The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Teaching to the test

Over the past four weeks, as well as teaching my usual pre-sessional, EAP classes, I've also been doing some extra IELTS preparation classes. Most of the pre-sessional students complete an assessment at the end of the course which their departments accept as the equivalent of an IELTS score. This assessment takes the form of an individual research writing project in their subject area, a timed writing task, an oral presentation (on the project) and an academic discussion task, all geared towards preparing them for their studies once they arrive in their departments, hopefully in a couple of weeks' time. So although these classes and assessment are roughly 'IELTS equivalent', they're quite different in style and format.

Some students though from certain departments are required not just to complete our course, but to retake the IELTS exam and achieve a specific score. So it's these students who I've been running extra exam preparation classes for. They've all taken the exam before, so know what it's all about, but just need extra practice honing their exam skills. And I have to say, it's been a bit of an eye-opener. Although I "coached" students on exam preparation courses back when I first started teaching, it's not something that I've done for ages, and I'd forgotten just how formulaic it can all be. I've also realised just how simplistic the IELTS writing tasks are compared with what we teach them in the pre-sessional classes. I seem to have spent a lot of my time telling the IELTS students to ignore what they've been learning for the past few weeks when it comes to the IELTS exam. It feels odd to be "un-teaching" things! A lot of that is just down to the length of essay they're required to write - you can't do anything terribly fancy within 250 words. But it has made me wonder how much a reasonable IELTS score really says about a student's readiness to cope on an English-medium university course.

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