This is the first part in a series looking at the PET exam and how we can make interesting and confidence building classroom activities using past papers, helping students develop exam strategies in stages. Some these activities could be adapted for other exams.

These activities require access to past papers, which I imagine is available in most staffrooms. If not then there are two you can download direct from Cambridge English: Click here for PET. Click here for PET for schools.

Reading Part 1 – notices

In this part students have to choose the correct meaning of a notice, or short message, from a choice of three given answers.

Preparation: Make a copy of the test questions for each student and a large photocopy of each of the notices without the multiple choice options. Put the notices around the classroom on the wall. Write an example on the board, ideally a simple notice that is seen around the school and that the students are familiar with.

Introduction: Ask your students to discuss the notice on the board in pairs. Where have they seen it before? Who is it for? What does it mean? Feedback as a class. Explain you have put similar notices and messages around the room and ask students to walk around in pairs and discuss the three questions: Where would you see it? Who is it for? What does it mean? (Write these questions on the board). Start each pair at a different notice.

Main stage: As students walk around the room, help with any vocabulary and give hints if students are stuck. They should discuss each one briefly and return to their desks when they’re finished. Then give each student a copy of the test questions and ask them to work in pairs and choose A,B or C for each question. Monitor and assist.

Optional stage: If some students are struggling, before feedback divide the class into small groups of 4-5 students to discuss their answers. This gives weaker students an opportunity to rethink their answers and the stronger students learn by explaining their own reasoning.

Feedback: Elicit the answers from the class and give further help if necessary.

(The focus here is on meaning, which is why students are given an opportunity to consider the notices in isolation, without the multiple choice options which can be deliberately misleading as part of the test. In future lessons give fewer hints and include a time limit.)

Reading part 2 – people

In this part students match 5 people, or groups of people, to activities that fit their specific criteria.

Preparation: The test questions come in two parts: the 5 people and the 8 choices – photocopy separate sheets for the two parts. Your students will be working in pairs and will need one copy of the ‘people’ sheet and two copies of the ‘choices’ sheet per pair. Prepare a mini lesson on the topic involved, specifically so that students understand the context and know the vocabulary – the topics are fairly common textbook fodder like films, books and summer courses so this should be straight forward. If it’s a topic you’ve covered recently a quick revision exercise is fine.

Introduction: Spend 10-15 minutes on the context and vocabulary preparation, depending on your students familiarity and whether this is new language or revision. Ensure students are able to refer to it later in the lesson, either on a handout or on the board.

Main stage: Handout the ‘people’ sheet and students work in pairs to discuss the criteria and make their own recommendations. For example: if the five people are looking for a type of film, ask students to think about which genres and which  specific films they would recommend. After their discussion, students underline the parts of the text that are most important to understanding each person’s criteria.

Next give each student a copy of the ‘choices’ sheet. They should read it once through on their own, noting which people might be interested in each choice as they go. Then students discuss their notes in pairs and try to pick the best choice for each person, while eliminating choices that aren’t suitable.

Optional stage: Students swap partners and discuss their choices further, explaining their reasoning. This is a useful stage to include if you have a number of weaker students or if some students’ partners dominated the discussion.

Feedback: Write the five names on the board and ask the class for their answers. Write down every answer the students give without saying which is right or wrong. If the students all agree on a correct answer mark it as correct on the board, but where there are two or more answers given ask students to go back to their choices and check that their choice is the best option.

Finally, go through all the answers and elicit the students’ reasoning.

(This is a slower and more considered version of the process students will go through in the exam. The aim is to prepare them with a procedure which can then be sped up and done independently as you increase the difficulty in subsequent lessons.  It should also highlight for students how important vocabulary is in the exam and how an improved vocabulary may help more than simply repeatedly trying past papers, as some of my students seem obsessed with.)

Further activities and links

The plan is to release further activities for every part of the PET. Please let me know if this is something you’d be interested in by posting in the comments below.

For more games and activities check out the archive by clicking here.

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For more activities on the PET or any of the Cambridge exams you should look at the excellent resources that Cambridge English publish themselves.