Do you have any ideas on teaching oriented exam courses?

Discussion re test preparation

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Do you have any ideas on teaching oriented exam courses?

Unread post by ngoclinh »

Hi Lucy,
I need your immediate advice because I am in an urgent situation. My department has been assigned to work on a project of teaching Toefl ITP to non-English majors. Let me tell you first about my students. They are in their first and second year at College and specialized in Information technology. At the moment we have been teaching them General English and English for IT. Now the Director of the College would like his students to score at least 480 on Toefl ITP, which he think will be useful for students whey graduate and work in the field of IT. So our job is really hard. For second year student we have the duration of two terms (4 classes per week for Term 1, and 5 classes per week for term 2 with 1o weeks per term 1 and 15 weeks per term 2)to reach the objective of 480. For 1st year students we have more time to plan because they have one more term with 2 classes per week and there are a total of 15 weeks.
regarding the students' level, some groups are quite strong while some are very weak.
At the moment we are having lots of difficulties deciding what to teach and how to teach. We also have problems with material selection because there are now too much material in this area. We are having to devise a detailed plan for each week (what skills will be covered, and how much time is enough for each skill like listening, reading, grammar. We also want to ask Students to do a lot of work because we have very little time and self-study for exams like this is very important. So I'd like to hear your ideas on this issue. What approaches are suitable for strong groups and what suitable for weaker ones? What plan should we follow? what about homework (we think students should read and listen a lot at home because extensive listening and reading will go a long way in improving students' level of English in general but we don't know how to control what they do at home), what need to be taken into consideration in teaching for exams like this. oh, by the way, Do you think we should speak English or use Students' native language when teaching and in this case it's vietnamese

I look forward to your reply
Many thanks
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Do you have any ideas for exam oriented courses?

Unread post by Lucy »

Dear Phuong,

First of all, I would like to apologise for not responding sooner. I have been on holiday.

I'll start with your last question about teaching students in English or in Vietnamese. As they are training for a high level exam, I think it is essential for them to be exposed to as much English as possible. I think that wherever possible, you need to use English in the classroom. So, I suggest for the stronger groups that you use only English and for the weaker groups you use English whenever possible with a view to increasing the amount of English spoken.

I'm afraid I'm unable to help you with material selection: I've never prepared students for the TOEFL exam. I think your approach is excellent; you definitely need to give time to all aspects tested in the TOEFL exam. As you say, each of the skills will need to be covered on a regular basis. You are also right to ask students to do a lot of self-study. It will be easier if students do reading, writing and grammar exercises alone at home. You can use class time to practise listening and speaking. However, it is important to do some reading, writing and grammar in class and to spend time teaching them the skills and not just practising them. One thing you have forgotten to include is teaching students exam strategies such as planning time in the exam (how much time to spend on each question); brainstorming in the exam, making notes, etc. You will also need to give them plenty of practice at taking exams. So, include time for some mock exams.

I am not able to comment on the difference between TOEFL ITP and TOEFL IBT. I am copying your question into the exams forum so that other people can answer your question. TOEFL is an internationally recoginsed exam and if somebody passes at a high level, I'm sure they'll be able to work in an English-speaking environment.

Good luck, it sounds as if you are already doing an excellent job!

Last edited by Lucy on 20 Feb 2007, 16:51, edited 1 time in total.
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Unread post by keith »

Hi Phuong

From what you've said it looks like you have a fair amount of time to prepare your students. You can achieve a lot in 25 weeks with 4 or 5 classes a week. So you have the time to do a fairly thorough preparation.

Having said that, it is still very important to assess where your students are starting from. By this I don't just mean their overall English level, but their specific strengths and weaknesses in terms of individual TOEFL question types.

So a good starting point is a diagnostic test. Many preparation text books have these - one I've used and liked in the past is the "Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL Test". The diagnostic test key in this book tells you exactly which sections you need to work on with your students if they get a particular question wrong. As you go through everyone's test (and it's worth spending the time on this), you'll build up a very accurate picture of strengths and weaknesses in terms of specific question types, which you can then work on.

What I usually do then is start with the area of greatest weakness and work down the list until I run out of time! (If you have limited time, you have to be selective in this way).

As Lucy said, exam skills are as important, if not more so, than imporiving their general English level. The TOEFL is as much a test of knowing how to recognise and answer a particular type of question, as it is a test of English! And this is what you should focus on in your class time. Again, a good preparation book will give you a guide on how to teach your students the skills needed to answer a particular type of question. This could be identifying a suitable title for a text, understanding words in context, drawing conclusions from a text, and so on - these are skills that can be taught and practised again and again.

You are right that it is very important for students to work outside the classroom, reading, writing, practising and practising some more.

I hope this helps - good luck!

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Re: Do you have any ideas on teaching oriented exam courses?

Unread post by Ali112 »

i find teaching exam classes needs the teacher to have a clear understanding of examiners marking.

do the test yourself a few times to help you get ideas on techniques, such as timing notes for the listening , planing for writing and what to look for in reading. exam classes need to balance English skills with exam prep. I think its OK to explain grammar rules in native tounge, but be aware class time is the main speaking practice so I insist on set times when native language can't be used. higher level exams are very hard for students who think in their native language then translate, so you have to get them thinking in English. I ask students to consider class mates as all from different countries. its OK to forget words, but they need to use only English to communicate with each other, you can't set speaking homework!

you need to give timed exam practice in class, which eats in to teaching time but needs to happen. I don't know how big your classes are, but assume lots of work for you. I find giving individual homework based on personal needs is the only way if your students are older than 16, as they have such different needs.

when marking, try and categories main problems. don't just correct and grade, look at which aspect needs more work. eg note down why mistakes were made (tenses, prepositions, conditionals, links) so you can direct students to the right study to improve quickly.

likewise with writing, look at examiners bands, rather than correcting and grading - spilt the marking in to useful criteria - giving a student C tells them little, tellining them they score D for organisation and rhetoric but B for vocabulary gives them a clear view how to improve..

this year might be hard for you, but if your school does the same thing next year, it gets easier.
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Re: Do you have any ideas on teaching oriented exam courses?

Unread post by Humphries »

Exam preparation courses such as TOEFL should be taught by teachers with a specific experience in that field. I’ve worked for several language schools, mainly in Milan, Italy, where you were instructed to teach a course that you were not familiar with. Since I told the management that I had experience preparing students for IELTS, they assumed I could also do TOEFL. I told them that this was an entirely different format and that I was not familiar with it and that I did not want to do that course. The director was vexed and consequently gave me less work. Reason enough to leave that school!
You have to be able to help your students with the format: how to answer, what kind of questions to expect, the timing, etc. It is almost like a workshop that takes a practical approach to preparing for the English test.

But also from a purely didactical point of view, you have to be familiar with the test to advise your student what to focus on:
Listening techniques, reading and writing techniques and practice, speaking interview techniques and practice, grammar and vocabulary revision.

I now work in Belgium, for the English Academy, where I teach IELTS prep. courses, next to general English. I have two American colleagues who are specialised in TOEFL and TOEIC and three other teachers are specialised in the ESOL test courses. That is the way it should be.
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