How to motivate your students through assessment

David Booth
David Booth
A group of young people looking at results and papers in a hallway, laughing and smiling

Motivating students can be difficult, especially where exams are concerned. The prospect of preparing learners for them seems like a mammoth task. But assessment can also be a way of encouraging motivation. The clue is in the word ‘test’. Whether externally or internally driven, students wish to test their knowledge and their learning; they want to see how they are developing and progressing.

In this article, David Booth explores what makes students want to push themselves and how you can encourage them with assessment.

What motivates students?

Students are incentivized in different ways, through internal (intrinsic) and external (extrinsic) motivation. Internal motivation is when someone takes an exam for their own satisfaction or interest; without immediate external reward. External motivation is driven by other factors such as the need to graduate or get to a particular level for career advancement. External motivation may also come from others, such as parents and teachers, encouraging students to attain a particular level in a subject or a qualification.

The important thing to recognize is that students should identify their intention for learning English. This will then enable them to determine short- and long-term goals that will drive both internal and external motivation. For example, a student might say; ‘I like learning English because I love reading books about Harry Potter and also English will be useful in my future life so I can meet and learn from people from different countries’. Recognizing and acknowledging reasons for learning with help reinforce the motivations for learning.

How can we promote an environment that is engaging and motivating?

Students’ self-belief is important but teachers also have a significant role to play. Teachers can help give students the confidence to build on their own skills. One way to do this is by promoting a growth mindset. This is the theory that ability and performance can be developed through fostering a positive environment, and is the opposite of a fixed mindset which is the idea that a person’s talents are already fixed from birth.

Developing a growth mindset is important because it encourages us to see new challenges as a positive thing. It involves praising effort rather than just focusing on outcomes.

With all the above in mind, here are five things teachers can do in class to help keep up student motivation levels:

5 ways you can motivate your students

  1. One of the best things that teachers and educators can do to support their students is to help them identify their motivation. Ask them why they are learning English. Is it for themselves? Their parents? Or a job opportunity? This will help teachers and learners decide on the best course of action for learning and also help students find satisfaction within the task, whether in an exam or taking a conversation class.

  2. It’s important to teach courses that are focused on developing communicative ability and knowledge, not just passing a test. As education evolves, assessment must too, so it’s crucial to foster the practical linguistic skills of your students, not just aim for a good final grade.

  3. Teachers can help students develop their dominant learning styles. Do they learn by writing new words or reading things aloud? In doing so, you and your students can tailor their exam preparation towards how they work best and ensure they feel motivated to learn by themselves.

  4. You can give students the best understanding about the type of tasks they will face. Looking at past papers or using a wealth of exam resources will give them confidence and familiarity when facing any final assessment.

  5. Teachers must talk the talk! We must say the right things to keep our students motivated. This involves talking about what they have done in a positive way. Praising students just for their intelligence is not productive, because that refers to a quality rather than their behavior. Instead, we want to encourage student development through hard work and application.

Here are some growth mindset statements to inspire your students:

  • You worked really hard on that.
  • I’m so proud of your progress.
  • You kept going even when it was hard.
  • You have a tenacious attitude; I’m so proud that you never quit.
  • You really did … well because …

Motivating students with the Pearson English International Certificate (PEIC)

PEIC is designed to help motivate students, offering them the opportunity to identify their strengths, and track improvement and success over time. It is widely used by learners who are looking for a general English test that allows them to build a portfolio of their communicative language ability for travel, to improve their employment prospects or for further education. It’s also valid for life.

Graded progression

PEIC offers a pathway for graded progression from level to level and explicit opportunities to evaluate and accredit learning outcomes at each of the CEFR levels. There are six proficiency levels, from very low (A1) to very high (C2). There are no hidden surprises, false starts, or sudden jumps in difficulty from one test to the other.

This makes it easy for teachers and students to track progress. Showing students they have progressed in their studies is very motivating and encourages further study.

Assessment of communicative ability

The exams assess learners’ ability to communicate and use English effectively rather than their test-taking skills. The emphasis is on communicative skills; the level of ability that the student has in using the language for practical purposes. This is very motivating both in the short and long term.

A positive testing experience for the student

PEIC delivers a relaxed and enjoyable testing experience that is a natural continuation of what happens in the classroom. It’s perfect for those educators who are interested in using assessment as a way of building students’ confidence and motivation, as well as raising school standards.

Easily integrated into a general English curriculum

Fitting PEIC around a general English program could not be easier. This is because the types of tasks that students will find in the tests are similar to those found in most modern communicative course books. Therefore, there is no need to do a specific PEIC course before taking the test.

A wealth of learning resources

There are lots of resources out there offering something for everyone, including test guides for each level, test tutorials, practice tests, test tips and many more, so students will feel supported throughout the preparation process.

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