How to Find 6 Exams Students to Practice Teaching

This is article 4 of 6 in the series, How (& Why) to Teach Exams. 

To become a really effective exams teacher, you need to practice.  A lot.  A whole lot.  You basically just need to follow the same process that brought you the sense of confidence about teaching other things.  Below you’ll find advice about how to fill your schedule with students so that you start embedding the new habits and skills that are explained in the certification course, How to Teach Exams.

The only reason most teachers don’t feel comfortable teaching exams is because they don’t keep practicing teaching exams.  Instead, they just dabble in it.  One or two students for TOEFL iBT here, a few IELTS students there, and a random FCE lesson thrown in somewhere else.  Just by consciously adopting the approach I’m recommending below, you can attract exams students and have enough to practice on — until you get rock-solid.

Use my templates below and cast your net wide on every channel you can.  Copy / paste the following messages and tailor them to suit you.  Once you start actively looking for exams students, you will discover them everywhere.  Not surprisingly, you’ll also start attracting other types of students, so don’t miss the final section below about how to tactfully say no to students who won’t further your own professional goals of becoming an effective exams teacher.

First, Announce!

Here’s what to post on Facebook

Do you know anyone who is studying for <exam name>? I’m starting a training course to become a really effective exams teacher, especially for speaking. I’m looking for 5 TOEFL iBT / IELTS students who I can give practice lessons to. I’d like to work with students for 6 to 8 weeks. I’ll charge half price. Send me a PM if you know anyone who is interested!

Tweet Tweet!

Do you need #TOEFL speaking lessons? Reply to me for lessons with a big discount.

Do you need #IELTS speaking lessons?  Follow and PM me for more info


Dear <Boss Name / Colleague / Existing Student>,

I just wanted to let you know that I’m investing in a training certification program that will make me a more effective exams teacher. I’m really looking forward to it because…

I’m going to focus on TOEFL iBT / IELTS students. I want to find about 5 students who I can coach for 6 to 8 weeks.

Do you know any students who are currently studying for this exam?

Best wishes,

Craigs List Ad (or something similar)

Ad name: Private Coaching for TOEFL iBT / IELTS Speaking

Content: Do you need to study for TOEFL iBT? I’m starting a training course to become a really effective exams teacher, especially for speaking.

We need at least 3 hours per week for lessons. You need to have an extra 4-7 hours per week for homework that I will give you. The lessons I am teaching will last for 6 to 8 weeks.

All homework and some practice tests are included (only say that if you actually have books to use!!!!), but I will recommend you pay $XX to take an official practice test (because that experience is very valuable).

My normal rate for general English conversation lessons is $XX per hour, but because I’m in training to become an exams teacher, I’ll charge half price / give a 25% discount so my hourly rate is $XX per hour.

Send me a PM if you want more details!

Other Ideas

  • Advertise by putting up a flyer in a local school.  Target schools with the right age range for the exam you want to teach.  Ask the school if they have any channels you can advertise in.
  • Make an account on or
  • Contact the place where you did your CELTA or TEFL.  They likely have contact with local students.  Find a way to reach those students and get the word out about your budding skills as an exams teacher.
  • If you’re in America…
    • Advertise in a library (Post a flyer like the Craig’s List ad above.  Find all the books for your exam and stick adverts for yourself between the pages.)
    • Speak to bosses of local pharmacies.  Ask them if they have any foreign pharmacists or interns there who are struggling with English.  Jackpot.  No seriously, that is gold.
    • Hit up hospital directors.  Find out if they have any dentists, nurses or doctors who need to improve their TOEFL iBT exam results.

Second, Repeat Yourself

If you don’t get an instant flood of results, don’t despair! A slow start should not be interpreted as a sign from the universe.  The best thing you can do when you re-post is change the wording and trying new things.  The frequency of posting gives you freedom to experiment without fear.

  • Post 7-9 times on places like Craig’s List.  No one will get sick of you there, I promise.
  • For Facebook and Twitter, be persistent as well.  (Just be careful not to spam you friends but you can easily avoid this by creating an audience list of only students.  Use your best judgement, but err on the side of talking about yourself.  By changing your message, you keep people from getting bored)
  • Send colleagues a gentle nudge after a few days if you have not gotten a response.  “Hey! Just wanted to find out if you saw my message the other day about teaching TOEFL iBT students… “

Above all, do not take people’s silence as a personal affront.  With all the cat videos out there, people are just super busy, distracted, or both.

Keep putting yourself out there.  Back in 2010, there was no magic wand that instantly had online TOEFL iBT students charging at me like a herd of thirsty water buffalo.  I built my base, student by student.  It took time and persistence.

Eventually, things stick.

Third, Vet & Be Comfortable Saying “Sorry but my schedule is full!”

You will inevitably get students and recommendations to work with other types of students — business English, young learners, general conversation.  It’s a law of the universe that as soon as you declare something for yourself, a test pops up, ready to challenge your resolve.  Be ready to say no to students who distract you from gathering the experience you need to be an effective exams teacher.

It can be scary to turn down money from a student when you have bills to pay, so buy yourself some time by saying:  “My schedule is full for the next 3 weeks with exams students — Can your lessons wait?  Is it ok if I call you in about 3 weeks?”

This way, regardless of whether or not your schedule is actually full, you come across as a responsible communicator and leave your schedule open. (Most students for general conversation can stand to wait for a few weeks, anyway.)

You buy yourself the time you need to see if more compatible students show up — and you can call the student in 3 weeks, like you promised, and recommend your most professional colleague who also teaches general English.  No harm done!

Fourth, Repeat Yourself!

When you are establishing yourself as a freelance ESL teacher or tutor, the most important shift to toughen your mindset and not feel weird about talking about what you do.

You cannot predict when ESL students will need to apply for their test.  Exams like TOEFL iBT and IELTS are offered on a rolling basis.  Students get low scores and go again a few weeks later with a renewed sense of purpose and motivation.  The first time you announced, someone might not have felt they needed guidance — but then, they get a wake up call and are ready to invest in themselves.

You also cannot predict what your colleagues are doing on any given day — and if open your email, bleary-eyed and groggy before they have coffee, or read as they are getting off a bus in the middle of rush hour.  With the pace of life the way it is these days, we need reminders about things.

Keep putting yourself out there as a teacher who is focusing on teaching a specific exam.  That is how I promoted myself back in 2010 and 2011 when I was a rookie.  My lack of experience didn’t stop my schedule from being full.  I was just honest with students about what I knew.  Based on where I am today, it’s a strategy that absolutely works to ethically market to and enroll exams students.

Want more guidance?

Register for the Free Training: 3 Things Your ESL Exam Students Need You To Do

Join me in a free, career-changing webinar. I’ll be talking about 3 essentials that I do in my lessons with private exams students. Master them and you’ll teach exams more effectively than 95% of your peers.

This is article 4 of 6 in the series, How (& Why) to Teach Exams.