Young Learners (YLE) A Useful Process Or An Unnecessary Qualification?

Since its introduction in 1997, the young learners exams have become extremely popular. Schools, especially international ones, are starting to offer them automatically as a part of the course. Parents, who realise the importance of learning English from a young age, view it as saving the kids time in the future, a way to get a strong foundation very early on. Also, it’s often seen as a title that the kids can get with no serious study, and that’s worth a lot nowadays.

In contrast to the adult’s exams, young learners doesn’t require, as a general rule, homework or practising too much at home. Material is taught in lessons with games and interactive exercises, with little need even for notebooks, pens or pencils. Which means that parents don’t have to worry about making sure they do their homework, and they can be sure that the kids have fun while learning.

YLE exams are, where I live and teach, the fastest growing market for Cambridge Assessment English. Examination centres are being encouraged, and are in turn encouraging the preparation centres, to focus more on the courses and examinations for children.

However, while the coursebooks contain lots of fun activities and are generally accepted as a great method to use with children, is examining children really beneficial for them? I’ve outlined some of the arguments here, let me know your opinion in the comment section at the bottom.


YLE exams, that is to say, Starters, Movers and Flyers, are marketed to parents of children as young as 6 or 7. A very young age to begin with formal examinations. While it must be said that it’s a different, more engaging approach to exams, the children still sit papers and speak in front of an examiner they have never met. Quite an intimidating day out for a 6-year-old who, often, is accompanied by teachers or minders rather than a parent.

While the stress of sitting a formal exam wouldn’t usually come until their early teens, YLE forces them to become used to the structure much sooner. Sometimes, this leads to kids being put off English for the future.

Studying for Exams

Usually, an English class for children will involve games and activities. This is for many reasons and is an effective way to get them to interact, have fun, and learn the language at the same time. If they don’t have this fun, entertaining element to the lesson, they might lose interest, stop paying attention, and waste the time messing around.

It is my worry, and the worry of many others, that introducing exams to children at such a young age, might take away this essential aspect of the class. Children’s classes should be about learning the language as a whole in a fun way, and not only to pass an exam. Doing more exam practice and exercises with the teacher takes away time from games and conversation.

Fostering a Title-Obsessed Culture

You may disagree with me here. But in my personal opinion, and especially where I live, the need to have a qualification for everything is getting out of hand. In previous years, vocational training or paid internships were popular, gaining experience from doing the job instead of doing an entire degree in it before getting any real experience. For good or for ill, this has led to a desire for as many qualifications as possible, whatever would look good on a CV. I once had a student, a 32-year-old man, who had a list of qualifications literally as long as his arm, but not a day’s experience of work. While students must, to a large extent, pander to the requirements of the job market, it’s unhealthy to spend half of one’s life studying to do something that has to be practised.

It could be argued that examining 6 and 7-year-olds introduces them to this pattern when they are far too young to be worrying about it. If they are obsessed with gaining qualifications from so early, they might miss out on speaking the language properly, which is the most important thing.

No Pass Or Fail

In contrast to other Cambridge exams, with YLE there is no pass or fail results. Instead, candidates are given a score of 1-5 shields. 1 means that they can improve a lot in that particular skill, while 5 is top marks! A student is considered ready to prepare the next level if they achieve 10 shields or more overall.

Given that failing an exam would be very disheartening for children and parents alike, this certainly puts all involved under less pressure and might make it a more enjoyable experience.

The Method

As I said previously, the exam may take some of the fun out of the process. However, the method and the textbooks are very good! There are exercises and exam practice, but a teacher can choose whether to do these or not. Taking those away especially, the method contains games and lots of fun things to do and share with your class!

What are your thoughts on this? Let me know in the comments! 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: