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15 ways to reproduce exam conditions

Although a good EFL exam class teacher will break the students slowly into real exam practice and spend as much time boosting their confidence as showing them how challenging the exam will be, sooner or later the students are going to need a taste of the real thing. Setting your classes up as much like […]

Although a good EFL exam class teacher will break the students slowly into real exam practice and spend as much time boosting their confidence as showing them how challenging the exam will be, sooner or later the students are going to need a taste of the real thing. Setting your classes up as much like the real exam as possible could be to give them some final practice so they don’t freeze up when they see the real thing on the day, or it could be used to motivate a class that is starting to slack by showing them what they have to be able to cope with. As any student who has done a practice test no problem and then broken down in the real exam will tell you, doing a timed paper is not enough to make exam practice realistic. Here are some other things you can do to make for a useful “dress rehearsal”:

1. Staff
If possible have a stranger supervising the mock exam, especially if it is a speaking exam like BULATS Speaking. You may also want to have more than one person supervising, especially if there are two examiners in the real exam, such as in FCE and CAE Speaking. Make sure the staff behave exactly like a real examiner- greet students like you don’t know them, no chit-chat before or after, watch students all the way through the exam, don’t bring in any marking etc to do during the exam, hold a pencil and paper all the time, and/ or patrol the classroom.

2. Sound quality/ sound equipment
Many schools are in the lucky position of having much better sound equipment than the exam boards supply. Students might have to get used to big rooms with echoes, tapes instead of CD players etc. In other test centres students get individual headsets. As it is usually impossible to find out in advance which equipment your students will have, it is probably worth trying it with any ones you have heard rumours about being used.

3. Importance
Usually the biggest factor in making students more relaxed and successful in a mock exam is the fact that the score doesn’t really matter. You can add some more realistic stress by telling them that you will make everyone’s scores public, make people who fail the mock retake, or mention their scores in their reports- even if you eventually don’t do any of these.

4. Arrival
Make students wait outside the room until a couple of minutes before class time and have the exam papers on each desk ready when they come in. Don’t allow chatting in the classroom, and put a big notice on the classroom door asking people outside to be quiet.

5. The room
Take all posters off the wall, especially language learning ones. Write the instructions and rules on the board in big letters. Hold the mock test in a different room to the normal classroom, if possible in a much bigger room.

6. Seating
Move the desks in some way to make the fact that this is not a normal lesson obvious. If possible, increase this effect by making them change their usual seating positions, for example by assigning them exam numbers and telling them to sit where their number is displayed. If there is enough room, set desks apart from each other.

7. Timing
Have a big prominent clock in the classroom and have the exam times written on the board when they come in. Make them wait a minute or so in silence at the beginning until it is the official starting time. Shout at “5 minutes left” etc during the exam. Be very strict about no writing after the time limit. Although this might not be the case in the exam, make students who finish early wait until the end of the exam so that they are more or less forced to look at their answers again and know how much time they will really have.

8. Paper
Make sure the front page looks like a real exam paper and ask them to write their names etc on it. Follow the format of the exam in terms of sizes of paper, single or double sided sheets, whether they are given blank paper to make notes, answer sheets for them to copy their answers onto (attached to question sheet or not) etc.

9. Script
If you are doing a speaking exam, it should be fairly easy to find a script of everything the examiner says from when the student first comes into the room. Using this and your own ideas write out a full script and stick to it as closely as possible- including questions that you know don’t make any sense for your students such as “What is your job?” You should also write out a script with the instructions and rules for a written exam, and read that out before they start.

10. Anticipation
Build up to a mock exam in the same way as you would a real exam, for example by telling students how many days more they have to revise for it and giving tips on how to be ready on the day by eating a big breakfast etc.

11. Strictness
If you don’t have the option in your school of excluding someone for being late, make latecomers do the exam in a seat outside the classroom or stuck next to the door far away from the other students. Give official warnings for students who seem to be chatting or looking at other people’s papers and move them to such seats if they need a second warning.

12. Marking
Do not give students the benefit of the doubt, including in things like bad handwriting and filling in two squares instead of one. As a real examiner will do, mark quickly in one hour stretches with 5 to 15 minute breaks.

13. Stuff
Make sure students only have the things on the desk that they are allowed in the real test, keeping to the exam rules on pencil cases, drinks etc. Make sure all books are in their bags and that their bags are closed.

14. Unfamiliarity
As it is almost impossible to prepare the students for exactly what will be in the exam, in the mock throw in some language you haven’t covered in class- even if it is fairly unlikely to come up. For example, by putting a less common topic like food into IELTS Speaking Part One or by rephrasing all the questions you can test their ability to cope with something they are not expecting- a vital exam skill! Another aspect of unfamiliarity is to make sure students can’t tell each other what they just spoke about in the mock speaking test.

15. Feedback
Give students exactly the same kind of results and feedback they will get from the real exam. After a couple of days to let that feedback sink in and to let them realise how much progress they still have to make, give them back their papers with the corrections and do a couple of lessons on particular difficulties they had and/or tips on dealing with real exam conditions.

Written by Alex Case for Teflnet May 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

One Comment

  • Maria Perez says:

    Have reading passage or short stories available for those students who finish his/her test in a short period of time. Always keep your students busy so they do not distract other that are still taking the exam.

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Teflnet : ESL Lesson Plans : Classroom Ideas : Exams : 15 ways to reproduce exam conditions