Published 13th April 2017
Teaching an exam class has many perks: your students are generally motivated, there is a clear goal and you are usually provided with good resources to use. Taking an English exam is a big deal – your students’ employment or education future could depend on it – which means that exam classes are considered serious places of learning. Exam students know they are expected to work hard and want to work hard to ensure they get the grade they need on the exam.
Of course but it does, but it also doesn’t sound like much fun. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and all that. Working hard is one thing, but learning a language is about so much more than what happens in the classroom. Learning a language is about loving the language, and that’s not going to happen if you can only see an exam in your future.
So how on earth can you make something as dry as an exam class interesting, or even, dare we say it, fun?
Shift the focus
Students preparing for an exam are likely to be very focussed on the end goal: the exam. They will expect classroom activities to prepare them in some way for the exam and this is most obvious when the activities mimic aspects of the exam. This is quite a narrow view on language learning though, as your students are not learning English to pass an exam but to be able to speak English.
Try avoid relating everything that is done in class to the exam. Activities can be done to practise language structures or apply skills and this can be done without an explicit relation to the exam. Students should then realise the exam is a test of their English ability and their language skills, rather than a test of their test-taking skills.
Preparing for an exam can be stressful and it’s not advisable for your students to maintain a high level of stress throughout the exam course, which can run for up 12 weeks. Focussing on the exam for all that time will cause exhaustion and burnout. Your students will become bored with exam practice and will lose interest in studying.
Making use of games and activities which are more light-hearted are a great way to take your students’ minds off the exam and still practise their English.
Mix it up
At the same time as having fun, it is still necessary to put in the work. Have fun with games and activities but also spend time on practice exams and exam tasks. Your students will appreciate that they are still focussing on the exam and these periods of hard work will make them enjoy the fun times even more.