Collaborative activities for exam preparation

Collaborative activities for exam preparation

If you work with teenagers, you have to think of many ways of incorporating exam preparation into your lessons. Many of them take Cambridge exams, let alone school exams in the 9th and 11th grade. 

Most of the coursebooks, like Gateway, Solutions, Optimise and others already have exam-oriented pages in their content. Just add some practice tests and a few speaking activities and your students are totally ready, aren’t they? However, sometimes it’s not as easy as that.

This article will share some collaborative activities which can be used for exam preparation. They are especially useful when you need to practise Use of English, Writing or Speaking parts of any exam. Not only will they enhance exam practice, but also improve students’ speaking and critical thinking skills.

Speaking

Oral examiners

Put students into groups of four. The first person is going to be an examiner. Provide them with the examiner’s script taken from any sample test and let run the procedure. The second student will work on assessing and giving feedback. Give them a feedback form which can look like a simplified checklist of assessment criteria. You might want the students to focus on all the main aspects of the task, or just one target aspect you are working on. It’s a good idea to assign this role to a stronger student, especially if you deal with KET preparation. The other students are the candidates and do all the speaking tasks.  When they have completed the task, they can switch roles and repeat it. This activity is quite engaging and can help learners understand what examiners are listening for. You can find all the speaking assessment scales on Cambridge English website.

Listening Triangles

Here students work in groups of three and have an assigned role of a speaker, a questioner and a note-taker. First, present the topic and ask the speaker to express their opinion. You might use it with picture description, for instance:

(from Complete PET for Schools © Cambridge University Press)

The questioner’s task is to listen carefully and ask any questions for clarification or further detail. The note-taker at the same time observes the speaking interaction, takes notes and provides feedback to both the speaker and the questioner. In the case with picture description, the note taker can be jotting modals of speculation or descriptive adjectives. Ideally, the note-taker should be working with some pre-designed forms whose format will depend on the task. They can give feedback on the questioner’s performance as well.

Use of English

Test creators 

In some exam tests, students have to deal with the so-called ‘open cloze’ task when they need to think of the word which best fits the gap in the text.

(from the 2nd edition of First Trainer, Six practice tests with answers, Cambridge English)

From time to time, students can act as test creators themselves. When you do a reading task which exploits a relatively short text, ask teens to remove some words from it. Remind them, though, that it’s much better to choose functional words like auxiliaries, articles, or prepositions, or some parts of collocations. Then, let teens swap texts with a partner, and complete each other’s gap-fill task. This activity is beneficial because the more learners practise test-creating, the better they understand what kind of word they might expect in the real exam. Also, they improve their noticing skill. 

Writing

Peer checking

After students have finished their work on an essay or a letter, ask them to exchange their writings. Provide each student with a short feedback checklist based on the assessment criteria.

(from Preliminary for Schools Trainer, Six practice tests with answers, Cambridge English)

For the kind of task above the questions can be the following:

  1. Is the word limit good (35-46 words)?
  2. Are all three bullet points covered?
  • invite Charlie
  • explain the reason for the picnic
  • suggest something Charlie could bring
  1. Is there any ‘Hi’ and ‘Bye’?
  2. What tenses are used there?
  3. Are there any linking words?
  4. Which words did you like?
  5. Is the letter easy to read and understand?

I wouldn’t suggest including questions about spelling mistakes or grammar errors. In this point, let your teens rely more on the teacher. When they give their feedback to each other, ask them to mention one thing they liked most about the writing and something that should be improved next time.

This activity shows students how their writing will be assessed and what things are crucial for getting a good grade. 

You can download the writing guides with more details on assessment criteria here.

If you do a bit of exam preparation regularly, the result will be noticeably better than if you run one exam-related lesson a month. This way, teenagers will get used to exam format activities as well as collaborating with other candidates and examiners.

Feel free to share your favourite exam preparation activities!

Надежда Попова

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