Preparing EFL Students for Speaking Exams

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English as a Foreign Language learners all over the world have to deal with speaking exams at some point or another. Students who are doing the FCE, CAE, CPE or IELTS exams definitely do but even General English students will be assessed in a speaking exam for their EFL classes. For any student, speaking exams can be frightening and it is part of our job as teachers to prepare them as much as we can.

Why are EFL students frightened of speaking exams?

Speaking exams can seem unnatural. Sitting at a table talking to someone they don’t know – another student or the examiner – while someone takes notes on what they are saying, is not what our students are used to. They know the examiner is listening to every word they say and this is a lot of pressure. It’s basically public speaking which is not a lot of people’s favourite thing!

Then there is the fear of the unknown as well. Students never know what they will be asked to speak about so they can never fully prepare for the exam. This can be disconcerting in any exam but when you’re required to speak in a foreign language it is even more so.

How can we prepare our EFL students for speaking exams?

If you look at the reasons speaking exams can make our EFL students uncomfortable, you will have the answers to how to make your students feel better about them.

  • Give them opportunities to practise their public speaking. Introduce presentations into your lessons, which will help your students overcome any shyness they may have.
  • Change up the groupings. When doing activities in pairs or groups, make sure your students speak to different students and not always the same ones all the time. This will give them practise speaking with people they don’t know very well.
  • Give them surprise speaking tasks. Every once in a while in your lessons give your students a surprise speaking task to complete. These should mirror the tasks they will be required to do in the exam. They should not be given a lot of time to prepare. In this way, though they may not initially enjoy the activity, they will get used to speaking on-demand.
  • Don’t focus only on grammar and vocabulary. Teach your students how to start and end conversations, ask follow-up questions, react appropriately and buy thinking time. This will help them sound more natural in their speaking.

Speaking exams may be unavoidable in the EFL world but there is no reason our students should fear them. Help them get to grips with the situation and you will have happier, more confident students!

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