A couple of weeks ago, I spent my whole day off on a Monday staring into my kindle, reading the books for taking the Cambridge TKT tests Module 1, 2, 3 and CLIL (Content & Language Integrated Learning). The test is a basic examination for teachers and the level of the certification is not very high, but because I never formally studied teaching, I was actually a little worried that I might not do well. I came to China almost 6 years ago now, and the only formal training I had for teaching was the TEFL Certificate I took in Beijing, apart from that, all that I know about teaching today, I have learned from my own experience teaching in classrooms. The following Tuesday, I spent that whole day off at my school, taking all 4 examinations from 8:30 in the morning until 5:30 in the afternoon.

Learning about the TKT

Being offered to take the TKT exam was something that happened a bit randomly. I was sitting in my big shared office at New Oriental and I overheard a couple of teachers talking about the upcoming test. This was back in late February and the test wasn’t going to be held until May. But if we wanted to take the test, we had to sign up now and pay for the modules that we were taking the exam in, in my case I wanted all 4 of them because I figured, why not?

The Cambridge TKT is a multiple-choice paper-based modular test. You do not have to take all the modules in succession all at once, like I did, you can study for a single module, take the exam and move on to the next one. The TKT test is a foundation test for teachers who want to prove their teaching knowledge with a globally recognised certificate. The TKT test is also a stepping stone into other certifications such as the ICELT and the Delta. The Delta, especially, is a certificate I would like to get.

New Oriental arranged for the teachers at the school to take this test as part of their professional development, something I haven’t really seen other schools offer to do. It is nice to see and be in an organisation that wants to actively help their teachers become better. Also, if you get the highest mark on the test, the school will refund the examination fee. A nice bit of motivation to be had there.

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Preparing for the TKT Test

Despite signing up for the TKT test in late February, it would be several weeks before I actually started even looking at the books provided from the school for studying for the test. I eventually decided on buying the books in digital format so I could carry them with me on my kindle. I started reading the book sporadically and I quickly realised two things that worried me. 1: I had no clear idea of the official terminology used for describing what goes on in a classroom and why we do what we do as teachers. 2: While I can read and write just fine, I struggle with English grammar because I learned English the same way I learned my native language, Danish. I didn’t learn English from a book I learned it from watching TV, playing games and speaking to people online. My grammar is pretty bad and there are times were a student will ask me “Why is this wrong?” and all I can say is “It just doesn’t sound right!”

The more I read through the first few chapters of the books, the more I started to fear that I was actually going to do pretty badly in these tests. Not knowing the terminology, not understanding the grammar completely, I thought I was going to get ripped to pieces. So I decided to try and skip the chapter and go straight to the practice test in the back of those chapters. I tried not to think too hard about the questions and just answer them to the best of my abilities and I ended up answering correctly to all 15 questions I took. This gave me a little bit of confidence but I was still worried. I then decided to not read the book for Module 1, 2 and 3 and skip straight to the practice test and just see how much I knew from experience. And out of 80 questions, I answered correctly on 74 of them.

I suddenly realised something. That everything that I read in the books, while very well explained, were things that I already knew, from my own experience teaching, and not from someone having taught me. All these things, I knew from having experimented in my classroom, from seeing the results of my actions and my plans and learning from my mistakes. I had never really thought about it, but experience can be just as valuable as studying from a book. There were very, very few questions that I didn’t have a good answer to.

Taking the TKT

On Tuesday March 17th after spending my whole day on Monday studying. I finally went to the school to take my tests. I was still nervous, because the night before I had done the online practice tests from the Cambridge English website and I had done considerably poorer than I had with the practice test in the books. That being said, I still felt reasonably comfortable that I would do well, so I sat down at my table, and got ready. 80 questions, 80 minutes with a 40-minute break until the next module. It only took me about 30 minutes to do the Module 1 test, and after about 40 minutes I had answered all the questions and also double checked my answers and I handed in my papers and left the room. I’m sure I did not get 100% right, but I am quite confident that I did well. My experience had taught me everything I needed to know, to pass this test. I had never realized it, but I had learned to teach, from teaching. The following three tests were the same. Module 2, 3 and CLIL I finished them in less than 45 minutes and now I am just waiting for the results.

Do not underestimate the power of experience, it can be a much better teacher than any textbook. You may not know the fancy names and terms, but you know what you are doing, and why it works! So keep it up!