Managing Expectations – What To Do If Your Students Think They Are Exam Ready

We all have those students, who are perhaps a little too optimistic about their chances of passing the exam before you think that they’re ready. Sometimes, this positive outlook is a good thing, it means confidence in one’s own abilities, but it can also hinder their progress and put you in a sticky situation. A student failing an exam because they go before they are ready can cause lot of problems;

  • They lose the substantial amount of money they paid to go in the first place.
  • They lose trust in themselves or even you, and might not return to try again, making all of that effort and work worthless.
  • It might negatively impact your pass rate for the year, if you’re a teacher that does a lot of exam classes, that’s not ideal.

So how to spot this kind of student early and manage their expectations a little? I’ve put together a little post for just such an occasion!

Grouping by Level

Although it might sound obvious, it’s very important to make sure that students are in an appropriate group for their level. Putting them with people of lower ability can lead to a mistaken belief that they must be exam ready! Better to have them surrounded by students they can see have similar journeys to the exam, so that they can all go together.

  • Carry out effective level testing at the beginning of the course, preferably with elements of listening, reading and speaking mixed in. This way, you get a pretty accurate idea of where they are at.
  • Be flexible with your groups If you can see that it’s not working out, don’t be afraid to tell them that you think another class would suit them better.

Set a Target Early

All students should have a pretty good idea, from the beginning of the course, when their exam is. Leaving them with a list of exam dates and no guidance will have them pushing themselves to do it as early as possible, which isn’t always a positive thing.

  • Let them know that it takes time, Rome wasn’t built in a day!
  • Give the whole class an idea of which exam you think is a good objective to work towards, but be prepared to change this as early as possible if your monitoring doesn’t reveal as much progress as you’d like.
  • Encourage all the members of one class to go to exam on the same date, ensuring that everybody works as hard as each other and nobody feels like they can slack off.


Make sure that you constantly keep an eye on a student’s progress. Homework is quite effective for this, if students are clearly struggling with aspects of the material, communicate this and suggest extra work they might do.

  • Set homework regularly throughout the year and try to spot if and where they are having trouble.
  • Do practice exams at least once every few months, in the run up to the exam they should do a complete test, under exam conditions at least every two weeks. Mark these correctly and share the results in each section with students, making sure that they know what it takes to achieve a pass.
  • If results are not favourable, give the student a realistic idea of how long and how much effort it will take to get their marks up to standard.

Aim High – Mark Low

I always find it best to mark conservatively for anything involving writing or speaking. Giving a high mark might encourage the class to rest on their laurels a little. I obviously don’t lie to them and mark them way down, but I do always give them a smidge under what I think they would really get on the day.

  • Go a little lower, but don’t mark arbitrarily, make sure that you have your reasons for giving that score and are able to explain yourself if they ask.
  • If necessary, break down the scores you give into sections, tell them their interaction is great when speaking but that their language accuracy needs work, for example.

Decision Time

If the day to do the paperwork and sign on the dotted line comes around and you still don’t feel that they are ready;

  • Be as honest as possible and tell them you have their best interests in mind when you say you’re not hopeful.
  • Combine all of their practice exam results together and let them see the progression if they are being stubborn, intervention style!
  • Accept that it’s their decision one way or the other.
  • Know that you’ve done all you can do and be prepared for a few disappointed phone calls when the results come in.
  • Be optimistic! They may well surprise you, you never know!


Did you find this helpful? Have any more tips or experiences to share? Let me know in the comments!

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