Doing Delta Module One? Some Exam Tips - Part Seven

And finally we reach the end of our short series on the Delta Module One exam. In this article we're looking at the last task in the exam : Paper Two Task Four. 

When you've read it, you can test your knowledge of the requirements of the whole of Paper Two by taking this quiz. You'll need to register for the website, but it's free and there are no strings attached.

Missed some of the other articles in this series? You'll find links to all of them here - just scroll down the page. But if you're preparing for the Delta Module One, don't forget that you'll find a lot more information about all the tasks in the exam, with sample questions and answers, plus advice for tackling the questions in the Handbook for Tutors and Candidates and the annual exam reports published by Cambridge ESOL. Click on the link to download them.

Paper Two Task Four is "the methodology question". In some ways it's one of the hardest to prepare for, as it's the only question which doesn't have a completely standard format. 

Some things will always remain the same, however. Firstly, you will be given some data to analyse which describes an approach or a technique in methodology. The type of data you are given will be something like the following :
  • an extract from a textbook or article on methodology
  • the procedural notes from one or more lesson plans
  • notes taken during a methodology seminar
  • a trainer's feedback notes for a teacher after an observed lesson
  • a transcript of teachers discussing what happened in a lesson

and so on.

You'll then have two or three questions to answer. The type of questions you are asked about the data will be something like the following :
a) explain the beliefs about language learning which lie behind the views stated in the materials
b) identify the roles taken by the teachers at various stages in the procedures described
c) evaluate the suitability of the approaches, procedures etc for different types of learner and learning context
d) identify the purposes, advantages and disadvantages of various techniques and procedures

and so on.

In answering a question in this area, you will need to draw on your knowledge of theories of language (structuralism, the functional/notional approach, the lexical approach etc), of psycholinguistic theories of how language is assimilated (eg behaviourism,cognitive code theory, learning vs aquisition, input based aquisition theories, "noticing", output based theories), and of educational psychology (eg constructivist views of learning), showing how all these result in specific methodological approaches and techniques. So eg if the data shows Teacher A asking her students to work collaboratively on a guided discovery activity, while she monitors, intervening only to ask guiding questions which "push the learners on", and the question asks you to identify the belief that lies behind this and the role which she takes , your answer may be something like :

Teacher A may believe that ...
  • Acquisition and learning are not two distinct processes (as Krashen would argue) but that conscious focus on form and meaning ("noticing") can aid the acquisition process. 
  • The depth of cognitive processing involved in working out the rules for themselves is more likely to result in  "noticing" and retention than if the teacher simply "informs" the learners. 
  • They are "constructing" their own knowledge  (Vygotsky) as they work  actively on the new information and incorporate it with  previous knowledge. They will formulate the rules in a way that "makes sense" to them, which will aid retention.
  • Learners should be helped to be as autonomous as possible. This approach will promote learner autonomy as the learners will be equipped to work on the language for themselves outside the classroom.
  • The fact of having "made sense" of the language for themselves will aid motivation - it will add to their self-esteem and sense of achievement (Maslow)
Teacher role : facilitator of learning

When you are asked to consider the suitability of the approach/teachniques for different learner types and learning contexts, it's useful to have a checklist in mind that you can quickly run through mentally. Not all of the categories will be applicable to every question, but the list will help you organise your ideas. Some of the categories you might take into consideration are : L1 groups and mono- vs multi-lingual classes; cultural/educational background; age groups; learning style categories and multiple intelligences; intensive vs non-intensive courses; EAP, Business English and other special purpose groups; learners with special needs; mixed ability groups; personality types (eg extrovert /introvert); class size. 

So,  one of the learner types you might identify the guided discovery approach  as being suitable for would be analytical learners (or depending on whose categories you work with, you might also mention Gardner's Logical-mathematical intelligence), who enjoy problem solving and critical thinking. On the other hand, you might point out that it would not be suitable for very young learners, who have not yet developed the cognitive skills necessary for the activity and who, still being in the "critical period" for language acquisition (Lenneberg) can still acquire language through unanalysed input. 

When you're answering this task, don't try to write a connected essay. Answer in bullet points (as in the example above) and keep the points short. There are forty marks available and you have 35 minutes. You'll be awarded two points for each valid point you make, so aim to make 12-20 points over the whole question and to get each point down in no more than two minutes. 

If you're interested in taking the Delta modules, check out the courses that we run for the scheme. For Module One we offer online courses which you can follow wherever you are in the world, taking the exam itself in a centre geographically convenient for you; Blended learning courses (for participants in N.Italy); and occasional residential seminars. These are open to anyone preparing for the exam, whether you're studying with us, are self-preparing, or have previously done a course at another centre and need a refresher course before taking or retaking the exam.  You'll find full information on our courses for all three modules of the Cambridge ESOL Delta scheme here.

Doing Delta Module One? Some Exam Tips - Part Six

If you're doing the Cambridge ESOL Delta Module One exam, it's essential you know what the exam requirements are, and how the marks are allotted. In this series, we look at the exam task by task and discuss what you need to do to get maximum marks without wasting time. in this article we move  on to Paper Two Tasks 2 and 3.

This article is written by Sue Swift, who has been involved with Cambridge ESOL Diploma schemes  for over 35 years, both as a tutor and assessor. She currently runs  courses for all three modules of the Delta in a variety of different formats. Whether you're starting from scratch, have done a course before but need a short intensive booster before taking or retaking the exam, or are mainly self-preparing but need a bit of help, click here to see what we have to offer you.

Both task 2 and Task 3 in Paper Two ask you to analyse the methodological principles behind the same set of materials. Task 2 is divided into two parts, so over the two tasks their are three distinct sections, and it's important that you know what is required in each in order to be awarded the available marks.

Task 2 specifies a number of activities from the materials. All the points you make in Task 2 must be relevant to those activities and those activities only. Don't make reference to any others as the points won't be awarded marks and you'll just be wasting time.

