Myth three: GESE requires special preparation classes
BY: Academic Support Team
10 February 2020
You have A2 level students and they want to take an A2 level speaking exam. How can you help them to prepare for it?
Perhaps familiarise them with the format, look at some example exams, do as many practice run throughs as you can, teach them the grammar that might come up, practise as many of the topics as possible and give them the related lexis, understand what the examiner is looking for, practise pronunciation, give them useful phrases, and so on. The good news is that when it comes to the Trinity GESE exams, much of the preparation has already been done just by following an A2 syllabus in a communicative classroom environment.
A good teacher will cover a range of suitable grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation in their lessons. They will be giving their students communicative activities, encouraging them to speak (even though they will inevitably be making mistakes) helping them to get their meaning across and coping when miscommunications happen… and having fun to boot. If the students can do that in their classroom, they already have the tools they need to do it in the exam room.
However, in saying that no special preparation classes are required, that is not to say the teacher is not required. Heavens! It is also not to say that no preparation of any kind is needed at all. If you are familiar with GESE, you will be aware that there are twelve grades, divided into four stages: Initial, Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced. From the Elementary Stage onwards, candidates bring in a topic of their choice, and at the Advanced Stage, they give a presentation. These things do of course need some preparation, but of the type which is meaningful to the candidate and which develops and draws on 21st century skills. Preparing for an English exam can help you to hone your skills and give you an opportunity to show what you can really do. It shouldn’t be an endurance trial or an uphill struggle for figure out the magic formula for how to pass.
Mind you, from personal experience, it can be hard to convince the students of this. Many of them, like me, grew up taking exams for which we focused on memorising information and learning all kinds of things that we’d never need to use again. Now, when told that those things are not necessary for GESE, it can feel a little unnerving and destabilising.
Certainly, it is important to know what is being tested - both the syllabus and the marking criteria are available on the Trinity website. It can also be helpful to watch videos of the exams – the Trinity youtube channel has plenty of these. However, the key thing with the GESE exams is that the language and skills being tested are the very same language and skills being learnt in the classroom and being used in our everyday lives. When candidates stray too far from this – memorising whole anecdotes, trying to force grammar into unnatural positions, giving advice when none is required – they can get into difficulty. Seeing the exam as something separate from real life can actually take candidates off course and make communication much harder.
So, some preparation may be needed, but only in so far as it supports the progression of the exam and the teaching and learning process. We shall look at this in more detail in relation to the components of the exams.
Essentially, the best way to prepare students is to just follow good teaching practice and develop their communicative competencies and confidence. Students who feel comfortable speaking in English, who are used to negotiating meaning and dealing with miscommunications, and who don’t just ‘know’ the language, but can actually ‘use’ it, will have a good chance of success in a Trinity GESE exam. If they start clinging too tightly to particular language items or searching for special exam techniques, they will be losing sight what they actually need to do. The more they can bring their real-world experiences and skills into the GESE exam room, the better they are likely to do… and have fun to boot.