Why do any Testing at All?

Are Examinations and Tests Useful or Important in the EFL Classroom?

There is often controversy about the role of testing in any classroom, though I am not really sure why.  If you test what you have taught, you should be okay.  But “test what you taught” is not always an easy concept.  In other words, if you are teaching speaking skills, don’t give the students a written test, give them a verbal test.  Time consuming – yes – but much more accurate.

Testing and examinations do play an important role in EFL

There are three major reasons for giving tests in an EFL classroom.  Some are obvious even to new teachers, others are not.  The last reason is my favorite . . .

The first and most obvious reason why you need to test students is to see if they learned what you were supposed to teach.  The controversy over testing is usually that “What you were supposed to teach” is not or was not always very clear.  So, as a teacher, it is important to try and get a handle on EXACTLY what it is you are trying to teach your students.

The second purpose of testing is to use it as a progress check.  The course is halfway finished, have you covered half the material and have the students learned it?  If you test and they have mastered the material then great.  If not, you need to figure out why not.  Are you teaching too much material?  Is it too advanced?  Are your methods effective?

My favorite reason for testing

The third and last reason here is to MOTIVATE  and help direct the efforts of your students.  You as the teacher can use testing to emphasize specific content of your course.  If you think everyone is having trouble with, for example, linking in pronunciation – then announce a test on linking.  Give the students the specific content that you will test and you will usually see great effort extended in that area.

Testing used as a motivator or guidance mechanism is really effective.  Don’t ignore the potential it has to really help move your students along in areas in which they are having difficulty.   You will often be amazed by how effective it can be.

Testing as a memory dump

But . . . be careful of testing material and never going back to it.  If your students’ realize that you are doing that, they will memorize material ONLY for the test.  They will put it in short-term memory and it likely be forgotten before they even get out the door of the examination room.

If certain material is very important – and really, why teach any material that is NOT important – use a few surprise quizzes to make sure students don’t “dump” the content you want them to remember.  Surprise quizzes work best if you announce you will have them, but just don’t say when.  And make sure you follow through.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Testing can be an important teaching aid.  Use it to its maximum potential to motivate your students and increase their skills.  That is, after all, why you are in the front of the classroom, isn’t it?

Pair Work in the EFL Classroom

This post is inspired by newbie EFL teachers who often have the misunderstanding that it is important for their students to talk to them (the teacher).  The classic teacher-centered classroom.

Well . . . that’s NOT how it should be!  I wrote part of this section originally for TEFL Boot Camp – but it is useful here as well.

Pairwork and Working in Small Groups

Most speaking practice in the classroom should be done in pairs and small groups with students talking to each other.  It is a common mistake of the untrained teacher to think that students must or need to talk to the teacher.

While talking to the teacher is certainly useful, each student in a small class of only 15 will get at most three minutes of talking time in a 45 minute class if conversation is teacher centered.  In pairs those same students could be directly involved in conversation as much as twenty-two minutes.

See the difference?  That is a seven-fold increase in the amount of time a student can practice speaking, listening and interacting in English.  And one of the biggest problems EFL students have is the very limited amount of time they actually get to practice speaking and listening in direct interaction.

The teacher’s role during pairwork and small group time is to rotate around the classroom encouraging students and helping them focus on the target language/concepts of the lesson.   Including pairwork and small-group work in your PPP/ESA lesson is critical to the success and improvement of your students.

If your classroom is very large and very mixed in terms of ability, sometimes small groups of four or five are useful to have students with lesser skills matched to students with a higher level skills.  Or shy students with more outgoing ones or any other mix you might useful to help bring out the best in everyone.  Try different mixes for different classes to see what works best for you.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Small group or pair work is the best way to maximize “student talk time” in the classroom.  It can also be useful to overcome other imbalances in the classroom.  Use it in every conversation class if you can.

Get your TEFL Certification at Home or Abroad?

Another great question by a reader inspired this post.

Her question:

My sister and I are interested in completing a CELTA course in order to teach English in the UAE. My sister is familiar with the country and we have friends in Dubai. I have a BSc while my sister also has a secondary PGCE. Would it be better to study the CELTA in the UAE or in London where we are native and currently live?

I know you’ve previously recommended to study in the country in which one wishes to teach, but would studying in the UAE limit our prospects in other countries? Will completing the course in London look more attractive to employers globally? Considering the cost implications London would be the preferred choice, but I’m interested to hear your experienced opinion.

My Response:

It is almost always better to take an in-classroom course in the country in which you first intend to teach.

It may seem more cost effective to take it where you are currently located, but taking your course there does little or nothing toward your end goal of landing a job in the UAE.  Taking your course in the UAE immediately gets you into the environment and on the trail of good jobs.

Better TEFL schools will have employers coming by the school looking for you.  It will quite likely happen in Dubai.  But I quite doubt that a Dubai employer will be dropping by the course in London.

For most people a TEFL cert or a CELTA, etc is a tool to get the job they want, not the end goal. So purchase the tool that gets you closest to your goal.  In your case, a course in Dubai or elsewhere in the UAE.

No one will really care if you took the course in London, Dubai, Saigon or even Yangoon. In fact, when they see that you took it outside your home country, they will see that you can survive and thrive in a culture different than that of your home country. To me that is a bonus.

Employers, not infrequently, have difficulty with people who have not yet lived and worked outside their home country. It is a very real risk factor in hiring. Some people get homesick, others just can’t adapt. It is an unknown factor that adds risk to a hire. If you are already living in the culture where you want to be hired, it greatly reduces that perceived risk by the employer and is an advantage for you.

That’s my opinion anyway . . . I hope that helps in your decision making.

TED’s Tips™ #1: It is almost always better to take your in-classroom TEFL training in the country in which you first intend to teach.  It creates a real advantage in terms of getting yourself your first job.

What They don’t Teach you at TEFL School #28

Be Sure to Keep your Contacts “Back Home”

Okay, it’s not really #28 but we will have 100+ before we get done.

Whether you intend to spend three months, six months, one year, or the rest of your life – overseas – keep networking with your friends and former coworkers back home. Keep in touch with them. Maintain your friendships!

When you go back home on vacation, visit with your former coworkers.  Go to lunch or out for a beer with them. Exchange e-mails. Send them photographs of your travels and of your life overseas.

Let them know you are doing REAL work, not just traveling around on a lark. And you will, btw, be doing real work (you may be surprised just how hard you end up working!). You never know when you might need, or want, their help to transition back home again.


Yes! Even more so than back home, networking is critical in the EFL business. In the last 18 years I’ve only done a few real interviews!  Of my last two EFL jobs – one was completely arranged by a long-term friend, and the other was with a former employer I kept in touch with and went out for a beer with whenever I was in his town. And I bought more than a few of those beers to keep our relationship equal, though he was at the time a far wealthier man than I.

After 16 years in the TEFL world, I now keep in touch with friends in several countries, all of whom would be willing to help me find a job if I needed their help.

And, I would be willing to do the same – and they know it too.

Foreign Cultures

Networking is even more important in many foreign cultures than back home, so keep those contacts solid at home and everywhere you work overseas. You’ll be amazed how important they can become. In many cultures introductions are just as important as, often more important than, qualifications and experience.  As I mentioned earlier one of my more recent jobs – a nice university position – was arranged by a friend.  They hired me on the strength of his recommendation.  That and a three-minute telephone interview.  I think it was him more than the interview.

WILL I have trouble going home?

Just because you are overseas – living big maybe – doesn’t mean you can forget about the world back home. You need to keep your contacts up to date, continue educating yourself in your previous occupation and in your new one.

Depending on your previous career and the skill level required, and how fast that career field is changing, it DOES become more difficult to return home into the type of position you held at the time you left. This is true particularly after about five to eight years of being away (in my opinion).

My Case

I last worked in my chosen profession back home (social work administration) in 1989. Though I have maintained many contacts in the field, I do not think I could return to the level of job I had when I left. BUT! I don’t think I would have trouble returning to that line of work, due to my contacts. I might have to start a little lower down the totem pole.

I last went to lunch with a former supervisor about a year ago. I really believe that she would help me land a quite decent job if I asked, and she is certainly in the position to help as her responsibilities and abilities have moved her high up in such organizations (CFO and CEO of large non-profits) in the time I have been gone.

Twenty-one Years Later

When I first wrote this page, I was preparing for the visit of a friend with whom I worked in Africa in 1989 (a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer)! Good friends, great experiences over all these years, no doubt we would be happy – and pleased – to help each other if we needed.

You will develop the same type of relationships. It is a very special world out here! It really is.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Keep up your contacts. You never know when you will need them. And they are very nice to have if you do need them.