Task 2 Section (a) asks you to identify the purpose of the activities specified, in relation to the stated overall aim of the materials. As an example, let's assume the stated purpose is  To teach the present perfect expressing past events with present results to pre-intermediate learners.  So as you look at the individual activities, your aim is to identify how each activity helps learners achieve that aim - and nothing else. Try the following practice activity - which of the following purposes are relevant to our stated overall aim, and which are not? (Scroll down to the end for the answers to all the practice activities in this article).

Practice Activity One

a) To provide a context for the introduction of the target structure/function
b) To stimulate interest in the topic of the listening
c) To allow learners to formulate and check hypotheses regarding the form, meaning and use of the target language.
d) To give learners the opportunity to manipulate the target language, with the primary focus on form and accuracy.
e) To provide practice in listening for gist.

Here, the form and function were stated in the overall purpose, so I've been able to refer to them briefly as "target language". However, if the formulation of the overall aim is vaguer - eg to focus on lexis or to develop listening skills, make sure that you identify the specific area of lexis /subskills that are involved. Try this in the next practice activity.

Practice Activity 2

a) In previous activities the learners have listened to a text and done some gist and detailed comprehension work. The activity you are analysing is a language focus activity in which the learners are asked to listen to the recording again and to complete a gapped transcript. All the gaps focus on expressions like  have a meeting, do the accounts, or  make a profit. The stated overall aim of the materials is To teach various lexical items. What's the specific purpose of this activity?

b) The stated aim of the materials is to develop listening skills. Learners have previously listened to a recording and done a gist comprehension task. They are now doing a detailed comprehension activity which includes the question : 
3. How did they travel ? a) by train  b) by bike  c) by car  
The recording includes the following : Anyway, we thought it would be nice to go away for the weekend, so we booked into a little hotel we know at the sea, and left immediately after work on the Friday evening. But half way down the motorway we had a flat tyre...
What is the purpose of this question in the activity?

c) Later, they are asked to listen again complete a transcript where expressions such as the following have been blanked out : it can't have been him /ɪk kɑ:nə bɪn ɪm/; we hoped to see him /wɪ həʊp tə si:j ɪm/

Notice how all the purposes start To + infinitive. There are other possibilities of course, but I suggest you use this formula. If you can't express it in this way, then it's probably not a purpose and you're off track.

There are two marks available for each purpose you state. Try and find at least six in order to aim for maximum marks. This means of course that you may be looking for more than one purpose for each activity, depending on how many  you are asked to discuss.

Task Two section (b) asks you to identify six assumptions about effective learning that the materials writer probably had in mind when creating the activities, and the reasons for them - in other words, you're looking at the didactic rationale behind the the activities. Again you should focus on only the activities specified for focus in Task Two.

The assumptions can generally be phrased something like XXXX should happen because... Learners need to XXXX because... The teacher should XXXX because... It's important to XXX because.... XXX is beneficial to learning because.... There is one mark for each valid asumption you state and two marks for the reasons - make sure that you include two reasons for each assumption in order to gain maximum marks. You also need to state which of the specified activities the assumption relates to. Keep in mind that very often it will be valid for more than one - although you need to ensure that at least one of assumptions you state relates to each of the specified activities, don't make the mistake of matching every assumption to just one activity and forgetting to see whether it is also valid for others. 

A completed point in this section might therefore be something like : 

Vocabulary should be taught in lexical sets (Vocab Exs 1, 2 and 4) because :
a) research shows that we store lexis in groups in the brain. If this is how it is taught, it will make it easier to retrieve and retain. 
b) this allows the unit to be based around specific topics, which makes it easier to include the same words several times within the lesson and unit. This “massed” repetition aids memory.     

Practice Activity Three

Look at the following assumptions. Can you find two reasons to support each of them?

i)  PW/GW are useful to improve students’ spoken fluency  (Exs 3b and 4b)  because ...

ii)   Learners will benefit more from working out rules for themselves in a guided discovery activity than from simply being "told" by the teacher, because ...

Notice that whether you agree with the assumption or not is irrelevant. You are not asked to evaluate the principle or give your own opinion but to show that you understand what was in the material writer's mind.

Paper Two Task Three asks you to look at some of the other activities in the materials and show how they combine with the activities you have already discussed in task two. There are ten marks for this task, one per point made. So aim to make ten points for maximum marks. you have ten minutes to complete this task, so again you're aiming for a mark a minute. Keep your points brief, but make it clear which of the task three activities you are discussing and which of the task two activities they combine with.

There are various ways in which the activities might combine. Imagine that the activities specified for Task Three were labelled Discussion, Language Focus 2, Reading and Writing, while the Task Two activities were Listening 1, Listening 2, Language Focus 1, Roleplay. Notice how, in the following examples, each point clearly links the task 3 activity or activities being discussed with one or more of the task two activities. The activities might combine in the following ways:

a) an activity may prepare for a later activity or activities.
b) an activity may extend the work being done on the target language or skills.
c) an activity may consolidate previous work
d) an activity may balance or complement other activities - eg by providing a change of focus in terms of skill or language system, a change of pace, by appealing to a different learning style etc etc

- introduces and stimulates interest in the topic of the listening, thus increasing the likelihood that learners will listen more attentively during Listening 1 and 2
- creates the gist listening task which will be the focus of Listening 1 
- activates schemata on the topic of the listening which will facilitate comprehension in both Listening 1 and 2

Language Focus 2
- allows learners to check the understanding of the TL which they acquired in LF1.
- allows them to focus on producing the TL accurately and exclusively under controlled conditions before being asked to produce it spontaneously and to incorporate it with other language that they know in the Roleplay.
- focuses learners on pronunciation features of the TL

- consolidates the TL introduced in LF1 by allowing the learners to see further examples in a slightly different context of use.

- allows learners to apply the TL introduced in LF1 to their personal experience
- provides further free practice of the TL after that in the Roleplay
- changes the focus of the lesson back to accuracy after the fluency focus of the Roleplay

Reading and Writing
- contribute to the variety of skills in the lesson, balancing the listening and speaking focus of the previous activities

All activities 
- combine with all the activities specified in Task Two to provide alternation between productive and receptive work and therefore variety of pace and focus. 

Notice there are twelve points here. you only need to make ten to gain full marks.

