Top tips for teachers preparing learners for tests

In the first of a series of 3, focused on preparing students for exams, Olha Madylus shares her top activities for preparing young learners for tests. The Cambridge English Qualifications for young learners are designed to test children’s ability to understand and respond appropriately to English, not to test their knowledge of English grammar rules. The tests fit perfectly with a teaching approach that is based on communication and holistic, active learning. Children learn best when language is meaningful and they are having fun. So, bear this in mind when preparing your learners for the tests.

Don’t limit the language your learners are exposed to and try to use English as much as possible in the classroom. Don’t worry – children are extremely clever and will quickly understand and respond appropriately if you support what you say with gestures, pictures and routines. Two excellent ways of exposing children to meaningful language are (a) using big storybooks with pictures and (b) doing action songs.

Below are some useful activities, easily incorporated into your lessons that will support overall learning as well as help students be prepared for the tests and confident in their language ability. The language level can easily be adjusted to the level of the students.

Teacher talk – instructions

Take every opportunity you can give your instructions in English and use English to chat, praise and encourage.

Total Physical Response Games can be part of your routine as a regular warmer. The language you use should include previously learned language, to recycle and make it memorable. Eg

  • Show me your (red, blue, green) pencil.
  • Boys who are wearing glasses, please stand up.

Vocabulary games with flashcards

Again, a great way to review previously learnedt language as well as involving the whole class.

a. Pin up flashcards around the classroom. Arrange the class into two teams. One student from each team at a time stands up. Say the word depicted on a flashcard eg frog. The first person to touch the flashcard wins a point for the team. (Make sure the furniture is arranged in a way that makes this game safe!)

b. Students stand up in a line. You stand facing them at the front. You show a flashcard and say a word (to practice listening skills). If the word is the same as the picture. The students should jump to the right, if it’s different they should jump to the left. You can also do this showing the picture and another card with the written word (to practice reading skills).

c. A variation on this, especially if there’s not enough room for (b), children wave both hands in the air if the picture and word match and shake their heads if they don’t.

Listening practice – picture dictations plus!

These are not only great fun and an effective way to practise and check previously learned language, but have a direct link to the listening test.

The teacher describes a picture and children listen and draw. The text can be shorter or longer as needed and should be based on language the students have previously been presented with and practiced. Students compare their pictures to see if they have drawn the same things. Eg We can see a street. A girl with red hair is talking on her mobile phone. Two men are wearing purple hats. A boy is running with his dog.

You can develop this activity by next eliciting sentences about the pictures from the students. eg What is the boy doing?

Follow that by asking Fliers students to write 2 or 3 sentences to describe things in their picture. Monitor closely and help children write their sentences correctly.

This activity is cyclical. Children listen, imagine/understand and draw. Then they have to produce the sentences orally, giving further practice and then they write one or two sentences with support, producing the written form. They can then write some more sentences to dictate to their partner, who has to add what is described to their picture.


Particularly for Starters and children whose alphabet is different to English, it is a good idea to practice spelling regularly.

Ask them to bring in a cardboard box or supply some card. They should cut up the card into 26 small squares, write one letter of the alphabet on each one. These they can keep in their pencil cases, so that every lesson you can spend some time eg asking them to spell a word (arranging their squares) after you say it. Show a picture and they have to make the word, then spell out the word aloud. They can also work in pairs – one student says a word, the other writes it.

If they have this resource, you’ll find that many will keep ‘playing’ with these even at home.

Daily writing on board routines

For example, once you have presented and practiced talking about the weather, organise the class so that every day a different student starts the lesson by writing the day’s weather on the board. They can do this while the others are settling down, finding their books etc. Eg Today it’s raining. It’s sunny today.

You can extend this to other topics, eg It’s Jane’s birthday today. Happy Birthday, Jane! It’s Teacher’s Day today. etc.

This is a regular meaningful practice of writing the structures and practice vocabulary that will become a part of class management as well as language practice.

Matching games

Problem solving appeals to children and matching tasks allow children to make sense of language internally without having to explain grammar – they are allowed to put into practice what they have noticed and acquired. This is particularly useful and appropriate for Fliers.

Prepare a task like this – cut up pairs of a dialogue and ask students to match them on their tables in pairs or small groups.

My car is very dirty. Shall I help you wash it?
I am thirsty. Shall I get you some water?
I am hungry? Shall I make you a sandwich?
Oh. I have earache. Shall I take you to the doctor?
My maths homework is very difficult. Shall I help you?
It’s raining. Shall I get your umbrella?

For more ideas on preparing your learners for Cambridge English Qualifications for young learners, see Olha’s blog. Keep a look out for Olga’s next blog post on exam preparation activities for teens.

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