What is difficult in training will become easy in a battle

IMG_20160312_173424Friday the 13th is dreaded by many since in Western superstition, it’s considered an unlucky day. For me, however, it has always been a lucky day, especially when important events came into play. So when taking an exam on this notorious day, I invariably did very well.

Earlier today, I got hold of the results of the written part of the final state exam my senior students took last week. It was a two-part piece of writing consisting of a 150-word magazine article (a film review) and a 70-word informal e-mail. All students in the Czech Republic wrote the same composition, which was later corrected by specially trained English teachers all over the country . I’m happy to announce that in my class, all the students passed the exam with flying colors – a couple of them even achieved the maximum score and the lowest score was 88.8%, which is still grade A. In other classes, the results were equally astonishing.

This is not the first time it has happened. Our students generally do very well on the final exam. I should stress that the papers are not corrected by me or my colleagues. Every year, the writings are sent to CERMAT (an organization appointed by the Ministry of Education), which hires secondary English teachers for this rather strenuous job. There are two teachers at our school who have contracts with CERMAT, but they never get the compositions of our own students. Nevertheless, since they correct papers from other schools, we can compare the quality of students’ writing across various types of secondary schools.

Although we have no doubts regarding fair play, the curious thing is that the students with the lowest scores (88.8%) are those who would generally pass their mock exams with much lower scores – usually 60-70%. This makes me wonder …..

1) Are we too strict when grading our own students’ writing? Well, I don’t think so. Students at our institution are supposed to graduate at a B1 level, but this is a bar too low for them. Many of them actually achieve a B2 level. In my view, our students are bound to be more proficient than students from other (types of) secondary schools, for example, the vocational ones, where the focus is on practical experience.

2) Are the teachers from other (types of) schools less demanding than we are, then? Might be. One’s demands are always relative to the quality of writing they encounter as regular teachers. This is regardless of the fact that CERMAT trains their people so that they are as objective as possible. But teachers aren’t robots, are they?

3) Do we challenge and stress out our students too much during their studies? Well, there is a saying: What is difficult in training will become easy in a battle. If you revealed how easy the exam is right at the beginning, some students might get the feeling there’s no need to work hard. And this, by no means, is what we want to happen; we want them to believe that there’s always a lot to improve.

I’m convinced that this is the best scenario. A bit of suspense constantly encourages our students to work on their language skills. In the end, they get a sweet reward, which, however, comes from an outer source, not from us. This, I guess, makes it even sweeter and more valuable.

 

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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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6 Responses to What is difficult in training will become easy in a battle

  1. Chewie says:

    That’s wonderful news about your students’ success! I too would wonder about the vast improvements between the mock exam and the actual exam. A couple of thoughts:

    Could students not be taking the mock exam seriously? Would thinking “it’s only practice” make them careless? I wonder about this because I’ve never taken practice assessments very seriously. It’s caused me to make some careless mistakes in the past. I look at it like a reconnaissance mission: Go in, get the lay of the land, see where the difficulties lie, and get out. I use the new information to change my study plan. Actual exams always heighten my nerves, which results in caring more about doing well.

    You wrote, “If you revealed how easy the exam is right at the beginning, some students might get the feeling there’s no need to work hard. And this, by no means, is what we want to happen; we want them to believe that there’s always a lot to improve.”

    You’ve made an interesting point here: Teachers have to walk a fine line between overwhelming and underwhelming their students. On the one hand, I’m supposed to challenge my students and create rigorous assessments, and on the other, I’d like to keep students from seizing up with anxiety. At least, that’s how I see it.

    What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Could students not be taking the mock exam seriously? Absolutely, Chewie. I forgot to include this option when pondering possible reasons. Thanks!

      Well, it seems there are too many fine lines we teachers have to walk. I sometimes fear that such pressure may become unbearable in the end. It’s not the low pay or lots of work that is so frustrating – it’s the millions of decisions we have to make each and every day. We are tightrope walkers. But that’s part of our job, I guess – at least if we want to do it well. Cheers for you comment!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Marc says:

    Excellent post, Hana. I always think that ‘training’ learners to perform at a higher level than the test works well because they can take the test with confidence and also because they get to see their potential and how far they have developed.

    Thanks a lot!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thanks, Marc. I think you’re right; training learners to perform at a higher level than the test is our obligation. In fact, I think it’s best if you can make your students forget about the test completely. Of course, you have to keep an eye on their scores but the main aim of instruction should be to prepare them for real life outside the classroom.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Zhenya says:

    Hi Hana

    In our language (Russian), there is the same saying about battle/success. The other (cultural?) similarity, or my own belief, is that being slightly stricter with the assessment at the point of progress testing, or mock exams, is a helpful way for the students’ real test time. The challenge, as Chewie said, is the balance and not ‘overdoing’ it. Perhaps doing it with familiar groups of students whom you already know well is completely fine. Also, letting them know that you are being more rigorous for their own sake might be helpful.

    Finally, congratulations on the great results: you, and your students, deserve a nice celebration!

    (and seeing ‘teachers as tightrope walkers’ as a nice post title!)

    Liked by 1 person

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