Preparing students for Cambridge English Qualifications online

20.04.2020
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Due to the current situation, there are many webinars nowadays about teaching online, how to adapt the materials, how we can switch to online. It’s hard to find a good webinar or article about that, find resources we can trust. In this article, I’ll write some takeaways from a very useful Cambridge English webinar that focuses on exam preparation courses.

This webinar was held by Cambridge Assessment English in April 2020. It’s on time due to the current climate. This webinar covers the following topics:

  • Key strategies for exam preparation online.
  • Preparation course elements.
  • Options for online delivery.

What are the challenges about running exam preparation outside the classroom, online?

Resources

Most teachers use paper-based coursebooks. It’s difficult to maintain a streamline flow during a lesson if students need to look at the book offline, not at the computer screen. But you can use a digital coursebook.

Management

It’s hard to manage students online. We need to decide how often we meet online and where; how we integrate self-study with online meetings, how we can control the learners’ attention, what we’re going to do without a whiteboard. But sometimes it looks more problematic than it actually is. The more familiar with the technology you are. Most web-conferences tools offer whiteboard functionality or allow you to have students work in groups.

Feedback

How can we provide feedback?

Are we lacking eye contact, body language, spontaneous spoken responses? How can we spot boredom, confusion, eagerness to respond? But still, feedback online is possible. You can ask students to use a video camera, send emojis, (if the platform allows) send stickers, put their hands and many other things.

Human presence

We can be present by leaving a comment to a post, by turning on our web camera, by personalising the course in the school Language Management System, by recording voice feedback to our students’ writing. 

Language learning

It’s a social process, natural interaction patterns are crucial. A lot of communication moved online in the last years, which means learning a language virtually can still rely on meaningful ways of using it to communicate. 

Technology

It’s sometimes perceived as a hinder. Teachers often mention connectivity, devices, accessories as some possible problems. Sometimes teachers just do not know certain aspects of technology and that puts extra pressure on teachers. Moreover, teachers think that technology limits us to traditional roles such as providers and absorbers of information, but it isn’t so. But there are lots of resources that can make communication interactive and to maximise the learning.

Key strategies for exam preparation online

  1. Take stock.

We have to switch to a different teaching mode. We need to reevaluate where we are and what we need to achieve within this time, and set priorities; what we want to cover, how often, how long, in what format; how we can convert our conclusions into an action plan. How can we do that?

  • Do a practice, mock test to assess learning needs. It should be as similar as possible to the exam they’re going to take. Choose the level that they’re targeted at.
  • Tell them about time limits. Timing is a part of the exam experience.
  • Tell them about marking, so they’re in line with official guidelines. You can find them in the official handbook.

After getting the results, you can see the areas for improvement. So, when you’ve got the results:

— check the calendar to estimate and plan your course appropriately: how many months, weeks, hours per week you have. 

— check what language, skills, test strategies need to be revised, is it long-term or short-term; how they’ll revise it: in self-study or together with you.

— have time for one more practice test before the exam.

2. Select.

Once the action plan is in place, we need to choose resources and tool we’ll use to achieve our goals.

There are many resources and tool to prepare. How do we choose?

  • they need to fit their purpose;
  • they need to be of high quality;
  • they need to be targeted and streamlined. 

How do we know if the resources are of high quality?

  • official exam preparation materials;
  • the platform you use should encourage collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, communication, critical thinking; the platform should be safe and private. You should also consider the following things: who can access the class, how you share the link, keep it private; who can share and see video; if you can monitor the conversations, how easy it is;
  • user experience: if the platform is easy to use, feasible and versatile (if you can use it in more than one activity)3. Keep it simple.

Don’t make it too difficult. We should make simple ways of working with students. What does it mean?

  • not using a lot of tools;
  • not using tools that require a lot of authorisations;
  • there should be a clear idea of how you’re going to combine self-study, virtual meetings and feedback;
  • agree on clear timetables and processes (how often you meet, how much homework, how they send you homework, how you provide feedback or how students give feedback to each other)

Preparation course elements

What things do we need to do in a preparation course?

  1. Learn everything about the exam to be ready to answer questions.
  2. Design the course (what elements you’ll focus on, in what way you’re going to structure the course and how much time you’ll spend on each component) 
  3. Build language skills.
  4. Build exam sills, test strategies.
  5. Assign self-study (in exam preparation courses students are expected to do some individual work)
  6. Monitor students’ progress (send assignments, check their activities both in class and homework, do formal classroom testing)

If there’s a short time before the exam

  • focus on exam format;
  • do practice tests (give general tips, tasks, give feedback, set a new goal);
  • familiarise students with the exam day processes.

Options for online delivery

  1. Here you can find the main documents, the handbook for teachers, webinars recordings, interviews, talks, past papers, sample papers, assessment criteria, information about the exam format and other things; lesson plans; guide to assessing writing and speaking, 
  2. Here you can find the exam preparation planner for teachers. You can create personalised exam preparation plans, with additional teacher support.
  3. Here you can find information about each exam and checklists;  vocabulary lists, posters, activities, apps.
  4. Here you can find speaking tests videos and exam day experience.
  5. Here you can find official exam preparation materials.
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