Tips for ESL teachers to prepare students for tests
Tuesday, September 08, 2020
This is article is a continuation of “Integrative tests: More considerations for teachers.”
Testing in ESL is the means of assessing the learners' progress in specific skill areas. Teachers need to make up their own tests to measure the learners' progress, to examine specific skill areas and to discover deficiencies. Some books come with premade tests, or the ESL department may provide tests, but most teachers will have to develop their own tests during a given course.
Since testing is a major part of any ESL program, teachers need to make sure that the tests measure what they should.
The test can measure linguistic ability, communicative competence or both factors. A test also must be reliable in that it should be precise, and it should always give the same results (Magrath, D., January 27, 2016).
Teachers should prepare their students for the types of tests used in the U.S. or other host nation.
In many countries, tests consist of written essays where students quote memorized material without penalty. Traditional methods of teaching rely more on memorization than analytic skills. Practice with sample tests is critical for students who are not accustomed to western style testing methodology.
Active practice with well-modeled questions will help students break this barrier. The questions should be paired with high-quality explanations that let students know where they went wrong. The tools should be heavily based around content knowledge. The SAT and ACT aren’t IQ exams, so students who continue to practice will get better over time, because they’re learning the subject matter but also because they’re actively practicing something that mimics the exam.
When it comes to test-taking strategy, students should avoid gimmicky advice like “Don’t read the passage first; to save time, go straight to the questions.” Students aren’t going to trick the test, but there are tactics students can use to have a better chance of getting the correct answer in some cases (Bates, P., June 7, 2019).
ESL students need good solid advice on test-taking strategies as they prepare to move from ESL to academics. The native speakers have been taking various kinds of tests since they started school. However, most international students have been tested in their home countries on how much memorized material they can repeat on tests. Also, it is a major leap from the ESL tests to the academic tests that they will face after they start their university studies.
For instance, if a summary question is first in a section, a smart approach is to save it for the end. Answering the comprehension questions about a reading passage first will allow students to gather nice baseline knowledge to eventually answer the summary question (Conquering U.S. admissions exams).
Students may substitute L1 patterns when taking a writing test. A Vietnamese ESL teacher in Vietnam has these comments on the writing patterns of her students:
Though we Vietnamese ask questions very directly, when we talk amongst ourselves or write, we go around the subject; we don’t get right to the point. Therefore, it is very difficult for us to teach the students to write effective paragraphs (Yablonka, 1999).
Teaching hint No. 1
Prepare students for test days. Encourage them and offer helpful study hints.
Try to empathize with what the students are going through. They are learning a new language as well as content material in that language and dealing with unfamiliar test formats. They may feel frustrated at times, so be ready to offer help and encouragement. Teachers often feel immense pressure to cover too much material in too little time. They work tirelessly to ensure that their students are adequately prepared for the high stakes testing that permeates the world of education. In addition to these accountability measures, today’s teachers are asked to communicate a dense and rigorous curriculum to classrooms full of students who have widely varying needs.
In their committed efforts to meet and exceed these expectations, instructional focus can get lost. It is time to move away from a spotlight that is solely placed on curriculum and instead shift back to successfully teaching students (Motley, N., September 13, 2017).
As we know, teaching is not the act of throwing information at students and then handing them a test. Perhaps this is what occurs in Economics 101 where information is important, and teaching is not. At an intensive English program (IEP) designed to ready students for the rigors of university study in a language other than their own, the Econ 101 method does not work.
First, students entering Econ 101 have uniform knowledge of the subject, which will continue as they progress through subsequent courses. This is not the case with students in our classes, despite rounds of placement testing. Everyone has “gaps,” and since each class seems to have a unique personality, often these gaps are pervasive, requiring side instruction for the group (Navarette, Winter 2016).
Teachers will encounter students who give up and drop out of L2 classes, including English as a second language courses.
Many language teachers encounter students who find the language learning challenging and give up when they make mistakes (Lou, N. &Noels, K., spring, 2017).
This attitude can be one of the reasons for students leaving programs and lower enrollments (232). A way around this is to set short term goals that will enable students to see progress.
Language learning can be a challenging endeavor, and it is inevitable that many learners will face disappointments, big and small (233).
With a positive mindset, students will feel more confident and be more likely to achieve their goals.
Teaching hint No. 2
One must be aware of dialectal differences within English. Students may pick up non-standard forms from their native speaker peers and then use these forms on tests.
Different language communities have certain ways of talking that set them apart from others.Those differences may be thought of as dialects —not just accents (the way words are pronounced) but also grammar, vocabulary, syntax and common expressions.
Finally, allow students to go over old tests if these tests will not be used again. That way students can learn from their mistakes and see the tests as obstacles but rather as steppingstones to mastering English and getting onto the academic programs.
Bates, P. (June 7, 2019) Conquering U.S. admissions exams, Language Magazine, https://www.languagemagazine.com/2019/06/07/conquering-u-s-admission-exams/
Lou, N. & Noels, K. (spring, 2017) Measuring language mindsets and modeling their relations with global orientations and emotional and behavioral responses in failure situations, Modern Language Journal, Volume 101, No. 1, 214-243
Motley, N. (September 13, 2017) Talk, Read, Talk, Write, Language Magazine, https://www.languagemagazine.com/2017/09/talk-read-talk-write/
Navarette, C. (Winter 2016) Patterns, sequencing and cognition: Why teaching a second/foreign language is not like teaching Econ. 101. AZTESOL NEWS https://aztesol.wildapricot.org/Newsletter
Yablonka, M. (Mar-Apr 1999), English takes root in Vietnam, ESL Magazine, 2, 2 p. 26-28
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