October 19, 2021

The Official CELPIP Podcast: Episode 13

In today’s episode, we invite Clarissa, one of our our interns, to share her tips on using study groups effectively. Follow along to learn how you could find a study group or create one of your own!

Show Notes


CJ [00:00:00] Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Official CELPIP Podcast, where we aim to help you, our test takers, get the best scores you possibly can. And we also support newcomers building a life in Canada. My name is CJ, and along with my co-host Chris, we talked to a variety of guests, from test takers, language teachers and test raters to employment counselors and immigration consultants, just to name a few. We also bring our in-house staff on the show to get their perspectives and they’re the people in the company that work behind the scenes to make the CELPIP Test available to you. How are you doing today, Chris?


Chris [00:00:40] I’m very excited, actually, as I have got a great idea for today’s podcast.


CJ [00:00:47] Oh, really? A different idea from the one we planned.


Chris [00:00:51] Oh, yeah yeah yeah. I changed that. Today, we’re going to be talking about vacations.


CJ [00:00:59] Umm vacations?


Chris [00:01:04] Vacations. The great thing about going on vacation is..


CJ [00:01:09] Uh Chris,


Chris [00:01:10] that you can use English in so many different…


CJ [00:01:13] Chris.


Chris [00:01:13] What? What’s wrong?


CJ [00:01:16] OK, this I mean, I love vacations, but this isn’t the topic that we agreed on.


Chris [00:01:23] Yeah, but I wanted to do vacations instead. So: vacations.


CJ [00:01:29] Chris, we had a meeting and we decided on a topic together. You can’t just decide on a new one without us. Do you not remember that?


Chris [00:01:39] Oh right. So—not vacations?


CJ [00:01:44] Oh my gosh, no. Not vacations, not vacations. At least not this week, anyway. We’re going to talk about how to use study groups for effective learning, including how to all agree on one shared focus. Sound familiar? And look, we also have a special guest here ready to talk about them.


Chris [00:02:04] Ah, yes, of course. As CJ said, here at the podcast, we love to use the rich experience of our team to help test takers. And this week we have our fantastic intern, Clarissa, joining us. Welcome to the show, Clarissa.


Clarissa [00:02:21] Hi, CJ and Chris. Thank you so much for having me here today.


CJ [00:02:24] Clarissa, we are so happy to have you here to talk about not vacations, but study groups. So for our listeners that don’t know you, tell us a little bit about your background and your role at Paragon.


Clarissa [00:02:38] Sure. I’m currently in year four of my Bachelor of Arts, and I’m also working at Paragon as a Course Administration and Digital Media intern.


CJ [00:02:45] And I should just say that we love having you as part of the team. So as a student, I guess study groups are a big part of your university life.


Clarissa [00:02:55] Absolutely. Being able to work effectively within a study group is such an important skill and has so many benefits if you get it right.


CJ [00:03:02] And I guess lots of trouble if someone decides to just do their own thing.


Clarissa [00:03:07] Yeah, and it happens all the time, but there are some clear ways to make it all work.


Chris [00:03:11] Good to hear. So what’s the best way to even begin forming a study group? How do you meet like-minded people?


Clarissa [00:03:19] The first place to start is to connect with your peers who are at the same level of study. You really want to avoid joining a group that doesn’t benefit your needs at the same time, or is too advanced. You should also agree on a consistent place and time that works for all members so that it becomes a regular part of your schedule. I recommend making a habit of it.


CJ [00:03:37] Do you find it hard to always find a consensus across such a diverse group of people?


Clarissa [00:03:42] It definitely can be hard. But if you make a point to set realistic expectations right at the outset, then you can avoid confusion in the long term.


Chris [00:03:50] So what’s the best way to structure the actual time you spend together in the study group?


Clarissa [00:03:56] I’d say before you even meet, it’s important to make a plan ahead of time, so everyone is prepared to focus on the same topic. By being prepared and staying on track, members won’t feel that they’re wasting any of their time. And during each session, set a specific topic so you can focus more deeply on it. For example, a CELPIP study group may wish to work on reading, speaking, listening, writing or test format.


