking a question. This is a very real possibility due to the fact that students are often used to listening to their teachers who automatically grade their language or to graded language texts. The examiner will speak at a normal rate and this may worry lower level students. Plus, an examiner may have an accent a student is not familiar with.

During a speaking exam, if a student does not understand the examiner when he or she is speaking or does not hear the question clearly, it is perfectly acceptable to ask the examiner to repeat them self. Asking for clarification is a very normal part of communication so students will not be penalised for doing so. Rather say I’m sorry, could you say that again? Or I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that than answer a question ineffectively due to a misunderstanding.

Just the thought of taking an EFL exam can cause anxiety but we often find that students freak out about things that aren’t a problem or that they have no control over. Help relieve that stress by dealing with their individual concerns before the exam.