Almost unbelievably, here we are in the middle of October - autumn leaves blowing across Jesus Green, novice rowing crews out on the river, no more lost Freshers wandering in looking for their College …… and lots of students wondering which English exam to take in December.
Here at ABC, we start by making sure that our students know the difference between the exams, and which one will best meet their needs.
The main area of confusion for most students seems to be between IELTS and the Cambridge ‘Main Suite’ exams – First, Advanced, etc. Many students come to us saying they need IELTS, but when we ask more questions, it turns out they actually need any recognised exam at level B2, C1 …..
IELTS started life as an exam to ensure that overseas students coming to attend University in the UK had enough English to deal with academic study, hence its focus on academic topics. It was never intended as an exam for the workplace or even everyday life: in fact, post-graduate University students with good IELTS scores often join our General English courses to help them manage in their daily lives!
For the majority of students, who need proof of their English level for their future careers, a Cambridge exam is more practical and more accessible. Most people start by studying General English, and this is just what the Cambridge exams test, and what most people need in their working and everyday lives.
Students on ABC’s full- and part-time courses study General English, so it makes perfect sense to aim for one of these exams – a Certificate from the University of Cambridge at the end of your course has got to be a good thing!
We talk to each student individually about their exam entry, looking at their progress in class and their test results, and help them make an informed decision about which exam to go for and when. We don’t want to see students entering exams they won’t pass, and wasting a lot of money in the process!
Once registered, the students follow a structured programme of exam preparation, including weekly mock tests, leading up to the big day. Exams are usually held in University premises in the centre of Cambridge, so very handy for students to pop in afterward to tell us how they’ve done – hopefully not needing a shoulder to cry on!
These days, students can log on to the exams website to get their results, usually a month or so after the exam, and then it’s just a few more weeks until that long-awaited Certificate arrives in the post.
For anyone who’s just arrived in the beautiful and quiet city of Cambridge, it might come as a surprise to know that during July and August the city is buzzing with visitors from all over the world, many attending Summer Schools to improve their English. Here at ABC alone we had students from 41 different countries studying at our Summer School, and students aged from five to seventy!
To be honest, we need a calm and quiet time after the busy summer to prepare for the very different demands of our Academic Year students. We’ve already been joined by the au pairs, studying part-time while they help busy Cambridge families organise their lives, and are now welcoming students attached to both of our Universities, as well as workers coming back to Cambridge after their summer holidays. Most of these students are taking long courses, so we get to know them very well, which makes for a really friendly and supportive atmosphere. Of course, we don’t only have long-stay students, people also come to us for short courses, for all sorts of reasons: sent by their company, combining a course with a holiday, because they’re relocating …….. many go on to become regular visitors, maybe because of our superb location and great teaching, or possibly because of cakes on Friday mornings!
We’ve already had the first influx of our high-school students for the autumn, starting the new school year with a ‘holiday’ to Cambridge (at least, that’s what they think it is!), so the whole team has been working hard looking after them: arranging accommodation, going to the airport, booking social activities…. Oh, and providing a first-class English course!
Next job will be to help the students decide which exams, if any, to aim for this term – though at the moment, with a blue sky and a temperature of 20 degrees, December seems a very long way off!