December: the final push

It’s December. Christmas is coming. And this term’s exams are finally over. 

I had three weeks of exams this year, as the Advanced exams are longer than those for the lower levels, and so take more lessons to complete. The first week was a strange mix of Advanced exams and normal classes. For the other two weeks, it was exams all the way.

If I’m honest, the exam weeks themselves aren’t too stressful. There is, at least, nothing much to prepare (just the odd exercise for fast finishers) as the exam papers are all provided by the academy. The reading and listening exams are multiple choice and can be marked – for the most part, anyway – during the following exam. There were even some lessons where I had no marking to do and could just sit and listen and keep an eye on the kids. And sometimes you need to. Because sometimes, despite thinking they understand what’s going on, they can surprise you.

Take one of the listening exams, for example.

The learners came in and sat down at their desks, upon which I had placed a question paper and an answer paper. They’re a pretty good bunch of kids, so they quickly settled down for the exam.

‘Write your name at the top of the answer paper,’ I said, holding up the paper to show them where. ‘Choose your answers for in parts 1, 3, 4 and 5.’ I pointed to the appropriate sections. ‘And in part 2, write your answers clearly.’

Much nodding of heads.

‘Please don’t write anything on the question paper.’

And then I played the audio, pausing to check that the volume was loud enough. All seemed to be going well. The learners got down to their listening. I got down to my marking. As each audio track ended, I played the next. And then, at the end of the exam, I stood to collect the papers in.

Image by F1 Digitals from Pixabay 

One of the girls gave me the answer paper and not the question paper. ‘Can I have the other part, please?’ I said. ‘The other paper?’

She looked at me, confused.

‘The question paper?’

‘Question paper?’ 

It was then I realised she had completed the entire exam without reading the questions. I laughed. How could that have happened? But it soon became apparent it wasn’t just her. Suddenly, I felt like crying.

Goodness only knows how they had chosen their answers – completely randomly I guess. I still find it amazing that nobody put their hand up and asked how they were supposed to know what the answers were when they didn’t know the questions. But, that’s children for you.

Fortunately, it’s their first year studying at that level and these exams are just a benchmarking exercise, so other than losing half an hour of class time, there was no real harm done.

I explained again, super clearly this time. ‘Read the questions on the question paper. Mark your answers on the answer sheet. Let’s listen again.’

Hopefully, if nothing else, they will have learnt how the exam works. And I’ve learnt that no explanation is too simple, no instruction too obvious.

So, yes, the exams can be challenging. And the most exhausting element has to be the young learners’ speaking exams. I pretty much know the script for the particular Flyers paper we were using off by heart now (and this almost a week after I last used it). Back-to-back classes on Wednesday saw to that. By Thursday’s class, I had it off pat.

But although it takes a lot of stamina and concentration to have the same conversation with almost 20 kids in a row, all while listening out for grammar, vocab and fluency of response, at least that marking is done in the moment. It’s the writing that takes the time to correct – and Advanced writing more so than the other levels.

I’ve definitely got faster over the years, and hopefully this morning I’ll get the last of it done and dusted. It’s helpful that we have enjoyed an extra long weekend – a whole five days! – thanks to the Spanish Constitution Day yesterday and Immaculate Conception Day tomorrow. It would have been nice to have been able to take the time off and completely relax, but it was not to be. Still, I have managed to fit in a Body Balance class, a visit to a Thai restaurant, to watch a whole Christmas mini-series on Netflix and bake some scones, so it hasn’t been work all the way.

Today is the final push.

And then I’ll be able to properly look forward to Christmas.

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