Official Language Exams I. Graded Examination in Spoken English – Trinity College London

People ask me very often about official language exams, so I have decided to write a series of posts about some of these exams, so more people can find answers to their questions here.

As strange as it may sound, language exams are some kind of unusual hobby for me. I have taken several over the years, and I have even participated in the organization and supervision of some while working in Seinäjoen kansalaisopisto.

The first post of this new section will be about the first official exam that I have took. My first experience with this kind of language exams was when I was very young, only 11 years old, in the year 2000. I took the Graded Examination in Spoken English, grade 1. I had started to study English only 3 years ago, and apart from studying it at school I also had private lessons 2 days per week. My private teacher was who proposed that I could take that exam, since my parents had never heard about it before. But something went wrong at some point, and I don’t know if it was that my teacher was mistaken, or if I registered in the wrong level, but I certainly took the wrong test!

My teacher explained me that in the test I had to present a topic of my choice, and give a short speech about it, using also some material if needed. I remember that she really enjoyed preparing material for the lessons, with a lot of images from magazines glued to paper or cards – we are talking about a time when the Internet was not still of common use, I didn’t even know what it was yet… Ah, the good old times! So we chose a topic that I was interested in, dog breeds, and we (probably she) prepared a beautiful poster with many pictures of dogs of different breeds. Then, we prepared a speech about them, describing the main features of each of them, and telling a bit about dogs in general. We practised this speech many times in class, since I wasn’t allowed to take notes with me, I had to memorize it. I remember that there were some new words that I learnt with this activity, and there were many complicated sentences, compared to what I was used to at school. I had learnt this speech by heart and even practised it on my own just repeating it time after time sometimes just without speaking out loud. Since it was my first experience with an official exam, or anything of this kind, I was quite nervous. And when I say “quite” I should probably be saying “terribly”. I knew I was well prepared, since I knew the speech perfectly, but I feared the moment of finding myself in front of the examiner and forgetting everything or who knows!

The day of the exam arrived, and my parents took me to the school where it was held. I don’t really remember anything of that day before entering to the examination room. But I do remember what happened once there. The exam was only a speaking test, so there was no writing. Each candidate had to have a face-to-face meeting with the examiner, only one candidate at a time. So I entered there with my wonderful poster and my speech more than practised and sat down in a chair. The examiner presented herself, asked me what was my name and how old I was. On the table there were pencils of different colours, and probably more things that I don’t remember. The exam started, and the woman asked me different things like “how many pencils are on the table?”, or “could you please give me the red pencil?”, or “is this pencil green or blue?”. I don’t recall if there were other questions that were not related to the pencils, that’s the only part that I remember clear as water. I was thinking “What is this? This is way too easy! I want to say my speech once and for all!”. So when the lady said “That was all, thank you very much”, or something like that, I told her that I had prepared a speech and asked if I could do the presentation. She said “No, no” and I had to leave the room for the next child to take the test. Of course, I passed the test with distinction. Because it was the most basic level, when I had prepared for a higher one! This was a mistake on our part, and a quite clumsy beginning for my story with language tests! However, it didn’t stop me from taking more, as we will see in the next posts of this series.

Now that I have told my story with this exam, I will give some information about it for people who may be interested in taking it:

Trinity College London

These exams are called “Graded Examinations in Spoken English“, also referred to as GESE, and are organized by the Trinity College London. As the name says, they are only speaking exams, without grammar exercises or any other writing test. The test is offered in different levels, and is divided in 4 stages: Initial (grades 1-3), elementary (grades 4-6), intermediate (grades 7-9), and advanced (grades 10-12).

In the initial level, the tests consist of a conversation with the examiner, and lasts around 5 minutes. The difference between grades 1, 2, and 3 is that in grade 1 the candidate is supposed to answer the questions with very short responses, one or two words, since the questions are very simple. In grade 2 the answers may even be full sentences or more than 3 words. In grade 3, the candidate is supposed to use connectors to link sentences, but still in an initial level, for example “My dog is small and likes eating pie”.

In the elementary level, a topic is introduced in the exam’s structure. The test lasts around 10 minutes, and the candidate is supposed to have chosen and prepared a topic beforehand to discuss it with the examiner. Then they talk about something else that the examiner decides. In grades 5 and 6 candidates must ask the examiner a few questions about the topics discussed.

In the intermediate stage, which would be a B2 level according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, an interactive task is introduced. The candidate must also prepare a topic to discuss with the examiner, and they have a conversation about some other topics, but the candidate also must face a new task that he couldn’t have prepared for. Basically, the examiner explains a situation and the candidate must ask questions about it to get more information and make comments on it. The level of difficulty rises from level 7 to 9, of course, adding more vocabulary and expressions that the candidates are supposed to know, as well as being able to react in different situations.

In the advanced stage there is a new task, apart from the same tasks from the previous stage, and that is a listening task. The examiner reads three passages and the candidate must complete them or answer questions about them. Grade 12 represents a C2 level, so candidates are supposed to have a very good command of English and to be able to discuss about all kinds of different topics with fluency.

Exams are held all throughout the year in many countries of the world. Here you have a list of these countries with more specific information that varies from each country, such as the dates of the exams, how to contact a center, etc.

After going through the structure of all the levels, it’s very clear that I took the grade 1 exam, when I had been practising for one of the elementary stage, maybe grade 4 or 5.

More information about GESE exams here.

Trinity College London also organizes other exams of English as a Second Language: Integrated Skills in English (ISE); Spoken English for Work (SEW); and ESOL Skills for Life, aimed at adults living in the UK who do not speak English as their mother tongue.

This has been the first post of the series on Official Language Exams. I will talk about other exams in next posts, but please let me know if there is any specific exam you want me to cover because you are interested in taking it in the near future or for any other reason.

And I couldn’t finish this post without asking: Has anybody taken this exam? Tell us about your experience in the comments 🙂

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