When you are preparing your students for exams, you often find that teaching the language points and skills is only one aspect of preparation. Students also need to get used to the task types that are common features of language tests. When students become familiar with the format of these tasks and know how to approach them, it will be easier for them to focus on the particular language the tasks aim to test.
Here are some ideas for activities to familiarise your students with some of the most common exam task types. They are easy to adapt for any level and any teaching situation.
COMMON TASK TYPES
- Multiple choice questions
- Multiple matching
- Sequencing paragraphs
- Error correction
MULTIPLE CHOICE QUESTIONS
What are multiple choice questions?
These are questions for which there are three or four suggested answers. You are usually instructed to choose one option which is the correct answer to a question or which contains the word or phrase that best completes a sentence or text. The correct option is called the key, and the incorrect options are called distractors.
ADDING A DISTRACTOR
Aim of the activity
To show students how distractors in multiple choice questions work, to show why they are incorrect. To encourage students to focus on the logic behind the task rather than solving the task by guessing.
- Choose a 3-option multiple choice task from your coursebook or from the other materials you are using for the lesson. It is best to use a text-based exercise so that there is a context to work in.
- Do the task with the class as you normally would. You can either ask students to complete the exercise individually or go through the questions together.
- Check the solutions. Make sure that everybody knows the correct answers.
- Ask students to work in small groups. Ask them to look at the distractors again, and decide why they think they are incorrect. It may be a good idea to discuss the first one with the whole class, then to allow the groups to talk about the rest.
- Be prepared to answer questions from each group, but try to resist the temptation to take control of the activity.
- Ask groups to write a new distractor for each item, in other words, to turn the 3-option task into a 4-option one. The new distractor should be wrong for the same reason as the other two.
- Form new groups where each new group contains members from different old groups. Ask them to compare their solutions, and choose the best distractors. Encourage them to give reasons for their choices.
- Ask the groups to report their decisions back to the whole class.
What is gap-filling?
You are given a text with some words missing. You have to complete the text by inserting the appropriate words. You may be given a list of the possible answers (banked gap-filling) or you may have to come up with your own answers (open cloze). The task is to work out the answers from the context.
Aim of the activity
To raise students' awareness about the redundancy of texts and the role of context.
- Write a short (30-60 words) coherent text on the blackboard before the lesson or while students are engaged in an individual task. The text should not cover unfamiliar grammar or contain too much new vocabulary.
- Read the text once. Make sure that students can understand and pronounce the words.
- Ask students to take turns to read the text aloud.
- When you have finished, delete every fourth word from the text, and ask students to read the text again. Allow students to help each other if they get stuck.
- Repeat the task until no text is left on the blackboard, but still ask the students to read the invisible story.
- Variation: delete every fifth or sixth word in turn if the task seems to difficult or every third if it is too easy.
Skimming text with gaps
Aim of activity
To help students to focus on context.
- Choose a suitable text with gaps.
- Write some short questions focusing on the text type, the gist and the main points - but these should not depend on the missing words for their answers.
- Give the questions to your students. Check that students understand the questions.
- Give the gapped text to your students. If it is a banked gap-fill, don't give them the list of words. Ask students to read the text and to find the answers to your questions. Tell them not to fill in the gaps!
- Check the answers together.
- Ask students to choose a suitable title for the text. Alternatively, you could ask them to summarise the text.
- Ask students to read the text again, and say what information they think is missing in each gap (e.g. the name of a household object or a verb that expresses rapid motion).
- In pairs or small groups, ask students to make a list of possible answers for each gap. Give them a target, e.g. 5 items for each one. (Variation: with lower-level or weaker groups, specify a lower target or allow the use of dictionaries.)
- Ask the pairs or groups to choose the best answers and complete the text.
What is multiple matching?
You are given a text and a number of headings which summarise the gist of each paragraph. You have to match each heading with the relevant paragraph. There is usually one more heading than you need. Alternatively, you may be asked to match pictures to each paragraph, where the pictures illustrate the main points in the text.
Aim of the activity
To encourage students to read a text for gist and to summarise the key points of a paragraph.
- Choose a suitable text with five or six clearly identified paragraphs. Alternatively, choose unrelated paragraphs or short articles.
- Ask students to read the paragraphs. Check that they understand the vocabulary, but don't spend too much time practising the words.
- Ask students to read the paragraphs again and underline what they think are the three most important points in each one. They can underline words, phrases or even complete sentences, but make sure they don't underline more than a quarter of the paragraph.
- In pairs, ask students to summarise the gist of each paragraph, using no more than six of the words they have underlined.
- Now ask the pairs to rephrase the summaries, using their own words.
- Decide with the whole class what title would be the best for each paragraph. Encourage students to give reasons.
What is sequencing paragraphs?
You have a number of jumbled up paragraphs that make up a coherent longer text. You have to put the paragraphs in the correct order to restore coherence. Sometimes you are also given a paragraph that you don't need to use.
Putting it back together
Aim of the activity
To teach students to summarise the gist of a paragraph. To show students how to use summaries to help reconstructing a text.
- Put the students in small groups. Choose suitable texts with five or six clearly identifiable paragraphs, a different text for each group. You will also need a pair of scissors for each group.
- Give a photocopy of a different text to each group. Make sure that groups can't see or overhear what the others are doing.
- Ask the groups to read the texts and to summarise, on a separate sheet of paper, the gist of each paragraph in no more than one sentence. Ask them to number each sentence in order.
- Walk around and make sure that the summaries are accurate.
- Ask the groups to cut up the photocopied text into separate paragraphs, and to jumble up the bits.
- The groups now swap texts. Each group should receive a numbered list of summarising sentences and a handful of paragraphs that make up a text they have not read.
- Ask the groups to carefully read the paragraphs and the summaries, and to put the paragraphs back in order.
- Variation: if there are more than two groups and you would like to continue the activity, keep swapping again before you check the answers as long as no group gets their own paragraph back.
- Check all the answers together.
- Variation: you can give out two photocopies of each text and ask groups to cut up and pass on one copy, and keep one for later. When you check the answers, ask the group that originally cut up the article to listen and check to the other groups' solutions.
What is error correction?
There is a text which contains mistakes, the type of which depends on the language points the task focuses on, e.g. spelling, grammar or vocabulary. You have to identify and correct the mistakes.
Aim of the activity
To focus students' attention on the reasons for mistakes. To encourage students to analyse errors.
- Choose a text with errors, or write one with deliberate mistakes that are typical of your students. Underline each error.
- In small groups, ask students to look at each mistake and say why they think they are wrong. Encourage them to discuss the reasons among themselves, and intervene only when they are completely on the wrong track.
- Ask the groups to correct the mistakes together.
- Check the answers together with the whole class.
- Give the groups another text with errors, but don't mark the errors in this one.
- Ask the groups again to look at the text and analyse the mistakes the same way they did with the first one.
- Ask the groups to correct the mistakes.
- Check the answers with the whole class.