English language exams are stepping stones to bigger and better things. Exams give students something to aim for and help them develop the skills they need in their lives, education and the workplace.
Teachers everywhere want to see their students do well. So how can you motivate them to get started and support them as they approach exam day?
In this article, we’ll guide you through five exam preparation tips to help your students build their confidence and ensure they feel fully prepared.
1. Give your students manageable goals
SMART goals help students make progress by being specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. They help students imagine what they want to achieve and – by breaking down objectives into steps – help them understand how they are progressing. Cambridge English Qualifications are designed with this in mind, and the regular goals motivate students to improve their skills step by step.
In addition, these goals are useful when thinking about short, medium and long-term objectives – and can be used throughout individual classes, each term and the academic year.
Here are some questions to answer when planning your curriculum and preparing your classes:
- What are my students’ learning needs? (Relevant)
- What do I want my students to achieve this year/term/class? (Specific and Time-bound)
- Is this level-appropriate and what support do I need to give them? (Achievable)
- How will I/they know they are making progress? (Measurable)
Example SMART goals
Short term: By the end of the lesson, I will be able to ask and answer basic questions about what I like doing.
Medium term: By the end of the term, I will have improved my test scores in the Reading and Writing sections of A2 Key for Schools.
Long term: By the end of the year, I will have passed A2 Key for Schools and started preparing for B1 Preliminary for Schools.
2. Use checklists to help support your students
Following on from SMART goals, it’s important to help your students take ownership of their learning and give them the tools they need to track their own progress.
For young learners, a goals checklist can be an effective way to help them focus on their goals, remember what they have done and reflect on their progress. In the example below, students simply need to tick off what they’ve achieved.
For lower levels, it might be helpful to write the goals and instructions in the students’ first language.
Download a learning goal checklist
For teens or older students, you can use a more advanced learning plan to help them track their progress. The example below includes space for students to write their goals and encourages them to take responsibility for their progress.
Download a learning plan template
3. Use Cambridge English exam preparation resources
Students need to have a good understanding of the content, the exam format, the timing for each section and even how they will be assessed.
Make sure you help students practise in a number of ways – incorporating exam-style activities in the classroom, setting practice tests for homework and running a mock exam. You should also consider testing students on their knowledge of the structure and timings of the exams too.
Practising exam tasks in class gives them a chance to show what they know, what they can do, and they can practise the exam strategies you have taught them.
We have a range of free exam preparation materials to help get you started, including:
- lesson plans
- classroom posters and activities
- self-study materials.
Explore these and many more exam preparation resources.
4. Check in with students regularly
It’s always a good idea to find out how well your students are getting on with the activities you are doing in class. There are a number of simple resources you can use to help students feel supported and confident.
Traffic light cards
Traffic light cards give students of all ages an opportunity to show you how they feel about their progress in any given lesson. Provide students with green, amber and red cards.
- Green = Okay, I understand!
- Amber = I might need a little help.
- Red = Stop! I need some help.
You can either ask students to hold them up during the lesson at specific times – this allows you to assess how well they are doing – or you can have them hold up their cards whenever they need help. You can also ask learners to display them on their tables during group work – this will help you see who needs the most help while you are monitoring.
For older or more advanced students try exit tickets. Near the end of the lesson, hand out the tickets and give the students a few minutes to reflect on the lesson. These will help you measure individual and whole-class progress. You’ll know what students are confident with and what they need to work on, which can help you with your planning. It’s also a good chance for shyer students to ask for support without drawing attention to themselves.
Download an exit ticket template
5. Join our teaching community
The final thing we recommend to help you prepare your students for their Cambridge English Qualification is to join our vibrant community of teachers.
Webinars for teachers
Attend our free webinars for teachers or watch the recordings – they’re full of great teaching tips, resources and ideas for your exam classes.
Cambridge English Teaching page
Connect with the friendly and supportive teachers on the Cambridge English Teaching Facebook page. There you’ll get daily tips and advice and you’ll be able to ask questions directly to other English language teaching professionals.
We also have a Cambridge English Instagram account and a learner Facebook page, which is full of engaging content to keep your students motivated as they progress towards their exams.
Cambridge English TV
Finally, we’d like to invite you to subscribe to our Cambridge English channel on YouTube, where you’ll find free resources, ideas and lots of exam teaching tips.
Also explore our Cambridge Live Experience playlist, which has more than 50 expert videos, on topics as diverse as using tasks in language teaching, sensitivity, empowerment and compassion in the classroom.