Out of the Dip, Part 3: Unit 1 Written Exam

"Of course, the big advantage of a course like this is the assessed teaching practice."

Check - that's one of the main reasons for taking it.

"You will also make a presentation and have a follow-up interview about phonology."

Check - that sounds tough but I'm prepared to give it a go.

"And there will be three research projects."

Check - that will be just like being back on the MA course.

"The final assessed component is a three-hour written exam."

Wait! What?

Yes, an old school, pencil and paper, sit-down and try not to get beaten bu the clock exam and that's the focus on today's review post.

You'll need to commit all these to memory!
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CC0 Public Domain
What it entails

  • A three-hour exam divided into three parts.
  • Part 1 - Language Awareness consisting of five questions on grammar and lexis from which you must respond to four.
  • Part 2 - choose one from a choice of three essay questions on Teaching and Learning.
  • Part 3 - choose one from a choice of three essay questions on Professional Development/ Course Design.
  • It really puts you through the wringer in terms of what you know about teaching and you have to be able to draw on a range of experiences in order to give strong answers.
  • It gives you a chance to explain your ideas, beliefs, and best practices as a teacher in a high level of detail.
  • It forces you to read up on key areas that will also benefit your teaching practice and research projects.
  • This is also the main part of the course that goes into teacher training and academic management, which is useful for anyone considering those career paths.
  • As well as academic reading, referencing blogs, newsletter articles, conference talks and your own experience is also encouraged.
  • It can help create a stronger sense of empathy with our own students!
  • Preparation is key - brush up on your grammar, read up on aspects of teaching, learning and professional development and start doing it well in advance.
  • Practice planning and time yourself writing answers - a brief plan will be key if you are to write an effective 1,500 word essay in under an hour. 
  • You will also need to get used to writing at speed by hand. Don't spend ages researching, planning and typing your weekly assignment answers in the online course. Limit yourself to an hour and try to write by hand (send a scan to the tutor) so you can get used to exam conditions as soon as possible.
  • Part 2 (teaching and learning) can be quite wide-ranging but Part 3 usually boils down to: a) design an in-house PD programme or teacher development initiative; or b) present an outline and rationale for a workshop. Prepare for one or both of those and you'll be fine.
  • Follow the advice you give your own students about preparing for an exam and writing essays - don't leave it to the last minute, plan your answers, leave time to check them again at the end, get a good night's sleep before the test!
  • Make a list of useful quotes as you are reading. Categorise them by potential essay topics. Spend some time trying to memorise them so you can quote author and year accurately.
Suggestions for improvement
  • Cater to different teaching contexts - the grammar part would have been very tough had I never taught adults at B2+ level. There were questions about language points that I had never ever touched on it my extensive experience with young learners (cleft sentences or helping learners with signposting, coherence and cohesion in writing, for example). As these questions often demand specific reference to your own experience, it potentially leaves teachers of elementary young learners at a disadvantage. Also, in Part 2 of the exam I took, there was a quesiton about designing a course for students taking a specific exam. I have extensive experience of preparing students for Cambridge Starters, Movers, and Flyers but the options in the exam were IELTS, TOEFL, CAE and FCE. That meant I couldn't attempt the question having no recent experience of any of those.
  • A different approach to referencing - to get high marks, you have to be able to cite book and article authors from memory. This really caused me a headache especially as quoting the likes of Harmer, Scrivener and Thornbury is seen as 'not enough'. I say either drop the expectation or allow candidates to reference a sheet of notes. This would still require skill to pre-select references that are likely to fit a range of topics, use your time effectively, and avoid trying to crowbar everything you jotted down into the answer paper.
  • A more balanced range of topics across the exam - as mentioned above, Part 3 is quite predictable. However, Part 2 covers a wide range of topics. I spent a long time reading up on using authentic materials - video clips, news articles, digital games - only for a question to come up on using music. For me, that was too specific, especially considering the need to reference from memory. There were also other areas I read up on that didn't come up at all (learner training, use of technology, developing speaking skills) - all those memorised quotes for nothing! Part 2 needs a more focused range of topics with plenty of scope to adapt to different contexts and experiences.
  • Don't sit me in a small room with soft floorboards next to a guy who shakes his leg vigorously throughout the test - quite a specific situation I know but it was quite distracting!
Next post - research projects!


  1. Nice one David, Thanks a million

  2. Cheers for the positive comments Teresa and Mark!

  3. Thanks Dave! This is exceptionally useful!! :D

    1. Glad to hear it Chris - helps make the whole experience more worthwhile :)


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