THiNK Thursday #6: The way to exam success

Zoltán Rézműves

The THiNK team continue to provide helpful tips and activities for teaching teenagers. In this article, Zoltán Rézműves – one of the authors of the THiNK Teacher’s Book – shares some practical ways you can prepare your teenage learners for exam success.

Examinations are an unavoidable part of the language learning experience. Although the main priority for teachers is to give their students a solid foundation in the language, they are also responsible for helping students to pass their exams successfully. Here are some practical ideas for doing so….

What are the ingredients for exam success?

  1. A balanced development of all the necessary skills and a knowledge of the key structures and vocabulary appropriate for the level of the examination. Following a well-structured syllabus takes care of this.
  2. An awareness of exam expectations. Each exam is different, and students need to be familiar with what kind of tasks they might be facing. Throughout the THiNK series, dedicated exam practice sections cover the task types one by one. These sections can be used to consolidate students’ communicative skills and to review and recycle previously covered new language.
  3. Exam strategies. You can raise students awareness of how particular exam tasks work by covering the exam practice exercises, but adding a twist. What kind of twist?


Here are a couple of extension activity ideas that offer students an insight into the construction of exam tasks. You can use each idea with similar exercises that you find in practically any good coursebook.

Looking for clues

Cloze tests involve filling in gaps with the correct missing words. In order to complete a cloze task successfully, it is important to understand the context, then use grammatical and logical clues to work out what the missing words are. The example below (exercise 2) is an open cloze (a cloze task without options to choose from) from THiNK Level 1.

THiNK Student Book 1 page 100
  1. First, ask students to put their pens down, and read the text quickly to get a general understanding. Elicit a one-sentence summary from someone in the class, and ask students to mention a few key things they have learned from the incomplete text.
  2. Then, with pens still down, put students in pairs or groups to discuss what information or language might be missing in each gap. Students at lower levels may be allowed to use L1 for this. Ask them also to say what helped them decide.
  3. Finally, ask students to complete the cloze task. In weaker classes, you could give them the answers jumbled up or listed in alphabetical order, or the first letter of each missing word.
  4. As follow-up, ask students to discuss in pairs, groups or in a whole-class setting, which items they found easiest or most difficult, and why.

The activity shows students that rushing through the gap filling task is not the right strategy to follow. By slowing down, understanding the general context, then studying the clues carefully, they can achieve better results.

What makes a good distractor?

Distractors are incorrect answer options in multiple-choice tasks. They are designed to make students think they are correct (this is how they ’distract’ them from the correct option), but more careful study of the context should help them rule these out.

    1. First, ask students to do the task, then check answers. The example below from THiNK Level 1 is a multiple-choice cloze task, designed to test students’ knowledge of grammar and vocabulary.
THiNK Student Book page 118
  1. Then, ask students to work in pairs or groups, and discuss how the distractors are different from the correct answer. For example, they may be a different verb tense, a word that means the opposite of what is suggested by the context, or they may be a form that doesn’t fit the word that comes before or after the gap.
  2. Finally, ask them to work together to write one more distractor for each gap in the task.

You can extend this by using the task rewritten by students instead of the one in the book with a different group practising for the same exam – to give them an extra level of challenge.

The activity shows students what techniques are used to select and create distractors. This will help them recognise the same techniques on exam day and to eliminate the incorrect options more easily.

In case you’ve missed any, make sure to catch-up now with all the THiNK Thursday tips and activities for the teenage classroom.



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