CJ [00:04:21] OK, that’s great. And just to build on that, is there a danger that maybe more assertive personalities could take over the discourse? Like the introvert-extrovert mix is an extremely tough thing to balance in a classroom, so how do you solve that problem in a study group that maybe has, like no clear leader?


Clarissa [00:04:44] Yeah, there are definitely certain voices that always want to be heard, but the key to an effective group is to make sure that everyone feels that they have equal input. So a good approach is for each member to take turns guiding the group through a topic or practice question. I’ve also found that teaching others is one of the best ways to learn a topic yourself, so other techniques like reading out loud around the group prevents one individual from dominating.


Chris [00:05:08] It sounds like open communication is the secret to making a study group work.


Clarissa [00:05:14] Absolutely. It’s tricky to maintain, but so important. Being a good member of a group often means listening to others and taking their opinions into consideration.


Chris [00:05:22] Hmm, fascinating. It’s certainly an essential skill for management, too. So if you manage to get a good group together and establish a level playing field, does everything run smoothly from that point?


Clarissa [00:05:37] It’s a great start, for sure, but there’s still some things to watch out for and to avoid. The main issue can be size. Even if you want to cram as many people into your group as possible, anything over four members can hinder the learning with noise and increase the risk of going off topic. This last point can be quite common, especially at the beginning, but it’s so important to bring the group back to its agreed focus.


CJ [00:05:59] So it must be difficult if there are some group members who are not so serious about their study time, because that’s a hard thing to find out about beforehand. What are your thoughts on that?


Clarissa [00:06:09] I totally agree. But you should remember that it’s your study time too, and it’s OK to prioritize that. Seeking out students with similar test goals should help with that as well.


CJ [00:06:19] I think that’s really great advice. And so no one should feel bad about putting their study needs first. Would you say that the structure of study groups fits all students? Because it sounds like it could be an approach that might be difficult for some people.


Clarissa [00:06:33] That’s a good point. Study groups definitely aren’t suited for everyone. And you may find that you have more productive study sessions when you’re alone. This is a really good thing to be aware of when deciding how to spend your time leading up to an assessment. People work in different ways, which is totally fine. So don’t be put off if you need a different structure.


Chris [00:06:51] Hmm. We found that modern technology has really increased our options for, you know, group communication in general. Is it a similar asset for study groups as well?


Clarissa [00:07:02] Yeah, there’s so many different platforms that you can use to enhance the group, such as Zoom, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Microsoft Teams. But while they’re perfect for our current situation, as it might be hard to meet in person, it can sometimes be tricky to run a meeting via video chat, as we’ve all found.


Chris [00:07:17] Absolutely. Zoom video conversations are never completely natural.


Clarissa [00:07:22] That’s why those apps are best used mainly for group text chat and informal conversations. So you’re all on the same page when it comes to arranging dates or choosing a topic to focus on. It’s worth bearing in mind that not everyone has access to all of them, so be sure to choose one that’s an easy fit for everyone in the group. Usually, there’s at least one shared platform that works.


CJ [00:07:41] Yeah, I mean, I certainly use most of those in my professional life all the time. But they’re—would you say they’re really good for sharing documents, too? Like, I assume there’s always a file that I’ll need to get to everyone in the group.


Clarissa [00:07:56] Yeah, they’re OK for sharing documents as well, but I prefer something like Google Docs or OneDrive as they allow multiple users to edit a document in real time. This goes a long way in reducing the number of separate versions of the same file so that group members never have to wonder if they’ve got the most recent version. Then, in the actual group meeting, you can use the whiteboard function in Zoom to add to those notes or even share your screen with your peers.


CJ [00:08:20] OK, so that’s great. I also use those very often. Do you feel that your own experience working within a study group has made a real impact on your general improvement?


