A while ago Carina Alves asked on Facebook which exam materials teachers used in their preparation classes. I said I usually use past papers, either available on Cambridge’s website or as a booklet. This may give you the idea that my lessons are a diet of endless exam practice (a phrase borrowed from Fiona Jospeh), which couldn’t be further from the truth.
For today’s blog post I’m going to use a Proficiency lesson to illustrate how I teach exam preparation. Although the lesson itself is aimed at C1-C2 students, the ideas and rationale behind it can be used for exams at any level.
This lesson is based on past papers available on Cambridge’s website. You can download them for free here. My assumption is that students are somewhat familiar with the format of the exam (i.e. this wouldn’t be their first ever lesson).
To make things easier I have also made the task available below.
Rationale: I approach any texts/listenings in an exam lesson as I would in a regular lesson. Therefore, I usually start with a lead-in to create interest in the text.
Procedure: Show students the pictures and ask them to discuss the questions in pairs. After a few minutes, elicit answers from the whole group. If they don’t come up with the idea of adventure travel, bring it up yourself and ask students if they know what it is and whether it appeals to them.
Rationale: It’s a good idea to give students an initial reading task before tackling the exam task itself. At this point I give them only page 2 (and not page 3, which has the options). This will force them to read the text quickly to get a general idea of its content before thinking about the right answer. It also allows students to try to predict the answers, which is a valuable skill.
Procedure: Tell students they are going to read a short text about adventure travel. They should read it quickly, ignoring the gaps, and answer the question on slide 2. Ask students to compare answers before checking with the whole group. Make sure you ask students to justify their answers.
At this point you may also want to check if students know words like ‘forsake’ or ‘haggle’.
Rationale: In order to get students used to exam tasks, it’s worth revisiting the tips for different parts of the exam every time we do them.
Procedure: Before handing out page 3 to students, say they are not allowed to choose the options yet. Elicit from students what they have to do in this part of the exam and what tips they remember about it.
Show tips on slides 3/4 for students to compare with what they had said. Now ask students to do the task individually. Early on in the process I don’t time students, but as they get used to each part of the exam I start to. If you want to time them, I suggest around 8-10 minutes to start with.
Rationale: A key element of exam classes is going beyond telling students what the right answer is. The teacher should also be able to tell students why the other answers are not possible. In this part of the exam it often comes down to things collocation, prepositions and the like. It’s crucial that you point that out to students.
Procedure: Ask students to compare answers and try to justify why they picked one over the other. When eliciting answers, get students to explain their choices and be ready to justify the answers yourself.
My annotated version of the answers looks like this:
A few tips:
1. All of these are very similar in meaning, but only ‘slump’ collocates with ‘in front of the television’.
2. The meaning of these words is similar, but ‘engrossed’ is the only one that is used with the preposition ‘in’.
3. The correct collocation is ‘corner of the globe’. Sometimes students choose ‘edge’ but the collocation in that case is ‘edge of the world’.
4. This is tricky, as both ‘off the beaten track’ and ‘off the beaten path’ are possible. The latter is more common, in fact. My only guess is that ‘beaten path’ doesn’t collocate with the verb ‘forsaken’.
5. The meaning of these phrasal verbs isn’t particularly similar, but it’s worth exploring the different meanings of each one.
6. The correct collocation is ‘diverse planet’. Students sometimes go for ‘wide’ but the collocation there would be ‘wide world’.
My students generally don’t have problems with questions 7 or 8 but again, it’s worth being ready in case they do.
Rationale: Language that appears in the Use of English part of the exam is at C2 level, so it may come up again in the Reading or Listening papers or may be useful in the Writing or Speaking papers. Because of that I feel it’s important to give students a chance to see the language again in context and try to use it.
Procedure: Show students the questions but tell them they can’t answer them yet. Instead, ask students to tell their partners what the expression in blue mean. Clarify any that are still unclear and be ready to ask some CCQs such as these
to take off:
– if a person takes off, do they leave? (yes)
– Do they leave suddenly? (yes)
– Do they tell anyone about it? (no)
Now ask students to discuss the questions in pairs. After a few minutes, elicit ideas from the whole group.
As a follow-up to this, it may be a good idea to ask students to create a quizlet to revise the new language and encourage them to use the new collocations in new sentences.
Thanks for reading and do let me know if you enjoyed this type of post.