Still preparing for exams. Today I’d like to take a look at two exercise types in the Use of English part. My intention is to help you to prepare your students for the notorious sentence transformation (with or without key word) and a bit less scary gap-filling exercises.

Paper: Use of English
Exercise type: Sentence transformation or Key word transformation

This is the type of exercise where students are asked the read a first sentence and complete a second one so that it means exactly the same as the first one.
Example: You should see a doctor.
                     You ……………….. to see a doctor. (correct answer: ought)

Why is it a difficult exercise (maybe the most difficult one)?
1. It can test grammar and/or lexical knowledge. Sometimes it is a simple transformation from active to passive, other times it asks for a certain phrasal verb. While grammar can be recognized, lexical knowledge is a bit of a lottery: the student might know that particular idiom/phrasal verb, etc. or might not.
2. The distinction between meanings is very subtle. The question asks you to transform the first sentence WITHOUT changing its meaning. However, sometimes it’s not really clear whether must is the same as have to or an active and a passive sentence are really a hundred percent equivalent.
3. Students are forced to find one way of expressing the same content. They might know other ways, but are asked to complete the one given in the second sentence. Their options are limited often by a given preposition or particle, however, these are also clues.

How to prepare for this exercise?
a) The preparation for this exercise should start by teaching pairs both in grammar and lexis. Most books do this by comparing modals to each other or pairing up active and passive sentences, asking students to decide if simple past or present perfect is the right tense or teaching students to compare the different future forms. You can always add a list of phrasal verbs (take it from your coursebook) and match them with their latin-based meaning (e.g. participate and take part in, resemble and take after, etc.).
b) Give the first sentence to your students without the second one. Ask them to express the same idea in different ways. You might be surprised how many ideas they can come up with (and enjoy deciding if they have completely the same meaning as the one you have put onto the whiteboard). Then give them a word limit, for example, tell them that the correct answer consists of three words. A bit later give them another clue moving closer to the second sentence: e.g. transform the first sentence by changing the tense or by changing the verb with a phrasal verb or by using an idiom. This way you limit the possible options your students have listed before. Finally give them the second sentence with the gap (and the key word) and lead them to the final answer.

Paper: Use of English
Exercise type: Gap-filling

In subject-related literature you will find the definition that gap-filling exercises are texts from which items at a regular interval (e.g. every seventh word) have been removed and students are asked to complete these gaps. In exams, these words are usually removed at an irregular interval, sometimes checking grammar knowledge (e.g. auxiliary missing), sometimes lexical knowledge (e.g. omitting prepositions for verbs or adjectives).
There are two types of gap-filling exercises: open and multiple choice clozes. The first one doesn’t give any clues to the student, who needs to complete the sentences drawing on their own knowledge, whereas the latter one gives 3-4 options to choose from. This doesn’t mean that this latter one is simpler, since it typically lists lexical items that are close in meaning (walk, stroll, gallop) or they test the student’s knowledge of collocations (fixed combinations of words, heavy traffic, for instance).

Why is this exercise challenging?
1) As explained above, it can check either grammar or lexical knowledge, the student needs to understand what type of gap he/she is dealing with.
2) The sentence might make sense even without the omitted word and the student usually needs to find an adverb that doesn’t only go well with the sentence, but leaves the whole text coherent.
3) Students might not be familiar with the lexical item (or grammar) tested in the gap.
4) Phrasal verbs are particularly tricky, as a non-native speaker might struggle with all the possible combinations of one verb and its different particles (get on/off/by/in/out of/along/away with/up etc.).

How to prepare for this exercise?
a) Ask your students to read the whole text first, quickly, without writing anything. This way they will not only get the gist of the text, but also understand the intention of the writer. This is essential when deciding about positive or negative adjectives or adverbs (e.g. do you need to fill in happy or unhappy, fortunately or unfortunately.
b) The good news is that there is often more than one correct answer, but they usually belong to the same part of speech. So students should be familiar with the parts of speech (verb, noun, adjective, adverb, preposition, connector, etc.) and they should be able to identify which of these is missing. This helps them focus their attention in the right direction (auxiliaries or adverbs for example). The position of the gap is also important. At the beginning of a sentence there is usually an adverb or the subject.
Finally, it’s essential to look at what is before or after the gap. If there is a particle after it, then a phrasal verb is very probably required. If there is an article before the gap, it is likely to be a noun or an adjective if there is noun after the gap. Give plenty of examples for all these cases in your preparation.
c) Listen to your reading. Ask your students to read the text with the gaps filled in and listen to their quiet reading. We often ‘hear’ that something sounds (or doesn’t sound) good and this might be the clue to the correct answer. If they don’t know which preposition is missing, instead of thinking, they might trust their instincts.

(to be continued)



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