It is the usual headache at the beginning of every academic year. Parents and students alike keep bombarding us with questions about which certificate (not diploma as they tend to call it) is the best and which exams are the most suitable. All this persistence reveals is their agony for their future and the pursuit of a qualification that may keep windows of opportunity open.
The problem is that teachers and language centre directors are baffled alike. Yet, before recommending an examination to parents and learners, it is worth having a discussion with them to find out what they need the certificate for. This will give you a better picture and will help you select one of the -literally- dozens of certificates on the EFL market. Below you can read some criteria you can take into consideration when selecting:
- The candidate’s age
Resist the fallacy that “children have to get English over and done with before they attend senior high school”. Some C1-C2 certificates are oriented towards academic content that bears little or no relation to the student schematic knowledge. The brightest and most mature students may have some good chances of passing but to the vast majority, it will be an endless struggle. Teachers often share horror stories of spending time to explain notions that their students have never come across, not even in their mother tongue. Aim for a certificate that appeals to the age and interests of the candidates.
- The candidate’s aims
Have a discussion with students and parents to find out what their aim is. Do they need a certificate for an undergraduate or postgraduate course? Do they need to apply for a position in the state sector? Are they planning to work in a specific field such as tourism?
Apart from general English certificates, there is a range of certificates for English for Specific Purposes that may help them more in terms of relevance to their context and may strengthen their resume even more.
- The examination format and regulations
Some examinations offer tasks that most students regard as easy but the time allowed is limited. Even though a lot of teachers teach to the test and acquaint the candidates with the format, some candidates cannot cope under time pressure. Some candidates feel that examinations that are based on a free discussion is much friendlier compared to a more structured one. For instance, there is a popular examination in which the oral examiners have to follow strictly the script and are not allowed to add a single word while another one urges the examiner to elicit language production using their own phrasing.
Attending presentations by examination bodies representatives and reading the teacher’s handbook carefully, you can have a clear idea of the format and overall aims of the examination.
- The certificate’s validity
Contrary to popular belief, a certificate is not recognized eternally by universities. Most parents are under the impression that if their children pass C2 level exams at the age of 15, they will be accepted by the university of their choice. Debunk the myth as early as possible and let them know that most universities will require recent certification (usually less than two years before university admission).
- Test dates availability
Some candidates, due to school or professional obligations, may need to take exams earlier than the end of the academic year or in December. Many examination bodies administer exams more than twice a year and some offer a computerized version of the examination.
A few tips
There are many fibs about exams among students and parents. The most popular one is that everybody passes the examination and that no effort or studying is required. Dispel such myths from day 1.
- Administer mock exams and monitor your students’ performance in class. Feedback from both of them will give you clear indications.
- Protect your reputation from certificates that appear out of nowhere and promise success for everybody.
- Most examinations cater for candidates with learning or other difficulties. Make sure you contact the examination body as soon as possible and find out how it can accommodate the candidate and what kind of documentation they need.
- Explain to parents what the current situation regarding recognition of certificates and admission to university is. Investing time now, may save you a lot of time and tension, later in the academic year.