In my previous post I went through some general suggestions about exam preparation courses. I tried to set up the main rules for a proper course preparation and discussed the importance of familiarizing students with the exam structure and teaching time management.

This time, I’d like to go into detail. I have listed some exercises that definitely need explicit explanation and preparation.  My purpose is not to list all exercise types here, but mainly to give an idea what might be of importance and how you can teach exam skills.

Paper: Reading
Exercise type: multiple-choice questions

This is the type of exercise where students are asked to choose one correct answer (A, B, C or D) to several questions after reading a text passage. All questions are related to the text and either refer to a certain paragraph/sentence/line or ask about general understanding (intention of the writer, possible titles, etc.).

Why is it a ‘tricky’ exercise?
1. Because it tries to trick students who cannot distinguish their opinion from opinions expressed in a text.
2. Because it tries to trick students who trust their memory instead of double-checking answers in the text.
3. Because the questions are loaded with difficult vocabulary items but most of the time can be interpreted from their context.
4. Because the lexical items in the questions rarely come up in the text (or are misleading), they tend to check knowledge of synonyms/antonyms, etc.

How to do this exercise?
a) Students must read the text twice. First quickly (reading for gist), then they need to read the questions (not before), finally they have to read the text again more slowly. The text can be read this second time parallel to the questions, swapping back and forth from questions to text, etc. The questions are always listed in the order of their reference points in the text, except general understanding questions, which are either at the beginning or more probably at the end of the questions.
b) Students should be trained to underline the text passages the questions refer to, this way they can make sure that they don’t only ‘remember’, but they have understood.
c) Teachers should explain to students the difference between ‘False’ and ‘Doesn’t say’. Multiple choice questions are often a) True b) False c) Doesn’t say type of questions. The difference between the latter two options is not as obvious as we would think. Students need to understand that a statement is false if the opposite is stated in the text (and can be underlined), while ‘doesn’t say’ means that there is no information about the statement/question in the text, which means the student cannot underline anything in the text.
d) This type of exercise tests the students’ lexical knowledge and it often checks if a student knows a synonym or antonym of a word. So students should not be fooled by finding the same words in the text and in some answers, this is often just a trap.
If the answer refers to the same lexical field, it gives you a great opportunity to revise it. For example, if in the question the students are asked if the main character:
A walked     B hurried     C ran     D wandered
to the window, you could revise verbs of movement: students can rank them based on speed or act them out in a vocabulary recap game.

(to be continued)


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