Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Where to do GCSE listening exams

There has been a Facebook thread in the Secondary MFL Matters group about GCSE listening exams. The issue is whether tests should be done in a large hall or in classrooms. We had this conundrum in our school and I foolishly allowed listening exams to take place in the school gym for a year or two. We did our utmost to provide adequate playback devices with the right tone settings (treble up, bass down) and generally sound was adequate. I would walk around the hall to test it when the pupils were all there.

However, I thought better of the situation and soon insisted that classrooms be made available. This became all the more important when language teachers were no longer allowed to invigilate exams. We ended up using a group of classrooms, close together, and I would go round, before the exams, checking that all the CD players were correctly placed and set up for volume and tone. This was a better solution.

Even so, on one occasion, I discovered afterwards that one invigilator had turned round a Coomber player so that it was facing in the wrong direction.

Sound quality is, needless to say, crucial in tests which demand quick comprehension and which pupils often find challenging. All language teachers should be using high quality playback devices with tone controls. Boominess and excess bass are to be avoided and a little hiss allowed if treble sounds are to be emphasised. As any hifi buff will tell you, rooms with "bouncy" acoustics should be softened, as far as possible, using curtains, blinds or wall decoration. The pupils themselves do most of that job when they are in the room.

Using a large hall means to have to increase volume and this may be at the expense of a clean sound.

So, if your exam office or SLT are reluctant to do room changes, just remind them how important the issue is and how it will have a small effect on GCSE scores. You could even invite them into the exam hall and demonstrate what the sound is like.


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