Sitting for an English language assessment test? Tips to be taken into account when facing speaking tasks
3 Feb. 11, 2019
We all took exams in the past and know how nervous we usually get in the run-up to one that might change our lives for ever. A clear example are English language assessment tests thousands of teachers, students and professionals take all over the world every day. In this regard, I would like to point out that, as an English teacher, sometimes my job is not so much that of a professional that teaches a foreign language to a range of students, but that of a psychotherapist that comforts people that experience anxiety.
However, in my opinion, this level of anxiety is due, mostly, to one single factor: lack of confidence. So what can be done to gain confidence when facing such tests?
First and foremost, you need enough time to get ready and a good work plan to go over all the content and aspects of the test you are sitting for. By knowing where you start from, what you have to do and what your goal is, you can anticipate difficulties and you will be in a better position to deal with them.
But speaking tests are particularly challenging for most students. So what should be taken into consideration when facing such tests?
Keep it simple:
In my experience, many students find speaking tasks very difficult because they usually try to replicate in English what they would say in their first language. So making them aware of their limitations will help them understand that what they say is not as important as how they produce it. In other words, examiners do not pay attention to ideas and how original they are as long as the message is coherent. They focus on how candidates produce the language, not the content.
Be aware of language functions and be flexible:
On the other hand, what students and teachers should do when preparing for an English language assessment test is building confidence by consolidating some communication techniques that, on the other hand, should not be rigid. For this reason, students have to be aware of language functions, such as expressing opinion, asking for opinion, making suggestions, expressing agreement or disagreement and speculating. So, being able to express or ask for opinion in different ways: “In my opinion, from my point of view, As I see it, I think, what do you make of?, What is your opinion about?...” and not just using the same expression all the time will make a good impression on examiners.
Do not monopolize a dialogue:
On the other hand, it is very important to be dynamic and flexible when having a dialogue with the examiner or other candidate. Consequently, speaking for a long time and not giving a chance to the other person to speak will not make a positive impact on the examiner’s assessment.
However, apart from being dynamic and flexible, candidates are also expected to organize their speaking in a coherent way. To do so, connectors are crucial elements students should use to link different ideas within a given speaking task. For example, “on the contrary” or “however” would be used to express contrast between two different ideas, “on the other hand” or “besides” are used to add extra information, and “as a result” or “therefore” should be used to come to a conclusion.
In this regard, it is important to highlight that connectors and linkers are not only elements to be used when producing a piece of writing, as they also make a huge difference when speaking.
Unfortunately pronunciation is not usually regarded as a key element in the learning process of a foreign language by many students. However, examiners do pay close attention to this aspect in any speaking task. For this reason, although it is quite challenging for most students (regardless of their nationality) to pronounce some common English words such as “comfortable”, “meal”, “vegetables”, “salmon” or “isle”, it is recommendable to make sure that you can get them right, as making this type of mistakes in a speaking test will take its toll in the final result. So drilling pronunciation should not be forgotten.
However, speaking a language is a complex ability that involves not just articulating words in the right way (pronunciation), but also being able to use the right intonation and cadence to draw the other speaker’s attention. So, if you can master these ups and downs along with the speed required to produce a comprehensible message, you will get extra points in your assessment. In this regard, I would like to point out that speaking well does not equal speaking fast, as many students think, because speaking fast will make you be less focused and you will not pay so much attention to pronunciation or grammar.
As a conclusion, bearing in mind these tips will make you gain confidence and be in a much better position to face any type of speaking task within an English language assessment test. And remember: it is not about what you get right in your test, it is about how many mistakes you avoid to stay as close as possible to the top.