Answers to Practice Activities

1. a, c and d are relevant to the question. b and e may be vailid for the activity, but do not show how the activities halps achieve the stated aim, and are therefore irrelvant to the question. If you can't refer specifically to the stated overall aim in your purpose (as a,c and d do), it's likely to be irrelevant and gain you no marks

2. a) To ensure that learners "notice" collocations with delexicalised verbs + noun phrase.
2. b) To give learners practice in the subskill of inferring non-explicitly stated meaning (top-down processing)
2. c) To give learners practice in bottom-up decoding of phrases  containing elements of connected speech such as elision, assimilation, vowel weakening, intrusive consonants etc

3. i) PW/GW are useful to improve students’ spoken fluency (Exs 3b and 4b) because 
a) they may feel more secure speaking in PW/small groups rather than in front of the
whole class or to the T. This lack of stress is conducive to fluency; b) if only T-S interaction is used, the power difference means that the discourse will be 
likely to remain structured as T initiates / S responds / T evaluates, meaning that Ss will 
never have practice in eg initiating or negotiating topic. 

ii) Learners will benefit more from working out rules for themselves in a guided
discovery activity than from simply being "told" by the teacher, (Grammar Ex 1) 
because a) cognitive processing will be at a deeper level, which will facilitate 
retention; b) this will develop the Ss’ ability to analyse language autonomously, and
therefore to cope better when they meet new language outside the classroom. 

Missed some of the other articles in this series? You'll find links to all of them here -
just scroll down the page. But if you're preparing for the Delta Module One, don't 
forget that you'll find a lot more information about all the tasks in the exam, with 
sample questions and answers, plus advice for tackling the questions in the 
Handbook for Tutors and Candidates and the annual exam reports published by 
Cambridge ESOL. Click on the link to download them.

Doing Delta Module One? Some Exam Tips - Part Five

In Part Five of our series on the Cambridge ESOL Delta Module One exam, we move on to Paper Two of the written exam, and look at the requirements of Task One - the "testing" question. There's quite a lot of terminology involved in this area - in general this article takes it for granted that you've covered this on your course and know what is meant.

This article is written by Sue Swift, who has been involved with Cambridge ESOL Diploma schemes  for over 35 years, both as a tutor and assessor. She currently runs  courses for all three modules of the Delta. Whether you're starting from scratch, have done a course before but need a short intensive booster before taking or retaking the exam, or are mainly self-preparing but need a bit of help, click here to see what we have to offer you. 

Paper Two, Task One asks you to demonstrate your knowledge of the features that might make a test suitable or unsuitable for a specific learner. You're given a description of the learner, then the test and have 20 minutes to identify three positive points about the test and three negative points. Each point gains you one mark, plus an additional mark for stating the effect it might have on the learner. An extra two marks are available for consistently accurate use of testing terminology throughout the answer. These 14 marks are then weighted up to twenty - so once more, you have the chance to gain a mark a minute here.

Common mistakes? Getting obsessed by the terminology and letting this rule the answer. Don't. Look at the consequences that the test might have for the learner and start from there. You're looking at issues such as : would the learner actually be able to do the test?Why or why not? How would knowledge of an upcoming test or the results of a previous test shape the learner's study of the language? How might it motivate or demotivate her? What consequences would it have for her life outside the classroom (ability to do a job, promotion to a higher level course etc).

So what do you have to take into consideration ? Here are a few things you might think about as you look at the test :

Administration, Level, Instructions, Test Type, Length, Evidence, Fresh starts, Activity Type, Content, Age, Timing, Item Type, Needs,  Marking,  Adaptability,  Language, Format, Imagination vs. Communication.

That's not intended to be an exhaustive list, but it does cover many of the main areas you need to consider. Why that order? You may like to reorganise it into categories, but as it is, you'll see that the first letters, which I've highlighted,  spell A little fat cat in Malfi - which may help you to remember the categories. Use it, or organise the list more logically, as you find easiest.

So what might you need to say about each of these? Let's take the following example of a learner and the test she is given :

L. is at the start of a two-week intensive  course at a language school in Britain. Her reason for taking the course is that her daughter has recently married an Englishman and is now expecting her first child. L wants to be able to speak to her son-in-law and grandchild, and to cope practically and socially on visits to England. On the form she completed when  enrolling for the course, she self-assessed her level as pre-intermediate.She is given the following test as the speaking skills part of the placement test which is administered on the first day. Each student is interviewed separately by a teacher, who gives a mark based on their overall impression of the learner's speaking ability

In the exam you will then see the test she is given. However, for our purposes just imagine that it's a picture story, showing a man who oversleeps, gets ready for work in a tremendous hurry, drives to the station, and  buys a newspaper while he's waiting for the train. When he gets the newspaper he realises that it's Sunday, and that he doesn't need to go to work at all. So he goes back home and goes back to bed.

What might you say about the categories in the list above in relation to this test? You might like to think about it before you read on. Try and find three positive points and three negative points as you would need to in the exam.

Administration : This category concerns the effect the way the test is administered may have on the learner.  Here, the fact that the test is given one-to-one means that if there were a large number of students starting courses on the same day, it could mean a certain amount of waiting around for the learner and could create dissatisfaction with the course even before she started it. It also means that, if she comes from a culture where teachers are held in high esteem, the  power-distance which she assumes to exist between herself and the teacher means that she waits for the teacher to take the lead in the conversation, answering questions or talking about what she is told to, but without making any attempt to control the discourse. (This format might be an important problem with young learners too, who could "freeze" if asked to talk to a strange adult in what is clearly a test situation.) All of this could affect the reliability of the result - the picture that emerged of the learner's ability might not be a reflection of her true competence in peer-to-peer interaction. And this could result in her being placed in a lower level class than the one which is actually most suitable for her.

Level : Any test needs to be "doable" at the learner's level. If it's too difficult, it may result in learner demotivation, whereas if it is too easy it may not give the teacher,  the learner, or other stakeholders the evidence that they need to make decisions regarding further study (should she progress to the next level? what needs to be revised?) or use of English outside the classroom (should she be promoted, or given a place on a university course?). With some tests, the general level is known - a progress test, for example, will be based on what the learner has been studying, and the level of difficulty will be determined by such factors as  how many "tricky" items are included - but a placement test like this one needs to be "doable" by learners at a variety of levels - by definition, the exact level of the learners taking the test is unknown. This test would seem to be adaptable to a variety of levels - more competent learners would be able to narrate the story using a variety of past verb forms, sequencing devices and so on, less competent students would be able to describe it picture by picture using the present continuous, and low level learners would be able to answer simple questions put by the teacher : Where is the man? What's the time? etc. Thus whether L. was right when she self-assessed her level,  or had over- or underestimated, she would find the test "doable", thus giving reliable evidence of her actual level of communicative competence which would lead to her being placed in the correct class.

Instructions :   How clear are the instructions for the activity? Is there an example? If the learner is not completely clear about what she has to do in the test, then she may do it incorrectly for reasons unrelated to her linguistic competence, the result again becoming unreliable. Here the teacher is on hand to explain, so the problem shouldn't arise, and because of the need for flexibility mentioned above, the instructions may not need to be too watertight. This is particularly important if the activity (or task) type is one which is liable to be unfamiliar to the learner - an example might be a sentence transformation activity of the type where the learner has to complete a second sentence so that it means the same as a given first sentence, eg : It's too expensive / It costs........If the learner has never done this type of activity before, at least one completed example would be necessary to ensure s/he fully understood what was required.

Test Type and Adaptability: Is it a placement test, a diagnostic test, a progress test, an achievement test or a proficiency test? Each of these will have different objectives, and will therefore need a different format, contents etc if they are to achieve those objectives. We have seen one example already - the placement test which needs to be "doable" at a range of different levels. An example of a test with a different purpose, and therdeefore needing different qualities, would be a progress test (eg an end of unit test). This has a formative purpose - it aims to evaluate how well the learner has assimilated the language items, subskills etc which she has been taught in order to allow both the teacher and learner herself to see what needs to be revised, to allow the teacher to see whether she is teaching at the correct pace for the learners, etc etc. A progress test will therefore not need to be "doable" at different levels - on the contrary it will need to be "doable" only by those learners who have studied that particular section of the course, and will provide reliable results only if it recycles the lexis, structural/functional areas, subskills etc which have just been taught. A progress test which brought in items which the learners had not studied would be lacking in content validity. This might happen if eg the test focused on a stucture that had been taught, but in a context different from those they had encountered on the course. The lexical items needed might then block the learners from performing well, even though they had actually assimilated the structure.

Length :  Test length is always problematic. Too short and  there will be inadequate coverage of language items and skills, leading to unreliable results. Too long and there will be problems of practicality.  Doubling the test time also means doubling the administration and marking time, with resultant consequences for staffing costs. And when you're testing, you can't be teaching  -  in our placement test example, the more time testing takes away from the course, the less time there is to cover the learner's needs.

Evidence : Every test is intended to provide evidence of some sort for the stakeholders. We've seen that a progress test has to provide reliable evidence in order to ensure the learner is correctly placed, while a progress test has a formative aim and should answer the question What do we need to do next? Sometimes the evidence is necessary not for the teacher, the learner or the institution, but for an external stakeholder such as an employer or university. If the evidence produced by the test is reliable, the correct decisions may be made. If not, they can't - probably to the detriment of the learner. For example, if a progress test focusing on a specific structure contains only multiple choice items, that may tell the teacher that the learner recognises the correct form and use of the structure, but gives no evidence of whether the learner would actually use the structure spontaneously and accurately when speaking or writing. The teacher who took the test result as evidence that no further work was necessary on the structure might therefore later find the student was still avoiding it. Or, again, an employer who wanted to know if the learner could deal simple enquiries on the phone, might make the wrong decision about appointing her if the test she was given consisted of situations dealing with responding to complaints - a far more challenging task.

Fresh starts :   Fresh starts are another feature that can make test results more reliable, and the Delta itself is a good example. A long time ago, when Delta was still DTEFLA, the written exam consisted of  three one-hour essay questions. This meant that after a course focusing on a wide range of topics (ask yourself how many different topics you've covered on your Module One course - ours must have between eighty and a hundred), your final grade was determined by your ability to write about just three of them. If none of the topics which came up happened to be your "speciality" or if you had a general knowledge of everything but in-depth knowledge of nothing, you might do less well than someone who in fact knew relatively little, but just happened to know a lot about the three topics she had to or chose to answer questions on. With the new format, this can't happen. With nine questions, many of which have a number of different sections, and all of which are marked by individual point made, there are now numerous "fresh starts". If you don't know the first term defined in Paper 1.1, you may still know the second; if you can't analyse the phonology of the phrases specified in Paper 1.4, you may still be able to analyse the form and meaning, and so on. So fresh starts lead to a much more reliable result - there is no chance of the result being swayed by a specific strength or weakness. Applying this to our placement test, this test has no "fresh starts". Presuming that the learner starts narrating the story using past verb forms, her final mark is liable to be dominated by her accuracy and fluency in using those. If this is high, it may hide the fact that when talking about the future she relies exclusively on will + infinitive. Or if it is low, may not reveal that in general social conversation using the present simple, she is both accurate and fluent.

Activity Type : Is the activity a direct test of speaking, writing, listening or reading, or an indirect test?  Direct tests are generally preferred, but both can have disadvantages. For example, imagine that we wanted to know if a learner could make polite requests. We could test this indirectly with a gap fill activity : Would you mind .... (open) the window?
This tells me if the learner knows that the -ing form must be used after mind (form), but tells me nothing about whether she really understands the use, or what form she would use spontaneously. If on the other hand, i ask the learner to roleplay a situation where she needs to make polite requests (a direct test) and she continuously uses can + infinitive, I have no clear evidence of whether she knows the form/use of would you mind.... The indirect test forces the learner into using the language I want to check, but tells me nothing about his/her own use of the item. The direct test tells me what items s/he spontaneously uses, but not which ones she also knows. In a progress test therefore, after I'd been focusing on polite requests in class, I might want to use both indirect and direct tests - the first would tell me if the learner could control the target forms when "pushed" into it; the second whether they were now used spontaneously or still avoided.

Activity Type : Also under activity type, you might consider whether the activity type is really "fit for purpose" - does it test what it is supposed to be testing? For example, consider the implications of including a dictation as part of a listening test. A dictation is general a written text and a monologue, which is read fairly slowly, with phrases repeated so that students can write down every word.  However,  this is not what listening is all about. When people listen, they don't usually have the chance to hear what is said more than once. They don't retain the exact words that are said, but rather the overall meaning. In many ways then, what students do when taking down a dictation is not the same as what they do in the real listening situation. The test can therefore be said to lack construct validity - what they need to do in the test is not the same as out threory of what they need to do in the real situation..

Content : There are a multitude of things you could talk about here. If the test is a progress or achievement test, does the test content reflect what has been taught; if the test is intended to have predictive validity (ie to indicate whether the learner would be capable of performing adequately in a communicative situation outside the classroom), does the content mirror the learner's communicative needs. One of the examples given above illustrates this - if we want to find out whether the learner could deal with simple enquiries regarding her companies services, a test focusing on her ability to deal with complaints will not provide reliable evidence. 

Age : is the test suitable for the learner's age group? A 12 year old might find a reading comprehension intended for adults too cognitively challenging, but a text intended for young children too "babyish".

Timing : How long does the learner have to complete the test? Is this sufficient? If s/he feels rushed, and doesn't have time to finish, s/e may feel the test was unfair and that it tested her ability to work under pressure rather than her actual knowledge of the language. the test would therefore lack face validity for the learner.

Needs :  What are the learner's communicative needs and how are these reflected by the test? We've already seen that a test may need to reflect needs in order to provide reliable evidence, but a test which does so is also liable to have greater face validity for the learner (she will feel that the test truly reflects her ability to use the language outside the classroom).  In the case of an achievement or proficiency test at the end of the course, a a test related to learner needs will also have positive backwash - knowledge of what is coming up in a later test often shapes the teacher's choice of the content and activity types in the course. If the test did not reflect the learner's needs, the teacher might therefore be tempted to spend course time working on areas which were actually irrelevant to her.

Language : closely related to the concept of needs is the type of language that the learner will need to use in the test. The fact that the activity type or topic reflects her needs, doesn't necessarily mean that the language it involves will be the same. Take our example learner : she's asked to tell a story based on picture - which is one of the things she might want to do with her grandchild. But the style of language she will need to talk to a child and talk about pictures in a story book (caretaker talk or motherese) is not the same as the language she will probably produce in response to this decontextualised task. Without a context (why is she telling this story? who to? in what setting?) there is  much less evidence of her ability to communicate in a given situation.

Item type and Marking:   How will the test be marked? If it consists of discrete point items, then there will be "right answers" and marking should be objective. This will probably mean though, that the task types are indirect tests. if we want to use direct testing, then marking will often have to be subjective. 
In our example situation the test was marked on the basis of the teacher's "overall impression" of the learner's ability, rather than on the basis of agreed criteria ( eg so many marks for grammatical accuracy; so many for fluency and the use of coping strategies; so many for intelligibility of pronunciation; etc). This creates the risk that one teacher might mark "harder" than another, or over-emphasise one particular category - eg marking down a learner who was grammatically inaccurate without taking the other categories into consideration. The test result might not therefore be reliable, resulting possibly in our learner being placed in an inappropriate class.

Familiarity:  How familiar the learners are with a task type will often affect how well they do it - the example of the sentence transformation task mentioned above is a case in point. Learners who have done this type of task frequently will know the "tricks" (eg if the first sentence is not + adj + enough the transformation will be too + adj), and therefore stand to do better than students meeting the task type for the first time. This can affect the reliability of the result and, again in the case of an achievement or proficency test, may create negative backwash - the teacher spends course time teaching the "tricks" of the task type rather than improving students' general language competence. 

Imagination vs. Communication : A task where the learners have to invent content may test their imagination rather than their ability to use the language. Imagine a writing task where the learner was asked to write an email to a customer explaining the reasons for  a delivery delay. Learners who had experience of customer service and could write from experience would clearly find the task easier than others who had to work purely from imagination. if they couldn't think of what to say, they would do badly on the test because of lack of ideas and not necessarily because of lack of communicative ability. One of the plus points about the test in our example situation is that the learner doesn't have to invent anything. The content of the story is given by the pictures, and the task just tests her ability to communicate the given meanings. From this point of view, therefore,  it should give a reliable result and lead to her being placed in an appropriate class.

So - what would be my three plus points for this test ? 

1. The fact that it is "doable" at a variety of levels of competence means that it is "fit for purpose" as a placement test. The learner will be able to talk about the story in some way or other regardless of her proficiency, but what she is and isn't able to say should give reliable evidence of her level, meaning that she is placed in an appropriate class. Being able to perform to the best of her ability in the test will also make her feel that it was fair, and she will not be demotivated by feelings of failure. 

2. The pictures illustrate the story and the learner is asked to talk about what she sees. The task therefore tests her ability to communicate given ideas in English - not how creative she is or how quickly she can invent something.  This will increase the reliability of the result, again meaning she is more likely to find herself in an appropriate class. It will also leave her feeling satisfied that she has said all she could without being blocked by non-linguistic factors.

3. This is a direct test and will therefore give clear evidence of a variety of elements involved in the speaking construct : range and accuracy of grammar and lexis; intelligibility of pronunciation; ability to express meaning through stress and intonation; fluency and the ability to use coping strategies such as circumlocution etc. The teacher should therefore be able to assess her ability in each of these areas, and her overall competence, accurately.

And the negative points?

1. The lack of specific criteria for marking means that the results may not be reliable - they may be influenced by the teacher's particular "hobbyhorse" categories, or even by the mood she is in on the day of the test. This may lead to the learner being placed in an inappropriate class, or to her not understanding the result and feeling it was unfair.

2. The fact that the test consists of one task only, and that there are no "fresh starts" means that it will not give a clear picture of her general competence but only of her strength or weakness in a specific area - the ability to narrate past events. There is no evidence of other areas - talking about future events, making requests or offers, agreeing and disagreeing etc etc. This means the test will not give a full picture of her ability and  might again result in her being placed in an inappropriate class.

3. The format of the test also means that it will test only her ability to monologue, rather than her ability to interact. No evidence will therefore be gained of her ability to negotiate topic, deal with communication problems, respond spontaneously to what other people say, etc. Again, the test will therefore not give a full picture of her competence and L. may feel that it is unrelated to her need for social interaction.

Missed some of the other articles in this series? You'll find links to all of them here - just scroll down the page. But if you're preparing for the Delta Module One, don't forget that you'll find a lot more information about all the tasks in the exam, with sample questions and answers, plus advice for tackling the questions in the Handbook for Tutors and Candidates and the annual exam reports published by Cambridge ESOL. Click on the link to download them.

Doing Delta Module One? Some Exam Tips - Part Four

In Part Four of our series on the Cambridge ESOL Delta Module One exam, we look at the requirements of Task Five on Paper One of the written exam. If you've missed the other articles in this series, you'll find links at the end, plus a link to a quiz where you can find out if you've really understood what you should be doing in Paper One. 

This article is written by Sue Swift, who has been involved with Cambridge ESOL Diploma schemes  for over 35 years, both as a tutor and assessor. She currently runs  courses for all three modules of the Delta. Whether you're starting from scratch, have done a course before but need a short intensive booster before taking or retaking the exam, or are mainly self-preparing but need a bit of help, click here to see what we have to offer you. 

Paper One, Task Five asks you to analyse the written or spoken production  of a learner, and to identify three key strengths and three key weaknesses in his/her performance. You are then ask to choose one of the weaknesses and to explain why you would choose to prioritise it in your teaching. There are 27 marks for this and a recommended time of 25 minutes.

This question can, I think, tell you an awful lot about yourself as a teacher. Some people have no difficulty seeing the strengths, but struggle to see the weaknesses. Others (and I'm afraid I'm one of them) home in on the weaknesses immediately, but have to look really hard to identify the strengths. It's the teaching equivalent of seeing the glass half full or half empty, and can serve as a good reminder that when teaching we need  to pay attention to both sides : to emphasise the positive but also to be aware of our students' problems in order to be able to provide the support and help they need - or vice versa if you're like me.

Anyway, back to the exam. The analysis of the strengths and weaknesses is not a completely free choice. Four or five categories categories will be specified, such as :

Task achievement 
Organisation and cohesion
Style and genre
Range and accuracy of lexis
Accuracy of grammar
Complexity of grammar
Spelling and punctuation (if it's a written passage)
Pronunciation - sounds, stress, connected speech, (if it's a spoken text)

If it's a spoken text, certain words will be written in phonemic script, so that you can analyse the pronunciation.

It is essential that all the strengths and weaknesses you identify "fit" one of the categories which are specified. It's not enough, however, to identify a general category as a strength or weakness - you also need to identify  specific features within that category. For example:

Weakness : Pronunciation - sounds
/θ/ is consistently pronounced as /s/ - eg : /sʌndə/

Weakness : Spelling
Consistent mispelling of words containing in vowel + y before  a suffix : eg He plaies tennis.

Strength : Range and accuracy of lexis
Good range of phrasal and prepositional verbs including "non-transparent" items : eg, He takes after his father.

Strength : Organisation
The text is divided into paragraphs, each with a clear topic, and the topic of each paragraph leads naturally into the next. Eg Para 1 = her immediate family - describes her mother and father. Para 2 = her extended family - follows the description of her father by moving on to describe his brothers and sisters

Notice the use of the word "consistent" in the some of the answers. You are asked to identify key strengths and weaknesses - ie the ones that have a significant impact on the text or the learner's ability to use English. If there is only one example of a feature, it can't be said to be "key" - it might be just a slip. Look for recurrent features.

Because your focus is on the specific items, you may find more than one item for each category, and there may be both strengths and weaknesses in the same category. Above we've identified the pronunciation of a specific sound as a pronunciation weakness, but might also include ...

Strength : Pronunciation - connected speech : consistent use of weak form pronunciation, using the schwa - eg, we went for /fə/ lunch

There are three marks for each strength and weakness identified : one for the specification and one for providing an example from the text. The twelve marks are then weighted up to seventeen. Additionally, you can get 4 extra marks by including a comment on two of the strengths or weaknesses to show how that feature impacts on the effectiveness of the communication. For example : 

Strength : Range and accuracy of lexis
Good range of adjectives describing the personality of her relatives : She is the most extrovert person in our family. This makes the text  more interesting for the reader, providing a mental picture of the people being described and making them seem more real

Strength : Communicative success
Use of circumlocution when she does not know a lexical item : I wanted to buy - erm,  those things you wear on your eyes when you go swimming... erm, glasses for swimming.
This eases the difficulty of the communication for the listener - there are no embarassing silences and meaning is always clear. The strategy encourages the listener to provide the word, thus promoting collaborative interaction. It also makes the speaker seem a confident and effective communicator.

In the second part of the task, you are asked to give three reasons why one of the weaknesses which you identified would be a priority for attention on the course. There are six marks available here, two per reason. One marks is given for identifying the reason, and the second for explaining it in more detail. In answering this section, there are various things you can take into consideration :
  • the learner’s level : for example, is the weakness something that a learner of the level specified would normally be expected to know? If so, the area may not be explicitly included in the textbook being used, and if the teacher does not build it into the course, the learner will never have the chance to focus on it. This may lead to repetition of the incorrect form (or whatever) until it becomes fossilised.  Or is the learner at a low level and  the weakness a failure to use circumlocution strategies, resulting in frequent hesitation and blocking.  In this case, developing this coping strategy would have high surrender value - it will be a while  before they truly have all the lexis they need at their disposal (if ever) and the ability to circulocute will improve the effectiveness of their spoken communication in general.
  • the learner’s future needs :  is this item something the learner might need in the future, outside the classroom. Is there an exam that might require it? Will it be necessary for a job or study purposes? For example, if the use of adjectives (or rather the lack of them) had been a weakness in the learner's writing, focus on them could be useful to prepare for an exam such as FCE in which they might have to write a short story. If the learner was a salesman who had difficulty pronouncing numbers, work on this area would improve his presentations and negotiations.
  • transfer to other skills or genres :  the weakness may be one would result in improvement in other skills. For example, if the problem lay in the use of irregular past simple verbs, improving the area would improve the learner's ability in all four skills, and facilitate their performance in a wide variety of genres - from phatic  conversation to anecdote telling to (hopefully never necessary) interrogation by the police. 
  • reasons specific to the learner’s context : eg is the learner in a monolingual course? If so, and  if the weakness is a problem of L1 interference, then focusing on it is likely to benefit the whole class. Is the learner studying in Britain and living with a host family? In this case, if the problem is over-reliance on Latinate vocabulary, then a focus on lexical items such as phrasal verbs will help them understand the English they hear around them every day. 
  • reasons specific to the communicative purpose/success of the text : was the text transactional, and did they fail to clarify, and confirm information by repeating and summarising it? Presuming they will need to participate in the same type of discourse in future, work on this area will assure greater success the next time.
  • the effect on the reader/listening : are they using imperatives where request forms are needed? This may mean they sound aggressive and rude, and result in offending their interlocutors.Work on requesting would resolve the problem
  • the problem is easy to rectify : is the problem over-reliance on one exponent of a functional area, making the learner seem repetive and boring (eg if they use "why don't you" in continuation in a  task involving making suggestions)? Teaching and practising a few other exponents could be done relatively quickly in comparison to the pay-off that it would have. It would also be motivating, as the learner would see a large improvement in his/her ability to communicate in relation to the time and effort involved.

And that brings us to the end of Paper One. In the next article we'll be moving on to paper two task 1 - the "testing question".

And in the meantime, if you'd like to check that you've really understood the requirements of this paper, try this quiz : So you think you know about Paper One? You'll need to register on the site, but it's free and there are no strings attached.

Missed some of the other articles in this series? You'll find links to all of them here - just scroll down the page. But if you're preparing for the Delta Module One, don't forget that you'll find a lot more information about all the tasks in the exam, with sample questions and answers, plus advice for tackling the questions in the Handbook for Tutors and Candidates and the annual exam reports published by Cambridge ESOL. Click on the link to download them.

Doing Delta Module One? Some Exam Tips - Part Three

In Part Three of our series on the Cambridge ESOL Delta Module One exam, we look at the requirements of Task Four on Paper One of the written exam. See the Cambridge ESOL website to download the Handbook for Tutors and Candidates which provides a sample question and analyses of weak and strong answers for this task and all the others.

Task Four of Paper One  tests your awareness of the language systems - discourse, grammar, lexis and phonology.  You have thirty minutes for this task and it carries forty marks - so it's a major component of the paper. As always, don't waste time trying to form your answer into complete sentences or connected paragraphs. Bullet points and semi note form are all that's required. There's a mark for each valid point you make - so use the time to put down as much information as possible about each feature of the language you asnalyse. 

The first part of the task asks you to look at the text as representative of a particular genre, and identify five features which are specific to that genre. So first of all, what do we mean by genre?

Imagine you were walking down the road and suddenly a sheet of paper blows towards you and wraps itself around your legs. If you pick it up, even a very cursory glance will tell you if it's an extract from a novel, a newspaper sports report, a poem, a legal contract, a recipe, a shopping list, a charity appeal - or whatever. Even without reading it, you'll recognise the genre from the visual impact. How is laid out on the page - does it use connected paragraphs, numbered paragraphs, bullet points, or what? Are photos are included or not? Are there larger font headlines or is bold or italic print used? And so on. Start to read it and immediately you'll notice differences in the language - shopping lists will consist of  a sequence of noun phrases, recipes will contain imperative verbs, poems will use devices such as rhyme, assonance and alliteration. It's this sort of feature that you are asked to identify, giving an example from the text of each.

What type of genre might be included? The list is endless, but some that have come up on recent exam papers include advertisements, home pages from websites, information leaflets, and human interest articles from newspapers.  However, if your exam preparation has included analysis of a wide range of genres, you'll start to see that certain features are shared by various different genres because they all use a specific text type or have a similar purpose. For example,  biographies, novels and news articles will all involve narrative, and therefore past verbs will be predominant;  advertisements, hotel and restaurant websites, and websites inviting membership  all have a promotional purpose and may well use personal pronouns repeatedly to try and make the reader feel personally involved. Once you've looked at various genres therefore, and have seen how they fall into categories related to text type and purpose, you should know what type of feature to look for even if the exam includes a genre which you haven't specifically considered in the past.

This part of the task carries only five marks, so don't sweat over it excessively. If you've found four features but the fifth doesn't immediately occur to you, leave a bit of white space and move on. You'll probably pick up more marks by spending the time on the rest of the paper - and if you do have time left over, you can always go back look at it again later.

The rest of the paper asks you to analyse specific words or phrases, as they are used in the text. You'll probably have three sections, each with three or four items, and will be asked to analyse them from the point of viw of form, meaning, use, pronunciation and problems they may cause for learners. Be careful, the rubric of each section will tell you which of these four categories you should focus on. Be sure to analyse the items in terms of the category or categories specified and nothing else - other points you make won't get any marks and will just waste time.

So what do we mean by form, meaning, use, pronunciation and problems for students? What points should you include under each? Let's take the following sentence :  I don't think I've ever seen David take anything seriously - and as usual, when we arrived, he was horsing around. How would you analyse the words was horsing around in terms of each of the four categories? You might like to try it before you read on  you'll find my analysis later.

Let's look first of all at form. Here you need to analyse the grammatical form of the items. Here's usually a lot to say and you shouldn't  be afraid to state the obvious. If you're analysing eg the word pencils, tell the examiners that you know it's a plural countable noun; if the item is  writes that it's a third person singular present simple lexical verb. Any piece of information left out, however obvious it may seem, could lose you a mark. You might also deal with any spelling changes caused by affixes - eg in prettier the "y" of pretty changes to "i" before the comparative suffix -er because it is preceded by a consonant.

Meaning is the lexical meaning of the word - the definition that you might find in a dictionary. So eg if you were analysing the expression put up with, the meaning would be tolerate (something), accept (it) even though it bothers or irritates you.

There are three ways you can deal with use :
1. Syntactic use : how is the word or phrase used in the sentence? If it's a noun, is it the subject of the clause? Or the object of the verb? If it's an adjective does it premodify a noun or is it the complement of a verb? And so on.
2. Stylistic use : Does the choice of the word or phrase add to the formality or informality of the text? Does it create humour? Is it typical of journalistic style, academic style etc etc
3. Use in the discourse : For example, in the following example ...
The Taj Mahal is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. It was built in 1632 by the Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan...
The use of the passive verb was built allows the discourse to follow the "given-new" order of information which is typical of English (The Taj Mahal is "given" in that it has been mentioned in the previous sentence; the date and constructor are "new" pieces of information. Choosing an active verb would mean ordering the sentence with new information placed first.)

When dealing with pronunciation, remember that you must use phonemic script to illustrate the points you make. No phonemic script means no mark - even if your description is valid. You will need to consider the citation form of the word/phrase and any potential changes that may occur in connected speech, with specific accents etc. So if you were transcribing the phrase new age you might write something like :
Citation form : new - /nju:/ (Br.Eng) /nu:/ (Am. Eng); age - /eɪʤ/
Connected speech : probable use of "intrusive consonant /w/ to link the two vowel sounds  - /nju: w eɪʤ/
When considering pronunciation, you'll need to consider such features as elision and gemination, epenthesis, assimilation, catenation and liaison, and yod coalescence. (For an explanation of some of these terms, see here.)

And finally, problems for learners. These could fall into any of the categories above. For example - if you were analysing the noun a series, learners might have problems with the form : as the word ends in -ies they might assume it is plural. Learners of specific L1 groups may have problems pronouncing individual sounds in the words - Japanese learners, for example, would have problems with the /r/ sound here. Other words might create problems with meaning, eg because they are false cognates - for instance, an Italian learner hearing the word college might assume it meant boarding school (It. collegio = boarding school). Use might also be problematic - as an example, if the word that you were analysing was derived from Latin and being used in a formal context, consider whether learners from Romance L1s might overuse it because it was similar to a word in their own language and therefore more memorable than eg the phrasal verb that might be more naturally used in an neutral/informal style.

Those then are the four categories you will have to analyse. So how would you deal with the phrase was horsing around? Here's my analysis :

Form : 
3rd person singular, past continuous (Be past tense + Ving) form of phrasal verb (verb + adverb) horse around
Spelling : mute "e" dropped before addition of -ing suffix.

a) Past continuous form : describes a temporary on-going event occurring at a reference point in the past (here, the moment of arrival) 
b) phrasal verb :  to act in a non-serious way; fool about. Informal style. Semi-synonymous with, and forms a cohesive tie with, "not take anything seriously".

Pronunciation : 
Citation form - /wɒz hɔ:sɪŋ əraʊnd/. In connected speech :
a) almost certain use of weak form of "was" /wəz/ 
b) possible elision of /h/ (eg London accent) and consequent catenation between syllable final /z/ and syllable intial /ɔ:/ 
c) Rhotic accents (eg Somerset, most American) : pronunciation of post vocalic /r/: /hɔ:rsɪŋ/
d) Potential consonant lenition /ŋ/ to /n/ (eg London accent)
e) CV catenation between final consonant of "horsing" and initial vowel of "around"

Problems for learners :
a) Pronunciation of /h/ for eg Italian speakers, who would tend to omit it.
b) Pronunciation of /w/ for German speakers, who might replace it with /v/
c) Listening comprehension : Problems bottom-up decoding the phrase because of the features of connected speech mentioned
d) Understanding meaning  due to the "non-transparent" quality of the phrasal verb.

Would you have time to write that much about every item specified? Of course not. Don't even try, or you'll be spending the whole 90 minutes on that question alone. Notice too that I've given four problems for learners here (you may have thought of others too), while it's usually specified that you should identify three. In any case,  on the spur of the moment you won't think of half the things that might come to mind if you were doing it other than in exam conditions.  But it shows you that there is far more that you could say than it is actually necessary to say, so leaving out a few things is not the end of the world.  However, if you have a check list in mind of the things you might say (eg the three categories i've mentioned under Use), points will come to mind more easily. You get one mark for every point you make, and you're aiming for forty. Five go on the genre analysis section, leaving 35 here to gain on analysing  (usually) about 10 items. This means that if you make  3-4 points about every item, you'll get full marks, while 2 points per item, added to full marks in the genre analysis section, would still guarantee a pass average. And bear in mind that if you look at one of the sections and can't answer it at all, you can still pick up the marks by saying more about the items in another section.

So how can you prepare yourself for this task?

1. By reading books on language and discourse, particularly those which provide tasks for you to work through. You'll find some recommended below.

2. Follow and participate in internet forums which discuss language. I use the one on eslhq, but there are many. Read the questions that are there and see if the answers agree with the explanation in the grammar you are using - you should be using one intended for teachers of English/students of linguistics, not for learners.

3. Spend ten minutes a day focusing on language analysis. Pull a book off your bookshelf at random. Open it at page 52. Find the tenth complete sentence on the page and choose the third word in the sentence. Analyse it in the ways you might have to in the exam, then check your answer with a good dictionary (for meaning, form, pronunciation) and  your grammar.

Some Recommended Reading...

Lewis, M. The English Verb 
Thornbury, S. About Language
Carter, R. and McCarthy, M Cambridge Grammar of English 

To see the other articles in this series...

Missed some of the other articles in this series? You'll find links to all of them here - just scroll down the page. But if you're preparing for the Delta Module One, don't forget that you'll find a lot more information about all the tasks in the exam, with sample questions and answers, plus advice for tackling the questions in the Handbook for Tutors and Candidates and the annual exam reports published by Cambridge ESOL. Click on the link to download them.