Clarissa [00:08:34] Without a doubt. I’m definitely the kind of student who works best in a collaborative environment, with like-minded people working towards a shared goal. And in every meeting, there’s an idea that’s new to me. It’s really expanded how I think about my major, and I’ve even been lucky enough to meet some great new people along the way.


Chris [00:08:51] So as we mentioned earlier, study groups are commonly associated with academic contexts like university courses. But would you say they’d be valuable for preparing for things like the CELPIP Test? How would a CELPIP test taker use this to their best advantage?


Clarissa [00:09:06] Oh, absolutely, they’d be valuable for CELPIP. I mean, you’re right. In my own experience, I have study groups for different courses I’ve taken for my degree. But study groups can really be useful in any situation where it would be helpful to get together with other people as you prepare. I know there are lots of meetups and study groups out there for learning various languages and joining or creating a study group for CELPIP would be a great fit. One place you could meet other test takers who are interested in forming a group is via Facebook study groups. There are quite a few, so test takers should take a look and find one that suits them. Preferably one that’s in their own time zone.


Chris [00:09:40] That sounds like a great place to start, especially if you’re open to an online study group. What if you’d specifically like to join one that meets up in person?


Clarissa [00:09:49] I’ve found that library notice boards are a great place to start. If there’s nothing there, make your own poster. State that you’d like to prepare for CELPIP with others. You could maybe even mention that you’d specifically like to work on certain things, you know, like speaking practice or reading, things like that. It’s also a good idea to mention how many people you’re looking for for your group. And then once your group begins to meet, remember to set out your goal for each session. It could be a grammar point or listening practice. You could watch a movie in English and then take turns speaking about it. Once you all feel you’ve explored that skill, move on to a different one, like writing, for example. Always think about how your focus is related to an element of CELPIP, and you’ll soon find that you really improve.


CJ [00:10:29] Clarissa, that’s awesome. So in terms of resources that can be used in a study group. Are there any specific study materials that are well suited to group study?


Clarissa [00:10:39] Yeah, for sure. There are lots of resources on the CELPIP website and online store. One thing I would definitely recommend is the Score Comparison Chart. This is a link on the website, and it’s a free collection of sample speaking and writing responses for each CELPIP level, as well as descriptions about what test takers typically need to achieve to get those levels. And there are also some explanations about strengths and weaknesses for each response. So it’s a great source of discussion with your group.


Chris [00:11:05] And we’re going to actually add a handout, a link to a handout I should say, in the show notes for all of these recommendations we’re making about various study materials that are available to you via the website and online store. I would add that a good place to start if you, if you study group plans to use the Comparison Chart is to read or listen to each response as a group and then discuss all together what that test taker did well or what they need to still work on, and then take a look at the analysis and see whether it matches what you discussed.


CJ [00:11:40] Awesome. So we’ve talked about that tool before. Would that also be helpful tool to help test takers assess their own writing or speaking in a group context?


Chris [00:11:49] Definitely. Once the group has become familiar with the examples in the Score Comparison Chart, they could share their own writing and speaking responses. Other group members could provide feedback using what they have learned from the Score Comparison Chart.


CJ [00:12:03] Yeah, that sounds great and sounds like it worked really well. What other resources could we offer test takers that are doing work in a study group?


Clarissa [00:12:13] There are some items on the CELPIP store that could be a good fit for a study group, such as CELPIP Accelerate. It’s an online course that you can do at your own pace, and it’s got dozens and dozens of video lessons about various English topics and components of the test. It could be pretty useful if you go through it as a group, maybe watching a few videos each session, discussing them, and completing the quizzes and exercises as a group before checking your answers. Plus, anyone who has a CELPIP account gets a free version of Accelerate to give you a taste of the larger paid version. So I think that’s a great place to start.


CJ [00:12:46] Mm-Hmm. We love CELPIP Accelerate. Now what about everyone’s favorite study tool: practice tests?


