All about lessons on preparation for speaking exam

How to teach speaking for exams

How to teach speaking for exams


  • Speaking
  • Cambridge English
  • Teaching qualifications
  • Activities
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

There are two big groups of teachers — those who like teaching examination classes and those who are afraid of preparing students for exams. What are the advantages and disadvantages of teaching exam preparation classes? 

The teacher feels responsible for their students’ successful exam results and it makes exam classes more challenging or even stressful for the teacher. But think of the motivation which your students have because the exam results are important to them. Your class and you become a team with the common goal. 

Improve Your Teacher Talk

There are many different language examinations but most of them include the parts which test the four language skills — reading, listening, speaking and writing. Some popular Cambridge examinations such as B2 First and C1 Advanced include the paper which is called Use of English, which assesses candidates’ grammar and vocabulary knowledge.

As in any General English class, in examination classes there are students with various strengths and weaknesses. Some of them consider writing to be the most challenging part, others think that it’s impossible to speak fluently and accurately at the same time.  And the teacher needs to make lessons balanced to cater to all the students’ needs. 

What does a speaking test include?

Our focus will be speaking and how to teach this skill in exam preparation classes.

First of all, teachers need to know what kinds of speaking tests there are:

  • One-to-one testing
  • Paired testing 

Teachers also have to be aware of the common task types:

  • Interview tasks
  • Presentation tasks
  • Negotiation tasks
  • Discussion tasks

Using tasks in language teaching

Read more

Let’s look at the examples of those examination tasks.

Interview tasks

Lower-level questions:

  • Is your home town an interesting place to visit?
  • Tell me something about your family.

Higher-level questions:

  • Who has had the biggest influence on your life so far?
  • How ambitious are you?

Presentation tasks

The candidate is generally given a visual or verbal prompt.

For example: 

I’m going to give you a card with a topic written on it. Read the card carefully.

You will have one minute to prepare what you are going to say about the topic and then I will ask you to speak for one or two minutes.

Negotiation tasks

A lower-level task:

A friend of yours has a birthday next week and you would like to give her a present.

Here are some suggestions (Interlocutor gives pictures to the candidates)

Talk about the suggestions and then decide together which is the best present for your friend.

A higher-level task:

Now I’d like you to talk about something together for about two minutes. 

Here are some reasons why many students go on school trips and a question for you 

to discuss. Talk to each other about whether it’s a good idea for students to go on school trips.

Discussion tasks

Intermediate-level questions:

  • How important do you think to learn foreign languages?
  • How do you think transport is going to change in the future?

Higher-level questions:

  • Who should be taking action to reduce waste- the government or the people?
  • Do you think that it’s likely that one day there will be an international ‘world language’ that everyone speaks? 

All about teaching for exams

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What is tested in speaking exams?

Before teaching an examination class, teachers have to become familiar with the criteria which are used for the assessment of the candidates. 

Do students need to know what the criteria are? Of course, they do. Teachers shouldn’t use meta language, especially with lower-level classes, but they need to explain the criteria of assessment to students.

There are usually four main criteria of assessment:

  • Discourse management (fluency and coherence)
  • Interactive communication
  • Grammar and vocabulary
  • Pronunciation

What kinds of activities could be used to practise speaking for exams?

There are plenty of them. We need to practise the exam format with our students. So when the day of examination comes closer, teachers do a lot of formal speaking practise following the format of the examination including the timing. You could make it more fun asking students to work in groups of four and take turns to play the roles of an assessor and an interlocutor.

Let’s look at the following activities:

  • Watching and analyzing a video
  • Using function reference cards/posters
  • Find someone who
  • Work out the question
  • Expanding on the answer with What? Who? When? Why? How? Where?
  • A secret sentence
  • Just a minute
  • Keep the conversation going (from Cutting Edge Upper-Int, 3rd edition)
  • Describe and draw or Describe and identify

Practise English speaking clubs with students

How to run

The activities are probably familiar to you and all of them are very beneficial to your students preparing for exam. Some of the activities are light-hearted, which will make your classes more enjoyable for learners.

A possible speaking lesson might look like this:

  • Lead-in
  • Setting the context using a listening passage
  • Listening for gist or specific information
  • Feedback (FB)
  • Listening for detail (listening and ticking the expressions or a gap fill)
  • FB
  • Drilling the useful language expressions
  • Discussion in groups (Teacher monitors)
  • FB
  • Teacher regroups students, the topic is changed
  • One group speaks, the other keeps a tally of the number of the useful language expressions used
  • Groups change the roles, the topic is changed again
  • Final FB

I hope that I managed to persuade you that preparation for exams can be beneficial for students and fun at the same time. And don’t forget that those students are highly motivated. In my next article we’ll be talking about exam writing.

Article authors & editors
  • Helen Taranenko

    Helen Taranenko


    CELTA, CELT-P/S Course trainer, International speaking examiner



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