Thursday, 29 December 2016

A New Series About Exam Tips - Past Papers Blues 1

Most students who register for my crammer courses have already been studying past papers with a fine-tooth comb. (See the Exam Tip about Finding Past Papers HERE.)

It's not unusual to see students get burned out with this repetition. Plus, they sometimes feel that they stall in their studies and stop forward progress. Indeed, they even come to the correct conclusion that just cramming the paper over and over isn't enough for what they want to achieve.

So, I'm often asked what else can they do to strengthen their skills in English that will be useful for the exam?

Personally, I think this is letting the tail wag the dog.

Gratuitous photo of a dog with a tail

Performance-related testing is killing students' love, interest, and mastery of almost all subjects, leading them instead to prefer knowing just what's on the test and not bother about the transferable skills and life lessons one could get if one studied a subject properly.

But I realise that's a soapbox and I won't climb on top of it here.

There are, nevertheless, some things a student can do that are directly relevant to the exam, and yet, aren't taught via past papers alone.

The first one I want to talk about in this blog post is reading a variety of texts.

Reading all kind of texts will help

I'm sure most students have read novels and short stories already. Many have had to read some kind of textbook for their other subjects. However, few students spend much time with newspapers and other print media these days, and if I were to suggest an area that needs shoring up, it would be here.

So if your student has run out of past papers to study, or feels as though progress is slowing, then go splurge a tenner on two print newspapers like The Times and The Guardian, and perhaps a magazine like The Economist or National Geographic or New Scientist.

Set aside a whole day of English study to just read through the print media. Have the student come to you with one article from each, read it together aloud, then have the student tell back to you the details -- as many details as he/she can remember -- for each one.

Build this reading comprehension practice into your weekly routine. You don't even have to buy any new newspapers or magazines as long as you get good quality ones in the first place: the student could just read through them a little at a time each week, and then discuss them with you.

Read and discuss the texts together

The aim is to a) get exposure to different types of writing, b) strengthen his/her attention to the text during the reading portion of the activity, and c) be able to tell back the details accurately and in depth.

Over time, you could add other kinds of print media such as journal writing, speeches, interviews, etc, which are types of writing that turn up on the exam, either as an example to read or as a task the student has to write.


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