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How can I pass the Trinity DipTESOL unit 1 exam?

Top tips and techniques from a Trinity DipTESOL graduate.

I hate exams. Even more than the average person, and beyond the most obvious of reasons. Furthermore, I now have the academic nous, training, and knowledge to eloquently rail against them as a concept. (Thank you for that Trinity DipTESOL course!) 

I hate what exams do to me, and to my students. I resent the narrow, cold brutality of ascribing a numerical value to human beings who have committed to the immeasurably complex process of attempting to educate themselves. Using a number to calculate my ability to demonstrate years of experience, sweat, personal development, and over a year of gruelling study for the Trinity DipTESOL qualification, with pen and paper in just three hours, seems like insanity incarnate to me.

I even debated the validity and reliability of the inevitable Unit 1 paper with David Young, one of the lead tutors on the Oxford TEFL Trinity DipTESOL training programme. David kindly entertained my borderline pseudo-intellectual chucking of toys out of the pram, and helped me break down the challenge which lay ahead. The reason this unit made my palms sweat like a gambler on a hot Vegas night, was because, in theory, you could be asked to analyse any five aspects of grammar and language, any aspect of learning, teaching and educational theory, and then, any aspect of professional development. 

Therefore, how on earth do you approach revision and preparation? 

Simple right? Just revise it all. Literally all of it. Memorise and cram the whole body of grammatical and educational theory, and literature on English Language Teaching…No? Of course not. Here is my advice, and a plan of attack for anyone doing, or thinking of doing, the challenging and brilliant Oxford TEFL Trinity DipTESOL course and the Unit 1 exam (one of the four assessments as part of this course).

*Disclaimer, if you’re one of those DNA lottery winners who consistently sails through exams, stop reading here. 

Let’s Break It Down

You only need a 50% minimum to pass overall on the Unit 1 exam. You must pass section 1 (Language Awareness 20 / 40 marks) or you fail the whole exam. You then must pass either sections 2 or 3 with at least 15/30. 

This is a good blog post from Lindsay Clandfield breaking this down.

What I did…

#1: Listen to the tutors. I’m not being a suck-up, but Lindsay Clandfield, Mark McKinnon, and David Young are extremely knowledgeable, practical, and insightful in their advice on the subject matter and processes of the Unit 1 exam. While none of them are a ringer for Chris Hemsworth alas, there is something Avengers-esque about the tutors at OT, especially if patience, humour and helpfulness are your jam. 

#2: Do all the mock exams you can. Seriously. Timed and untimed. In full written form, and in brainstorm form. Practice responding to the huge variety of questions at speed. This is key because… 

  • This exam was as much about exam skills – forensically unpicking questions’ exact requirements, key words, timings, maximising points for minimal words, being methodical, thinking quickly, relating your ideas and experiences efficiently – as it was subject knowledge. The mocks and old papers also revealed the more common topics (more on this to come).   
  • Use the toughest and or most common questions in mocks to inform you of the areas you need to revise most. This helps to control the chaos, and focus where you need to.
  • Use the Grammar Slammer recordings, trainee and teacher forums, and recommended books to help you unpick the really tough aspects of language and grammar from part one of the test. 

#3: Go to all of Lindsay’s Grammar Slammers. Think of Language Awareness (section one) as Thanos. Lindsay Clandfield is Iron Man, serving up snappy (nerdy pun intended / spoiler alert) exam tips, practice questions, and unpicking very tricky aspects of language. If you can’t make it, watch the recordings and take notes. Rationalising these notes into Google slides and revision cards was a huge help for me.  

* While the slammers cannot be guaranteed to cover everything, OT has an 85% pass rate on this test, so I highly recommend them. 

#4: Work together. It is cheesily clichéd, and I will spare you any more Avengers references, but setting up Zoom meetings with my peers for mock revision sessions was fun, interesting, supportive, encouraging, and very useful. My study buddies (you know who you are) gave me much needed morale boosts. 

#5: Use the module links from OT’s moodle and the assigned readings for Parts 2 and 3 of the exam. They’re all organised by topic already. They boil down common topics, and provide you with good quotes, authors, publication dates, and theories – which you get 5 points for synthesizing into each of the parts 2 and 3 essays. 

#6: Buy or borrow these books: Thornbury, “About Language” 2nd Edition. This book is pure gold for Part 1. Thornbury explains complex language points and gives us teachers practice exercises to clarify. I worked through a few until I felt more confident. “The A-Z of ELT”, “30 Language Teaching Methods”, and Lightbown and Spada’s “How Languages Are Learned” were all my bibles for much of the course, but especially for the exam! 

