This is the fourth part of our exam preparation series: 6 steps to exam success.
In this article, Philip Warwick will look at feedback and how giving it effectively will help your learners be successful in their English language examinations.
At the end, you’ll also find a link to watch a recording of his webinar which took place on March 13th.
Clear instructions lead to effective feedback
There are three basic elements to giving good instructions to a group of students. Firstly, we need to tell them what they should do. Then we should explain how they should do it. Finally, we should explain to them why they should do it. The ‘What’ defines the task, the ‘How’ organizes it, and the ‘Why’ justifies it.
While an activity can still work if we fail to add ‘How’ and ‘Why’, it won’t be as successful. In fact, a teacher with a strong teaching persona can get away with omitting ‘Why’ over a few lessons as students will be motivated enough by the teacher’s enthusiasm. Nevertheless, over a series of lessons the students will come to the conclusion that they are not really learning anything.
These initial instructions are also important when it comes to wrapping up an activity. Feedback is the stage in an activity when the teacher justifies the reason for doing the activity to the students. You do this by reinforcing language aims, highlighting errors and assessing the learners’ performance.
If you haven’t set-up clear learning aims at the beginning of the activity, it will be much harder to give feedback.
Feedback should be linked to exam performance
In exam classes, Student Learning Outcomes should be linked to the test they are going to take. They should also include strategies and reflection points on exam tasks in order to give the students guidance on how they can perform and progress towards a pass mark.
At the same time, when the students need to pass an exam, give feedback directly linked to how the students would perform in the test.
An obvious way to do this is simply to correct the students’ attempts using the marking criteria of the exam.
It can also be useful to get the students to reflect on any mistakes that would cost them marks or any shortcomings they had on their productive tasks:
- One way to highlight this is to include peer assessment in classroom tasks, where classmates judge each other’s performance using the marking criteria.
- Another way is to highlight the sub-skills that are tested in each exam task and have the students reflect on how well they completed each one.
Coaching your students with feedback
During the length of a course (or even a lesson) a teacher performs many roles (such as timekeeper, controller, authority, language expert, disciplinarian, planner, etc.), but probably the most important one when teaching an exam class is that of coach.
The students’ primary aim is to pass the exam. To do that, they have to have a skill set that enables them to successfully perform on a range of different tasks over a variety of different skills. They need someone to show them where their weaknesses are and give them valid practice to overcome these and progress.
Just like a sports team, your students want someone in charge who is going to work with them and train them to win.
Scaffolding activities allow you to offer granular feedback
When preparing students over an extended period of time (i.e. over an academic year or more), it can sometimes be beneficial to simplify the exam tasks – especially if the students are not yet at the required level to pass the test.
By simplifying or providing prompts and scaffolding, you can help the learners to understand what is being tested without giving them full exam tasks. This enables you to affect the washback positively in the case of weaker students. It also allows you to give more exposure to certain areas than might be the case if the students were just to complete a full exam task.
Most lesson activities can be divided into four clear stages:
- Set up
- On task
- Further practice
In speaking and writing tasks it can be quite easy to include further practice just by having students repeat the task. However, with other exam elements (a multiple-choice cloze exercise for example), it’s not so easy.
If the teacher has been successful in delivering appropriate feedback in terms of highlighting weaknesses or introducing exam tips, there is nothing the students would prefer to do than put that advice into practice by attempting a similar task.
One thing to consider is that many course books have a workbook (or online management system like Pearson’s MyEnglishLab) that closely matches the content of the course book units. This mirroring should be exploited by the teacher to give the students further practice.
By adapting the role of teacher to that of exam coach, you can highlight areas of improvement and make the adjustments that the students need to make to pass an exam. You can also ensure that these areas and adjustments are included in the lesson through the feedback stage. By allowing plenty of refined practice activities after you give feedback, you are doing everything you can to ensure that your students pass their exams with flying colors.
Want to learn more? Watch a recording of Philip’s webinar now.
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Discover our entire exam preparation webinar series and learn how to support your students as they prepare for exams.
See steps 1, 2 and 3 to exam success: