Implementing International Exams
Qualifications are a form of currency. And in a global environment for
business, education, the media and professions such as law and finance, certificates with
international value and recognition are a gold standard.
With more parents demanding what will best equip their children for
higher study and work in the long-term, schools in Chile are beginning to introduce
international English language exams as part of the curriculum. This isn’t just an
administrative change. Schools which use international exams are making a statement about
their outlook and ambition that requires an important shift in culture. So how are schools
doing it, and what are the main challenges involved?
A number of schools have made the leap to implement the world-renowned
University of Cambridge ESOL exams. All the exams are linked to the highest international
standards through alignment with the Council of Europe’s Common European Framework of
Reference for Languages (CEFR). The Framework was developed through a process of
scientific research and wide consultation, and provides the basis for the international
recognition of language qualifications.
As a result, Cambridge ESOL certificates are recognised as a crucial
entry requirement by thousands of universities and colleges worldwide. Major international
employers – such as Cable & Wireless, GlaxoSmithKline, KPMG, Nestle, Sony and
Siemens – regard Cambridge ESOL examinations as the standard for assessing the English
language skills of recruits. Schools in Chile are offering the range of Cambridge ESOL
exams from KET (Key English Test) at the A2 level of the CEFR, to the intermediate level
certificates PET (Preliminary English Test) at B1, and FCE (First Certificate in English)
at B2 level.
The instinctive response to the idea of implementing international
English language exams is that they would be disruptive. What happens if the exams
aren’t suitable for American English? There could be complaints from parents if costs
increase. Extra time might be needed from teachers to prepare for different exams – and
what happens if students end up getting lower scores than in the past?
“One of the main challenges is to find and allocate the right
resources to the specific task of preparation for an international exam,” said Carlos
Torres, Head of English at The Mayflower School. “By resources I mean the right teachers
with a high degree of competence in English. FCE is about accuracy and teachers need to
have at least an advanced level of English and be focused and experienced in the use of
up-to-date methodology to develop the skills students need to learn.”
However, Veronica Haselbauer of the Antofagasta British School,
believes the process of implementation has been more of a benefit for teachers. “It is
not difficult at all,” she said. “We have prepared our students for the exams for six
years already and in fact it has helped us in finding an order and a sequence for our
American English is accepted in just the same way as British English by
examiners, and exam development involves writers from English-speaking countries around
the world, including the US. No specific preparation or classroom activities are needed to
include a Cambridge exam, just the usual good standards of teaching and classroom
interaction provided by schools. Having said that, there are large amounts of support
materials and ready-made activities directly linked to the exams which are available to
teachers at the Teaching Resources web site (www.cambridgeesol.org/teach).
Making the change to an international exam involves good
communications. A face-to-face meeting with parents is an opportunity to explain the new
development in the context of the school’s own progress and internationalism, backed up
by a letter to outline the specific benefits for students and their future. Teachers need
to be advocates of the idea in order to avoid any sense of negativity being communicated
to the students. A process of consultation and briefings from the exam-provider before the
new exams are adopted can be a useful foundation for the change.
The new exams are also a chance to show what their academic programmes
are really achieving. I’ve seen that in many cases the programmes become more
challenging (i.e. they aim for a higher level) after 5 or 6 years of starting with the
exams. The exams make it easier to talk about achievements in terms of level.
Carlos Torres said: “It is a chance to improve and certify the level
of English of our students, as well as the introduction of newer methodologies into the
classroom. The certification provides a form of feedback on what we do and how we do it,
and can lead to a real sense of achievement within the Department.
“Our experience tells us that students benefit from international
certification in different ways. For example, when applying for a summer job in Chile or
abroad we have had cases in which the certificate turned out to be a significant element
to beat the competition. In some universities, certificates are acknowledged to be a sign
of academic discipline and consistent hard work, and so a better prepared student.”
Veronica Haselbauer adds: “It gives the school a plus, since it is
the only school in this northern region of Chile that offers its students international
certificates from a prestigious university. I would recommend to anyone to offer
international certificates. It is a benefit for the school, for the teachers and the
students. It’s worth the challenge.”
Nelson Lavanderos at the Colegio Cumbres also points to the benefits
for teachers themselves: “I have realized that preparing students for the FCE makes
teachers learn vocabulary and demands from them better classes. It also helps you, as a
teacher, speak good English since you are a model for your students. Finally, when you
know that your students have passed the exams you feel proud of them and of your job.
“If you prepare your curriculum having in mind the Cambridge Exams,
you will help your students reach an international standard level, you will develop the
four pedagogical skills among them and your teachers will be learning and practicing their
For more information or to arrange a face-to-face session on Cambridge
ESOL exams, you can contact: email@example.com.
By Julia Skugarova,
Cambridge ESOL Consultant