Exam speaking can be a frightening prospect for a number of reasons and is one which makes students sweaty and nervous just at the thought of it. We’ve all been there; at school, at university or even for work, having to speak in a language that is not your own in an already stressful situation is probably the worst it can get.
Here are some of the main causes of exam day nerves when it comes to speaking:
- Speaking in front of anyone and being assessed on what you say is very difficult, even in your L1.
- The tasks that you are presented with are often speaking tasks that you would never come across in real life.
- You cannot control which topics come up in the exam and it might be something which you don’t know much about.
- Not only do you have to consider your own performance, but that of your partner. If your partner gets very nervous then this can have an effect on your own nerves.
- Speaking exams are often done at the end of a very long day for the students and this can mean that they are extremely tired.
- Speech in general (even in the L1) is the most affected by nerves. When you start to get nervous, you can hear this in your voice, and this can make you even more nervous.
Taking all of this into consideration, how can we help prepare our students for the exam speaking situation and make sure that it’s not a traumatic experience for them?
Here are our top ten tips for making sure that students are as prepared emotionally as they are linguistically for their speaking exams.
- Tell students how they should be sitting and who they should be talking to at each stage of the exam. If they are meant to be showing interaction with their partner, you need to tell them not to look at the examiner when they are talking.
- Watch sample speaking exams on YouTube. There are loads of speaking exams at every level available to view online and this is a great place to start to show the students what to expect when they walk into that exam room.
- Don’t neglect speaking in class and especially longer speaking turns. Speaking exams often require students to speak alone for about a minute and this could be something that students have not practised. Make sure you allow time for long speaking turns in class and time them if possible, so they know how long a minute feels.
- Repeat key chunks of language that students can use when they are not sure about what to say or they are thinking about how to respond. Drill these chunks of language in class so they become second nature to the students and come out almost automatically in an exam situation.
- Have speaking practices in pairs before the exam day itself. Get students to come and practise the speaking exam in exam conditions at least once before the exam. This will give you a good idea of how the student will react in an exam situation so you can give them some last-minute advice if necessary.
- Make time in your classes for discussion on a number of common exam topics so students are well-prepared for whatever topic might appear in the exam. The more topics you can bring into your lessons the better, and make sure students have the chance to discuss their opinions on these topics.
- If you have younger students, let them see the speaking exam material as it would be on the day. As much as they know the vocabulary and the structure of the speaking exam, they may still get confused if they are not familiar with the exam material and the look of it.
- With higher-level students, it’s a great idea to get them to assess each other when speaking. If you are doing an exam task, it’s impossible for the teacher to listen to everyone at once. Having students assess themselves in relation to the exam criteria will also help them reflect more on their own performance.
- Be positive in your feedback after a speaking task. If you just pick out the aspects that the student has done wrong, they might be afraid to open their mouth again for fear of getting something wrong. Point out what the student has done well/better as well as identifying important elements for the student to work on.
- Allow as many opportunities in class as possible for freer speaking. If you don’t, students will only be able to respond to closed questions and will get lost when it comes to expressing themselves more freely and giving their own opinion on a topic.
And one last top tip- make sure you remind your students that they don’t need to get everything perfectly right to pass a speaking exam. Spontaneous speech always contains the occasional error, and it’s important for students to understand that they are not going to fail if they get a few words wrong.
Happy exam speaking preparation!