Peer Review of the Digital Reference for How to Teach Exams

Jessica Beck holds an MA in Applied Linguistics (2002), created the first teacher certification course in Taiwan (2005) and is currently the Director of IELTS Training for All Ears English. The following is her guest post and peer review of How to Teach Exams, an online certification run by English Success Academy.

After having taught for 12 years in 4 different countries on three continents, I know there are millions of ESL teachers, all over the world, all vying for the same job opportunities of teaching general skills. You can really set yourself above the milieu by adding “test prep” teacher to your CV, and have your choice of jobs in private language schools in any country, universities, or online from the comfort of your own home. Plus, when you specialize, that always leads to more interesting, and higher paying projects.

I have had numerous opportunities in the field of ESL due to being a capable test preparation teacher. I’ve written 14 textbooks specifically for test prep, and I now get to work from home, podcasting to thousands of students about IELTS and helping pupils enrolled in the online course that I created all the content for.

That said, teaching exams is a higher paying job because it is more difficult than teaching general English skills. Even the teachers who are already teaching exam classes often go about it in a very boring, non-motivating and ineffective way. That’s why the How to Teach Exams training course exists—so you not only get the job, but you are good at it, helping your students achieve their dreams.

I’ve gone through the 7 modules in the Digital Reference Book. I wish this had been available when I started teaching IELTS. It would have saved me years of mistakes, and certainly would have allowed me to help more of my students.

Strengths

One focus in How to Teach Exams that you won’t see anywhere else is Jaime Miller’s advice for how to decrease students’ stress and anxiety. Because this isn’t a “language skill,” teachers usually ignore this very real way we can improve our students’ effective preparation and test-day performance. It may not be a language skill, but it is a testing skill.

Another notable feature of Jaime’s course is how she has organized the curriculum. It mirrors how we should organize our own curriculum for our students, from more easily-acquired skills to the more difficult to master. Teachers in this course begin with the receptive skills of Reading and Listening, which are the least anxiety-laden skills and the skills that are most easily improved by students in their own time. These are the skills we focus on first with our students to lay the foundation for the productive skills and to build confidence in themselves. Modules of Writing and Speaking follow, leaving Speaking, the most stressful and the most difficult to improve, for last. Thankfully, the Speaking module is the lengthiest of the course, reflecting the time teachers should spend, but often don’t, in their lessons.

As I myself was moving through the course, I noticed many gems of wisdom that it took me years to figure out, that I now incorporate into my teaching techniques. The information about error correction, for example, and identifying which errors to correct in Speaking and Writing, is a fundamental skill test prep teachers need to improve students’ scores in real ways without destroying their confidence. Also, the section of the course about how and when to review with students has excellent ideas for helping students check their progress without just doing test practice, which seems to be the only tool most teachers utilize, and only at the end of their course. Avoid that mistake!

Jaime Miller includes how to conduct the “needs analysis” for each skill, a task that must be done, but many teachers simply don’t know how to carry it out for exams.

Another necessary teaching skill that exam teachers need, but have never had a safe opportunity to learn about, is how to deal with bad news—which, as Jaime Miller notes—is inevitable. On IELTS, for example, almost no one achieves the score they need on their first try. As capable teachers, we must know how to deal with this in order to stop the negative fallout and loss of confidence.

On a more basic level, Jaime provides teachers in this course with real activities that work in the classroom or online, ones that I have used myself, and I know they work. With step-by-step, clear outlines, and recommendations of additional online resources, this course has everything that a “star” of a test-prep teacher would need.

Weaknesses

The only possible areas for improvement in the course would be to include more activities and ideas for the traditional classroom, as that is still where most teachers find themselves. Most of the ideas in the course are directly adaptable, but others would require some creativity for use with larger class sizes.

Also, as the course develops in the future, I hope to see more focus on the various tests and their differences, such as IELTS vs. TOEFL. However, there are resources contained in the course for accessing this information on one’s own.

Conclusion

As I said, I wish I had the How to Teach Exams training course available to me when I first started out, 12 years ago. Jaime has created an impressive digital learning space for teachers to improve their skills, their motivation and their qualifications, and I would recommend it to anyone in the field of ELT.

Jessica Beck
Director of IELTS Training for www.ielts.allearsenglish.com
MA Applied Linguistics 2007
Author for Cengage Asia
Creator of the first teacher certification course in Taiwan 2009