Exams & Preparation

Find useful exam information and teaching ideas for your students.

A psychological perspective of B2 level exams


“The B2 level class room can be a board game with rules but also free-will during turn taking; choices bring about outcomes of winning or losing, but most importantly, of discovering that choice is always attached to the lesson of responsibility”.

By Maria Fokas

I ask my B2 level students the same question at the start of every year, and the answers are always similar; “we want material relevant to our interests, more projects, and more of the outside world”. Of course they do. Most of the courses provide real-life situations and project ideas. Then why do we put so much effort to motivate our students to embrace material in their course books? Material students can relate to, both stimulating and thought provoking, and handpicked with their interests in mind?

Is it ‘subject matter’ or ‘stage and personality of students’ we should be focused on when choosing relevant to the student material? The discipline of psychology offers some answers on relevance and students. Below is a triangle of knowledge pulled together to surpass subject matter relevance and go deeper into stage and personality relevance of student.  


Erikson (1963) Psychosocial Stages of Human Development




Resolution or “Virtue

School age (6-12)

industry vs. inferiority


Adolescence (12-19)

identity vs. confusion



According to Erikson (1963), B2 level students, aged 14 to 17 are mastering competence, and fidelity. Only when they resolve the conflict of one stage, do they move to the next stage (i.e. they could be stuck in a previous stage regardless of age). My students asked for more material relevant to their interests. Erikson (1963) could argue that it is due to their need to experiment and discover who they are by ‘trying on different things’. Students also asked for more projects, possibly to challenge their competence and experience a sense of accomplishment.

Erikson (1963) claimed that in these stages, students develop a sense of self. They struggle with questions such as “Who am I?” and “What do I want to do with my life?” If they have the opportunity to set goals, and attempt to discover their “adult” selves, they will most likely have a strong sense of identity and will remain true to their beliefs and values in the face of problems and other people’s perspectives.

However, if pressured to conform, they may develop a weak sense of self and experience role confusion, unsure of their identity and confused about the future (Ryckman, 2000:188-191). Because students at this stage are very concerned about how others are evaluating them, we should create nurturing environments where they can discover themselves through the projects they embark on, and support their efforts to ensure achievement (Myers, 2000)

Abraham Maslow (1970) Hierarchy of Motives/Needs

According to Maslow (1970), students’ basic needs have to be met in order to achieve success in other areas of life (Bernstein and Nash, 2002:278-280). When students walk into a classroom, they bring the outside world with them (i.e. their needs).

The basic principles of humanistic approaches in ELT should respond to these needs by shifting the focus from teaching to learning, where the teacher is not the focal point but someone who facilitates the learning process through encouragement and empathy. Belonging and esteem are the stages B2 level students are working on according to Maslow’s pyramid;  bringing students together to create something of value could increase their self-worth both in the class, and in the real world.


Motivation & the Big Five Model

What influences and enhances students’ willingness to engage in the classroom, and what determines students’ level of motivation are essential questions in L2 classrooms. According to Dornyei (2005), Lewis Goldberg’s (1993) Big Five model of personality traits (i.e., openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism – OCEAN) can shed light on language learning and motivation. It seems that motivation levels are determined by personality traits (especially Openness to Experience, and Conscientiousness).


Though research has not confirmed that personality factors directly affect students’ academic success, personality traits do play a major role in motivation and certainly influence the way students respond to their learning environment (Dornyei, 2005:113-117). Therefore, it is evident that motivation strategies have to coincide with traits since how students react to material in the classroom has more to do with their personality and less to do with our strategies. Thus, merely using motivation tactics without consideration of students’ personality could be the reason our efforts fall short at times.


Finally . . .


My Students’ Project:

Decide on a problem for students to solve, challenging but achievable. My students embarked on creating their own ECCE exams using material according to their preferences. Students analyzed the exams in their course materials, recorded all the specific skills needed for each part of the exam, and produced their own version using the books I brought into class. After their project was completed, they shared their work through presentations. Finally, they exchanged exams, completed them and corrected each other’s work.

 Elements of the Project:

Autonomy learning /student control

Cooperative and social learning

Kinesthetic /searching and gathering information to complete tasks

Teaching it to someone else / Presentations

Clear goals with a real purpose

Project set up:

Divide students in pairs/groups

There are two parts to focus on:

Gather information on skills needed for each of the four parts

Use material to create the parts

Project was 20% of the B2 level year hours (one three-hour lesson each month for the duration of eight months)

The paybacks:

Opportunity to face the task of industry vs. inferiority – to develop a sense of pride and accomplishment in their endeavor

Students compared themselves to their peers developing a sense of pride and accomplishment increasing belonging and esteem

Students experienced the challenge of creating an intimidating project and succeeded through motivating strategies.


Bernstein, D. and Nash, P., 2002. Essentials of Psychology (2nd Edition). 2nd ed. Boston MA: Houghton Mifflin, pp.278-280.

Dornyei, Z., 2005. The psychology of the language learner. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbawn Associates, pp.113-117.

Myers, D., 2000. Exploring Social Psychology. 2nd ed. McGraw -Hill, pp.144-147.

PositivePsychology.com. 2021. Big Five Personality Traits: The OCEAN Model Explained. [online] Available at: <https://positivepsychology.com/big-five-personality-theory/> [Accessed 1 July 2021].

Ryckman, R., 2000. Theories of personality. 7th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, pp.188-191.