Helping your students succeed

img_20160730_153211In this post, I’d like to ask the reader a somewhat loaded tricky question: how do you help your students succeed in tests and exams? In your mind’s eye, tick the most appropriate answer(s):

  1. I dumb down my tests so that my students get high scores and good grades. The kids are motivated and everybody’s happy.
  2. I allow my students to cheat cooperate with their peers during exams.
  3. I show them the test beforehand.
  4. I use different ways to assess my students cause tests suck and grades are useless.
  5. Apart from teaching my students various real-life communication and learning strategies, I also familiarize them with the right test-taking tactics.


I’ve probably committed all of the acts above. Some of them were acts of mercy, others were rather acts of surrender. Either way, some of them were more effective than others, but only one of them has proven truly useful in my teaching and educational context – number 5. This is probably why I catch myself talking about learning and test-taking strategies explicitly more than I did in the past. I do so because I feel this approach creates a safe learning environment, where even the less talented language learners have something to hold on to.

These are three examples of what I do in my lessons:

1) After a vocabulary test, for example, I ask the most successful students to describe in detail how they revised for the test. This is very effective and motivating, especially with young learners, who love to talk about what they do. Also, this highlights their success in an  inconspicuous way. Older learners are also very happy when you notice their laboriously-made grids and charts lying on their desks. Anyway, at the end of the lesson, we always have a nice collection of inspiring ideas plus I usually throw in a couple of my own suggestions.

2) Before a revision vocabulary test, I like to ask my students to test each other in pairs. Today, they worked with their vocabulary lists at the back of their workbooks; Student A read the Czech words one by one and their partner, Student B, had to translate them into English. Once Student B couldn’t say the word in English, s/he had to write it down along with the Czech equivalent. After some time they changed roles. Each student ended up with a list of the most problematic words. As their homework assignment, they are supposed to ask a family member to test the problematic words they have written down using a similar procedure – anytime the student doesn’t know the word, they have to write it down again. The list will be shorter and shorter until they can say all the words correctly. I thought it’s a good idea to involve the student’s family in the learning process.

3) Reading comprehension exercises is something my students find particularly challenging. All those multiple choice and true/false exercises make them feel uncomfortable. So we start with short texts very early on. I insist on Ss underlining/highlighting the key words and expressions, and I always want evidence justifying their answer – whatever the answer is. Once the answer is incorrect, it’s difficult for them to find the proof and that’s the moment when they immediately realize the mistake. This procedure eliminates guessing, cheating and sloppy work in general. I usually take the time to draw grids on the board and we slowly go through all the answers and evidence together.


I believe that my students feel safer and are more successful if I show them that I care about the way they learn. I want them to know that success doesn’t come easy and they have to do something to achieve it. But first, they need to know what to do. In other words, it’s important to provide them with a variety of learning tools and test-taking strategies.

Do you have any special strategies to help your students to succeed?


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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7 Responses to Helping your students succeed

  1. Marc says:

    Hi Hana,

    When I was teaching TOEIC students at university, I had them talk at length about business and work (areas they had vague ideas about) and generated, naturally, the vocabulary needed for the test. It was mainly vocabulary, reading speed and use of weird listening strategies holding them back. We did timed readings and continued dialogic listening. The ones who questioned my methods did things their way first, then my way to see I wasn’t talking rubbish. It paid off. Plenty of test practice needed to put practice to work for them.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thanks for sharing some of your strategies, Marc. I think it’s a great idea to allow students to compare their own test-taking tactics with the tactics the teacher suggests. Also, giving them the choice is very clever.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. careymicaela says:

    Hi Hana,
    Great post. In my classes I also try to show students different strategies as well as explain why we’re doing a particular activity. I teach young and very young learners so when we work with something like a tongue twister I try to make them understand why we’re saying it over and over again, why we’re playing around with the sounds and why things like intonation are important. I think Teens and adults usually implicitly understand the reason behind certain activities but little ones don’t have as much experience. In order for our activities to be meaningful to them, they sometimes just need to know why we do them.
    Thanks for another enjoyable post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Absolutely! The earlier learners know what to do and why they do it, the better, I think because they can then develop a more conscious approach to learning in general. This will pay off in the future and save them a lot of time and trouble. Thanks for reading and dropping a comment, Micaela.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kamila says:

    Hi Hana,

    now that I teach Czech in a more traditional context, and am using a very traditional textbook Chcete mluvit česky?, I tried your idea with the students testing each other using the Russian-Czech wordlist, and it worked wonders. We found a difficult word: místenka – the translation of which is apparently wrong and the whole concept of buying a seat ticket is unknown to Russians. Thanks for a useful idea

    Liked by 1 person

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