The same exam

edu system

Now, doesn’t it sound familiar?

One of the most difficult tasks for me as a teacher is designing tests (and then test correction, I really hate it) – and the picture above explains why: it is virtually impossible to create a test everyone could find something they are good at.

In my current workplace we – the teachers – are to make three ‘small’ tests per term and a ‘big’ one after the winter term and at the end of the year. The big tests are really capacious, they cover listening and reading comprehension, grammar, vocabulary and a writing task. Some teachers divide it into sections and students write it in a couple of classes, I prefer to have it all in one go (and I make my students write a 90 minute test, but hey, I’m a villainous teacher, right?), like a ‘real’ exam.

I personally like those tests because as no others they tell me about my students’ real skills. Even if they happen to lack in grammar or lesson-covered vocabulary, I have encountered writing tasks done with vocabulary exceeding their actual level (which actually backs up my theory that if students don’t know that something is difficult they don’t have problems with getting the grasp of it). I also try to make a writing task adjusted to the group’s sense of humour so it’s more enjoyable for them.

However, the smaller tests are more difficult to design. After all, we need to cover some practical skills but also motivate students in their work (and somehow tests aren’t really motivating). After a couple of terms the solution I have found is as follows:

  • Starter to Intermediate levels:

I make short tests concerning not the lesson-covered material, but something new, yet at their level. If it is listening test – it may be a song (gap filling), short dialogue, or a video. If it is reading – a text not necessarily covering the topic they’ve had, but using most of the vocabulary they’ve met). In general: I try to make those tests as short and interesting as possible.

  • Intermediate+ levels:

With young learners, the greatest difficulty is vocabulary. They have acquired some grammar skills (enough to communicate, though I will write a post about making students use conditionals and reported speech when speaking; teaching grammar is easy compared to making students use grammar) but they don’t enjoy learning vocabulary (who does, eh?). My tests depend on a student book: if I find the vocabulary in the book useful, I make lesson-covered tests regarding mainly the vocabulary; if I find the vocabulary boring, I make my own tests basing on websites, books or TV. I remember my college students who were to watch Top Gear special episode and then write a short summary (much fun).

Regardless of the proficiency level, I am strongly in favour of percentage grading. It is usually fair and I’ve noticed that my students prefer that than any other way of grading. Of course, I happen to give some additional points for unexpected but funny/silly/amusing things on tests (like a particularly creative writing, a sketch of a machine gun with all components described in English or just a full bio of Margaret Thatcher) – but then: who doesn’t? And, as long as our students are appreciated for being creative on their tests they may feel just a little bit more motivated.


2 thoughts on “The same exam

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