HOW TO MAKE EFL EXAMS NOT SO SCARY FOR YOUR STUDENTS

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When was the last time you wrote an exam? Do you remember how you felt? Why do you think you felt like that? In this blog we’ll explain how to make EFL exams less scary for your students.

If you’re anything like, well, most people we know, taking an exam is not high on our list of favourite things to do. Exams can make you feel anxious and stressed, regardless of whether you’re prepared or not. If you are teaching an EFL exam class you always need to bear this in mind, because EFL exams are no different.

What’s more, when you think about it, writing a language exam is not just about regurgitating knowledge, it’s about performing. In fact, because EFL exams often include an element of speaking they can be more frightening than regular exams.

We already know that we should try to create a calm, welcoming environment in our classroom for our students to learn in. Our students need to be relaxed and open to learning in order for our teaching to be effective. If you follow Stephen Krashen, this is what he means when he speaks about lowering the affective filter.

Why are EFL exams so scary?

The first thing we need to do is ascertain what it is exactly about exams that your students are frightened of. This can be done by structuring a lesson around exams and the feelings associated with them. This should include reflection and discussion. Then you can relate it directly to the exam in question (IELTS, TOEFL or TOEIC, for example) and get very specific about your students’ situation.

Common reasons given for being anxious about EFL exams include:

  • Not knowing what to write or say
  • Not knowing how to answer a question
  • Freezing during a speaking exam
  • Going blank
  • Making careless mistakes

How to make EFL exams not so scary for your students

Now that you know why your students don’t enjoy exams, you can think of ways to tackle these problems to make them feel better.

  • Help them understand that language exams are not about what they know, they’re about how you communicate. In other words, it usually doesn’t matter what you say, so focus on how you say it.
  • A lack of familiarity with the exam can cause your students to worry that they won’t know how to answer a question. Even though it’s not always fun or exciting, making sure students are familiar with exam questions is crucial. You don’t want your students to get any nasty surprises on the day of the exam.
  • Do practice speaking exams in class. At first you can let them do this in pairs with their friends who they feel comfortable with. Later, though, you should do mock exams in a more exam-like scenario with an examiner they are not familiar with.
  • The only way to get over confidence issues is to practise practise practise. Be sure to incorporate lots of public speaking into your lessons over the course of your class.
  • Doing practise exams during class is essential. Giving them for homework is also an option but doing them in class incorporates an element of necessary stress. Also, it means you can be strict on time. When you do practise exams in class, include five or ten minutes for your students to go over their answers. Try getting them into the habit of checking their work so as to avoid making silly mistakes.

Taking an EFL exam can be a stressful experience. As an EFL teacher it is your job to not only prepare your students in terms of language but also in terms of the exam itself.

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