Speaking scores dropping despite extra practice!

I have talked to two students recently whose scores in a speaking exam have DROPPED despite working hard with a tutor. What could be happening? The only thing I can suggest to them is that they are focussing too hard on the test, and getting stuck in the intermediate-2 rut, instead of pushing on to the dizzy slopes of advanced-1 near-native speaker levels.

To both students I have recommended taking a break from exam preparation and joining advanced LingQ group conversations, where they will have to work harder to express their views and understand those of the other speakers. Neither student seems particularly happy with this advice. They want better exam scores dammit! How can NOT focussing on an exam help you pass the exam?

Any ideas please?

It is not just speaking scores. My activity score dropped a little, stopped, rose a bit, then dropped big time and not moving again over the last few weeks.

Sorry, I thought it were about the scores on LingQ’s progress snapshot.

@3kingdoms - If your Activity Score or progress in the Statistics Widget is dropping, it means you are not working as hard as you were before. The progress bars show your progress for the last 7 days by default and the Activity Score shows your activity for the last 30 days. If your activity falls, these indicators will fall.

@skyblueteapot - If it’s an English test, fundamentally they have to work on your English. This means listening, reading and LingQing, submitting writing and speaking on LingQ, of course. If they meet their LingQ targets, the test should be a breeze…

@ skyblueteapot The key may lie in their anxiety to do well. We all know how stress prevents us from listening, learning and speaking. If your students could trust themselves a little bit more and stop chasing the percentages, their progress might well pick up again and continue towards the heady heights of Advanced English.

I think that we should not spend too much time with tutors, especially if we think that the tutor is responsible for our learning and not ourselves.

It is far more important to spend time listening and reading and increasing our vocabulary. A small amount of talking to tutors is enough. You cannot talk your way to language improvement.Teachers cannot teach you to fluency.

If you are in an environment where you have the chance to talk a lot, you will improve, but mostly because you will be hearing a lot of the language. A small amount of speaking goes a long way if combined with extensive and intensive reading and listening and LingQing. I am quite convinced of that.

They both say, in tones of utter bewilderment: “But I have no trouble talking with you, so why should it be any different talking with a panel of complete strangers when I am desperate to perform superbly?” Mmm…

Since both students speak at a level at least one exam grade higher when practicing with me, it seems that their performance in speaking with me is no indicator of their performance in the exam. My style has always been to make speaking practice a low-stress experience, even when doing exam practice. Is this a fault with my coaching technique? Should I work at acting more scary or should they work at feeling less scared?

I would tell them that their speaking with you is only a small part of their task. They have to become so comfortable listening and in terms of vocabulary that they lower their anxiety level which is probably hindering them in the exam. Watch that Krashen video again. Comprehensible input and lowered anxiety.

I don’t think you being cranky would help. If you can induce them to read and listen more, and provide them with clues about their problems, in a gentle repetitive way so that they start to notice, but without increasing their anxiety or creating a grammar obsession, that may help.

I also suspect that their reading and listening is restricted to exam materials, rather than “realia” or authentic language. I try and explain that, at advanced levels, you need to have extensive experience of real language, and that that extends further than watching CNN every now and then.

p.s. What Krashen video would that be, Steve?

This, I assume:

When they take speaking exams, do they respond to questions by a panel of anonymous examiners? Are they not allowed to speak anything they come up with?

Here at LingQ, I know a lot of great members and enjoy communicating with them. I feel sad for people who have to take speaking exams.

I kid you not, Tora-san, in the IELTS you have to answer a set of structured questions, which may include asking for your opinions on contemporary architecture or asking you to sugggest ways of dealing with river pollution. If I were to take the test, as a native I would attempt using a deflection strategy (“Contemporary architecture’s not really my speciality, although I recently watched a documentary about Prince Charles. Did you know he talks to weasels?”). Needless to say, conscientious students try to cram vocabulary relevant to architecture and the environment :-0

Language learning theory is not really my speciality, although I recently read an article about digestion problems . . . .

Let me digest this and then I’ll come back to you.

I hope that the so-called silent period can be properly minimized.

I am afraid that this is going to be a Zen dialogue or a cryptic exchange.

I would like to know the difference between a good and a bad deflection strategy.

A good deflection strategy is one where you start off being asked a question you don’t want to answer, and end up answering a question that you DO want to answer, without the questioner realising you’ve done it.

A bad deflection strategy is one where the questioner gives you a long, hard stare and then repeats their original question.