Tuesday, 4 October 2011

About the Cambridge examinations

As I commented upon in my first article, there will be some articles for students who are preparing to sit in international examinations, such as the Cambridge exams. The examinations (there are two of them, Cambridge the First Certificate and Cambridge the Certificate in Advanced English) are not difficult, but in order to enter the preparation modules, you need to have an Intermediate level of knowledge.
The tasks for the exams are based upon on the typical skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening. In this article I would like to enlarge upon the speaking skill.
Usually for this examination, students are given some sets of pictures and they have to talk about them with a pair, meaning another contestant (be aware, this is not the only task concerning this skill).
My students perform very well during our classes, till we get to the pictures. I notice that they encounter some difficulties, not because they do not have the necessary vocabulary or fluency of the language, but because they do not have imagination. Taking into consideration the fact that they come from different professional backgrounds, this is not a flaw. Also the pictures are very boring and stupid, so you need loads of imagination to say something about them. Being a philologist, I learned how to develop any kind of topic, but for an engineer (doctor, economist..),  it  is very difficult to develop a conversation based upon  the picture of a bloke(guy) running after a bus. And if the contestants stop talking during the examination, the examiners will decide that they do not qualify for the speaking test.
I cannot make my students “grow” their imagination overnight, but here are a few  tips. When receiving the pictures, study them carefully and think of as many words you can, based upon them. Try to brainstorm the pictures. Make assumptions about the pictures. At the exam you can basically say whatever you want, as long as it has something to do with the pictures. Just don’t be silent.  Think of possible questions that you can ask your partner. On the other hand, you can be terribly unlucky and get a partner whose English is poorer than yours. If he stops talking, you should do the talking for him.
Basically, performing well at exams sometimes has many things to do with the phrase “to beat about the bushes”. I will let you find out the meaning.