Clarissa [00:12:54] Yes, practice tests could be a great resource for study groups. A group could even all do a part of the test at the same time and then discuss it right after, bringing up any questions they found particularly challenging.


CJ [00:13:06] OK, yeah, that’s really interesting. And just to dig deeper, how would that work, exactly, for those listeners?


Clarissa [00:13:13] Well, the free option would mean accessing one of the free practice tests on our website or through CELPIP accounts. Everyone could do, say, the reading part of the test on their own computers, and then meet online or in person to discuss it. If more tests were needed, then everyone in the group could buy their own practice tests from our online store. We’ve got tons of tests available, so that could help with hours of group preparation. Groups could even use the speaking questions from those tests to practice with each other.


CJ [00:13:42] Right, speaking questions or even the writing questions.


Clarissa [00:13:45] Oh, totally, yes. And sometimes it can be helpful even just to share ideas about what you would write about without necessarily sharing a written answer with the group.


Chris [00:13:53] Hmm. Fantastic advice. You know, now you’ve got me thinking about some of our other study materials. We’ve got the e-book Common CELPIP Errors and How to Avoid Them. I can imagine some good group discussion coming out of that. It has a lot of exercises in which you must identify the error. Groups could work on those together. It would also help everyone become better at offering feedback for writing and speaking practice responses. Clarissa, did you come up with any other ideas while preparing for this episode?


Clarissa [00:14:24] Well, I was looking at the CELPIP YouTube channel. There’s so much there that groups can use. Really, any of those videos could be the basis of useful group discussion. But one thing that caught my attention was the Rate the Response series that has all the speaking response samples at different levels. That seemed like something that could really lend itself to a conversation about what’s expected on the Speaking Test.


Chris [00:14:45] Oh yeah, that’s a great idea. And obviously include a link to that in, in the handout that we are going to include in the show notes. Well, thanks, Clarissa. It’s been fascinating to listen to your experience with study groups, and I’m sure that our listeners will benefit from it all.


CJ [00:15:03] Yeah, that’s so true. I think that our test takers are going to get so much from this. And honestly, just listening to your positive experience makes me want to join a study group right now.


Chris [00:15:13] But you’re not studying anything right now.


CJ [00:15:16] OK, that’s not like really the point. It doesn’t matter. I can start. But if I was one of our test takers, I would definitely find Clarissa’s approach super inspiring. So, Clarissa, thank you so, so much for sharing your insight with us. That’s great.


Clarissa [00:15:31] My pleasure. Any time.


CJ [00:15:33] So Chris, what do we got coming up on our next episode?


Chris [00:15:38] Next time we’re going to continue our series on finding fun ways to build English skills. This time, we’ll be talking about our staff picks for TV shows that could help test takers improve their English.


CJ [00:15:49] Sounds like another fantastic opportunity for our listeners. I can’t wait. I really enjoyed the episode about books. So once again, thank you and goodbye to Clarissa.


Clarissa [00:15:58] Goodbye.


Chris [00:16:00] See you on our Teams call soon. And just before we go, I have one more message for our listeners. This has been our 13th episode, and so far the feedback that we’ve heard has been really positive. So thanks to everyone who has let us know how we’re doing. Just a reminder to everyone that we include a link to a survey in the show notes with every podcast episode. We’d love it if you could take a few minutes and fill out the survey. Let us know how we can make this podcast even better. And if you have a topic in mind you’d like us to cover, by all means, let us know about that too. And on that note, see you next time.


CJ [00:16:37] Bye, everyone.


I had taken other English language proficiency before, and CELPIP was more relatable to me. All of the questions were situations I was familiar with from daily life, and were like conversations I had experienced personally.
- Chrisna D., CELPIP Test Taker
When I took CELPIP, I found it was like speaking English in real life. You speak every day with your boss and with your friends, and the CELPIP Test represents those every-day, real-life language situations.
- Rafaela B., CELPIP Test Taker