#7: Be systematic, think small, keep moving, don’t panic! There is so much to cover, but you won’t be able to cover everything. My revision cycles usually involved any or all of these steps: 

  • Look at a mock. Do it timed, or brainstorm the questions. Note your problem areas. 
  • Consult your books, the slammers, the model answers and make revision cards on said problem areas, or Google slides, quizlets, or mind maps. Organise them by exam section for further reference. 
  • Pool the common topics. Certain things are more common in each section. 
  • Look at the marking schemes closely! Make your answer experiential, with specific classroom examples. Don’t get too caught up in learning author quotes and dates. Note some down as you make materials for each topic e.g. Jack Richards on developing listening / speaking sub-skills. You only get 5 points in parts 2 and 3 for referred reading. You get 13 POINTS for your examples of class experiences.
Trinity DipTESOL

Section One – Language Awareness – Tips and Common Topics

As you practice answering these little grammar and language questions, also consider how you might teach them, raise students’ awareness of them, and or fix common student issues with them. Also be prepared to briefly evaluate your chosen task. These are all key for this section of the Unit 1 exam. 

No author quotes are really required here unless you have an absolute corker which nails the question down.

Timing: I would recommend 1 hour and 20 minutes for section one, and 50 minutes each for the two essays. This is a personal choice, but to answer four language awareness questions in section one properly, takes a bit longer. Bear in mind you must pass section one too.

“We’re building bicycles, not spaceships. Keep it short, clear, and simple. The examiners know you don’t have time for much else.”

Lindsay Clandfield, 2020, Canadian trainer, teacher, award-winning author, and inspiring Diploma TESOL tutor

These are the areas worth focussing on and which come up fairly regularly:

  • All tense forms, uses, meanings, examples with matching teaching approaches
  • Time, tense, and aspect (3 remotenesses of past simple, perfect and progressive aspects, stative and dynamic verbs, the punctual and durative)
  • Determiners (articles, numbers, demonstratives, possessives, distributives…) + zero articles and uses
  • Adverbs and Adverbials (duration, frequency, place, time, degree, manner, evaluative…)
  • Verbs (stative, dynamic, transitives, intransitives, finites, non-finites, regular and irregular, copula verbs, causatives, non-causatives, …)
  • Locutionary and Illocutionary Forces – It’s cold in here = please close the window
  • Countable and uncountable nouns
  • Coordinating (For And Nor But Or Yet So – FANBOYS) and subordinating conjunctions
  • Pronouns (object, subject, possessives)
  • Nouns (compound, modifiers, abstract, proper)
  • Adjectives (attributive / predicative / complementary / gradable and ungradable)
  • Simple, compound, complex sentences
  • Relative Clauses – defining, non-defining, reduced
  • Modal Verbs and Modality – pure, semi, RULES of application, many uses, extrinsic and intrinsic meaning of pure modals
  • Punctuation – Oh my god yes…
  • Cohesive devices / Coherence
  • Cardinal, Ordinal, regular and irregular numbers – 1st, third, one, twentieth.
  • Inversion – instances of verb before subject and uses
  • Word Morphology – inflectional, derivational, affixations, compounding, conversions, free and bound morphemes, simple and complex words
  • Sentence Analysis – This rarely comes up these days but it is useful all round – words and sentence chunks as: subjects, verbs, objects, direct and indirect objects, complements, adverbials, prepositionals, predicates, noun phrases, adjective phrases, fixed phrases, adjective phrases, relative clauses…
  • Idioms, Lexical Chunks, Functional Language
  • There is no way of knowing what they might throw at you in this area. Look in all the old papers you can! 
  • Collocation / Connotation / Colligation and the differences between them 
  • Reported Speech
  • Referents Anaphoric, cataphoric and exophoric
  • Dummy Subjects, demonstratives, anticipatory pronouns, CLEFT SENTENCES!
  • e.g. “It was me who paid last time” / Look! It’s Lady Gaga / It’s cold today”
  • Types of Comparative Structures
  • Phrasal Verbs in Different Contexts
  • Question Tags
  • Used to / would
  • Could / Would / Should
  • Conditionals
  • Wish and other subjunctives
  • Word Patterns/ common collocations and their frequencies – concordance lists
  • Lexical and Delexical Words – “Go have a shower” vs “I have a car”.
  • Deixis – Distance in language (temporal, spatial)
  • Plurals – regular and irregular
  • Idioms and idiomatic phrases in context

* The tutors can provide you with past Unit 1 exam papers. It is not worth going back beyond 2011 as the format has changed since then.

Section 2: Learning and Teaching – Tips and Common Topics

The bad news is that almost anything can come up here. As you’ll see from the Trinity DipTESOL mock exams. The good news is that again, it is based mostly on your ability to apply relevant examples from your own experience and to bring in some modern theory on the subject areas.

These are the areas worth focussing on. Those marked *** are very common.

  • Writing Skills*** sub-skills and the debate over whether writing should be done in class time. Product vs process vs genre etc (Hyland, Badger and White readings)
  • Developing Reading Sub-skills*** use of authentic texts, should we be teaching skimming, scanning etc? (Grabe) Extensive reading and its benefits
  • Differentiation*** in planning and teaching and how it can be done.
  • The importance of lesson planning, the debate over its importance and how to plan flexibly.
  • Fluency vs Accuracy and the false dichotomy
  • The Nature and Cause of Student Errors in Class (interference vs developmental) and how best to deal with correction.
  • Developing Speaking Sub-skills*** and different types of tasks to develop each skill e.g. interactional vs transactional (Richards, Dornyei, Lackman)
  • EIL and ELF Theory – re Jenkins (2006)
  • Integrating technology*** use of video / IWBs / phones / internet / interactive software etc into class – is it always useful, necessary? Are digital literacies integral to language now?
  • Productive vs receptive* skills balance in classes you teach.
  • Decoding / Developing Listening sub-skills*** noticing pronunciation features vs production, authentic material usage (Conti, Richards, Field readings from the course)

In addition to this, there always seems to be one of the following questions in Section 2, which could be your saviour, or just plain unhelpful! Please do not take these examples as read, but use them as part of varied revision to cover some extra bases:

  • Practical applications for Bloom’s Taxonomy.
  • Methodologies – grammar translation, TPR, direct method, CLT, lexical approach, Dogme, TBL, silent way.
  • SLA theories – behaviourism, innatism, universal grammar, Krashen’s monitor model, sociocultural, comprehensible output hypothesis (Lightbown and Spada)
  • Successful language learner characteristics (Lightbown and Spada).
  • Extensive reading – Pros and Cons.
  • The phonological loop and the phonemic chart (Catherine Walter, Underhill).
  • Different types of assessments and the debate surrounding testing.

Section Three: Professional Development

The good news, and only the good news, is that the range of topics here seems very narrow (as you’ll see in the Trinity DipTESOL mock exams) and it is by far the easiest to revise for. These subjects are very common, and most questions are a variation on such themes.

  • Arguments for and against testing and assessment, alternatives to testing.
  • Reliability vs Validity (5 different validities)
  • Types of testing (discrete point, integrative, direct and indirect, communicative language testing etc) The different attributes of each / your experiences with each.
  • Development vs training, and active vs passive development types.
  • Teachers attending conferences, the benefits and drawbacks of this.
  • CPD – what is it? British Council’s four steps? Methods of conducting CPD? Keys to effective CDP? Why do it? Duncan Foord, Julian Edge, Cambridge University Press’ “INSPIRE” all have a lot on this.
  • Incentives, motivations and structures for effective CPD in different educational contexts.
  • Reflective Practice – What is it? Why do it? What are the key steps? Have you done it? When? Why?
  • Designing a CPD scheme in your context – key considerations, issues, and solutions.
  • Foord’s 5 circles of development + their applications.
  • Action research – What is it? Why do it? What are the key steps?
  • Formal observation vs self-observation – with video, peer observations and reflections, team teaching, conducting workshops and research projects… the benefits of these and your experiences of them.
  • Types of assessment – initial, formative, summative, TBL, holistic.
  • Developing uses of technology in class and the positives and negatives of it.

Goodbye and good luck

Any and all of these exam topics for revision are covered extensively on the Trinity DipTESOL course with Oxford TEFL. It is designed to get you through this. So stick to the weekly tasks and readings like glue, and keep them organised. Trust me, it makes the whole process worthwhile when it all clicks in the moment. The best news for you is that you do not really have to figure out what to focus on before beginning. I have done that for you!

Wondering if you are ready to take this course? Read more about whether you may be ready here and check the entry requirements here. Whatever your ambitions, making the most of the Trinity DipTESOL course can be so valuable to your career. What this course has given me has already made up for all of the hand cramps, palm sweats, and missed pints with friends.

If you are considering gaining an advanced qualification in ELT, you could consider our blended / online Trinity DipTESOL course. Take advantage of our supportive community of teachers and tutors and take your teaching to the next level. Courses start in January, April and October. Find out more by getting in touch here or apply here.

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