May 11

Young Learner Exams

I was reading quite an interesting blogpost by a teacher in Greece about how too much emphasis is put on exams without the real reason for taking them being clear.  I’ve been thinking for a while about Cambridge Young Learner Exams as this is the first year that I’ve worked in a school which offers them – this is actually the first year they are offering them too.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this type of exam, there are three levels called Starters, Movers and Flyers which are suitable for students in Primary education, though open to all young learners.  They test three skills: Listening, Speaking and Reading and Writing.  My feelings towards these exams are mixed, but certainly tilting towards the negative.

On one hand, it could be argued that the exams are very motivating and encourage students to continue with similar exams through their education (*ahem* more money to be made if we start them young!).  Why are they so motivating?  Because students can’t fail the Young Learner Exams.  Students are awarded a certificate with a number of shields, ranging from 1 to 5 showing their ability in the three skills.

And there’s my problem.  I don’t understand how it can be a positive thing to charge students x amount of euros to take an exam which at the end of the day is fairly worthless.  I don’t think future employers are going to be impressed by a twenty-seven year old lawyer who achieved 5 shields in every skill at the age of ten.

Posted May 11, 2010 by Teresa Bestwick in category My thoughts

14 thoughts on “Young Learner Exams

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  2. George Vassilakis

    Thanks for the link, Teresa!

    I actually rather like the kind of activities included in the YLE tests, but I see the point you are making about them being very unlike other examinations in that all candidates get a certificate!

    1. Teresa Bestwick (Post author)

      I agree George that the activities included in the YLE tests teach students useful learning skills – however I think they can just as easily be incorporated into the classroom without the need for a 60€ piece of paper!

  3. shadowfalcon

    Taking an exam makes the learning feel more like an official achievement. I dare say some would opt to take them to prove something. However if you can’t fail and it’s not a recognised certificate/qualification it does lend towards a money making endeavour which isn’t what education is about.

  4. Henrick Oprea

    Hi Teresa,

    I usually ask myself the same thing. I can only see a point in taking the last three exams of the main suite of the Cambridge exams (FCE, CAE, and CPE). At least these are accepted worldwide by companies and governmental agencies. Besides, if young learners really need an exam to be motivated to learn, isn’t there a slight chance that there’s something wrong with the classes? Then again, teachers have been taught in a system that only praised tests, and we’re now passing the baton to even younger kids. Go figure… Heck, I’m not even sure it’s cost effective to spend that much money teaching such young learners a foreign language for meagre 1 or 2 hours a week (which is what happens here).
    Loved the post!

    1. Teresa Bestwick (Post author)

      There’s a lot of hype surrounding PET here now, Henrick, thanks to the Plan Boloña (which I still don’t fully understand). You could argue that the various tests use similar exam techniques as students go up the system, and I can certainly see a difference in my advanced class between a student who had taken FCE and one who hadn’t – not in terms of language, but in terms of understanding how to do the exam.
      As for the cost effectiveness of teaching young learners? Perhaps we should take David Deubelbeiss’ advice and just quit!

  5. Henrick Oprea

    The idea of quitting sounds extreme, but if people gave it some serious thought, perhaps it’d definitely happen. I’ve had some talks with parents, and even those who agree with this view still find it easier to pay an English class for 2 hours a week instead of day care. Go figure… some people just seem to have too much money.

  6. Nick Jaworski

    Haha, this cracked me up. I hate exams and exams for children are the worst of the worst, especially if you have to pay for them. I can’t imagine what possible benefit children get from being forced to take them, not to mention all the teaching to the exam that happens as a result.

    These exams are really for parents as a record of their child’s ability and Cambridge makes it seem official and important cause it’s British. It’s also for schools for basically the same reasons.

    1. Teresa Bestwick (Post author)

      Thanks for the comment, Nick. Thankfully my school don’t push the exams in a way that they affect the YL classes – those doing the exam have had extra homework and will have a couple of extra classes at the end of term. And to a certaing extent the same is true of our KET and PET level classes – we’re there to teach English and if students want to take the exam, great.

      P.S. I’m glad you enjoyed Cyprus 🙂

  7. Beverly Whittall

    My school also offers the Cambridge YLE exams, and we incorporate the exam practice into our lessons in a fun, non-exam way – classes are not aimed at the exam specifically, but aim to develop the necessary skills that are in fact useful for all students (storytelling, reading and listening skills, dealing with new vocabulary).

    I have noticed that some of our YLs have older brothers and sisters doing the main suite exams, and so are familiar with the idea of Cambridge exams. I think they feel quite proud to be doing the “same” exams as their older siblings – a motivator, maybe?!

  8. Teresa Bestwick (Post author)

    Thanks for the comment, Beverly. I think that you’re right that the exams can be very motivating and as I said in a previous comment, they do teach good skills. But as you say, these skills need to be taught in a fun, non-exam environment – that way all students will benefit, not just those doing the exam.

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