The Official CELPIP Podcast: Episode 9 – Test Features
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CJ [00:00:00] Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Official CELPIP Podcast, where we aim to help you, our test takers, get your best possible score and support newcomers building a life in Canada. My name is CJ, and along with my co-host, Chris, we talk to a variety of guests from test takers, language teachers and test raters to employment counselors, immigration consultants, and more. We also bring you in-house staff on the show to get their perspective. They’re the people in the company that work behind the scenes to make the CELPIP Test available to you. How are you doing, Chris? Ready for another action-packed episode?
Chris [00:00:41] Hey, CJ. Well, it’s CELPIP Podcast time, so of course, I’m doing pretty great.
CJ [00:00:47] Of course, this is going to be a great episode. I can feel it. I think this week’s topic is something we can all relate to.
Chris [00:00:56] How to cool down in the summer?
CJ [00:00:59] No, I mean, I can totally relate to that. My apartment was like a sauna this summer, but no. What we’re going to talk about today is just as relevant though. It seems that there’s just so much to keep track of this day. You know, so many things in the news and just life in general to worry about.
Chris [00:01:17] Absolutely. I know what you mean. And when you’re a newcomer to a country and you’re applying for residency and citizenship, and a proficiency test that go along with it, that can just add to the stress. I really feel for our test takers.
CJ [00:01:30] For sure. And with so much going on, it’s good to reduce your worries wherever you can. And that’s where today’s topic will come in handy. We want to give you some peace of mind here by talking about all the things that you don’t need to worry about in CELPIP.
Chris [00:01:48] That’s right. In fact, we’ve got a guest with us today to help us dive into this subject. Here’s Nathan from the Instructional Products and Programs team. Welcome to the episode, Nathan.
Nathan [00:01:59] Hey, Chris. Hey, CJ. Happy to be here.
CJ [00:02:01] This is so exciting. So thanks for being here. But before we get rolling, can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and your role at the company?
Nathan [00:02:11] Yeah, for sure. So I’ve been working in the Instructional Products and Programs team alongside Chris for I think over six years now. I’m an instructional designer, so I help design a lot of the different textbooks and put together our practice tests and online courses and all of that stuff. So I do a lot of design kind of behind the scenes, and I’m super stoked to talk about some of the things you don’t have to worry about today.
CJ [00:02:40] OK, well, it’s awesome that you’re here and you really do seem like a pretty good guy to have in this episode, so lucky us and lucky for our listeners. Now, I remember from my own days taking tests that there were a lot of things I used to worry about. What if I misread the instructions? What if I run out of time? What if I go blank and can’t think of anything to write? Oh, gosh. Just, just thinking about it again… Yeah.
Nathan [00:03:08] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I think we can all relate to that. But the things I’m going to discuss today will hopefully make the test taking experience just a little bit more peaceful.
Chris [00:03:17] Well, I think I can speak for everyone when I say that I love where this is going. Why don’t we begin?
Nathan [00:03:26] So let’s start nice and simple. CJ, I think just now you mentioned wondering what to do if you run out of time on a test.
CJ [00:03:33] I sure did.
Nathan [00:03:35] Well, that’s a great question to start with. I think that’s a concern of every test taker for every test basically ever. How do you manage your time so that you’re not cut short at the end? Well, there are a lot of time management strategies out there. And actually, I think we talk about that in Episode 6 of the podcast. So you should totally check that out if you haven’t already. But more specifically for CELPIP, there are on-screen timers for each part of the test. And if you’ve checked out some of the practice tests already, you’ve probably noticed this, so please just bear with me here. So, yeah, anyway, for example, if you’re doing a Speaking task on the test, you’ll see a progress bar showing you how much time you have left to prepare your answer and then another progress bar for when you begin to speak. Same thing for Reading and Writing and Listening. Somewhere on the screen, you’re going to see a timer showing you how much time you have left for that part. So as long as you glance at the timer once in a while, it should really keep you on track there. All right, what other questions have you got for me?
Chris [00:04:42] How about this one? One concern we hear a lot is that with CELPIP being a test of Canadian English proficiency, do test takers need to worry about having specific knowledge of Canada?
CJ [00:04:55] Oh, I know this one. No, they do not.
Nathan [00:04:59] That’s right. You don’t need to worry about knowing specific facts about Canada. No need to remember the provinces and territories or our government system. And definitely no need to be concerned about using Canadian spellings of certain words. And that’s because none of that information reflects your ability to demonstrate your English proficiency. Whether or not you know that Canada is a constitutional monarchy has absolutely no bearing on how well you can communicate in everyday life.
CJ [00:05:28] Hoo, for a minute there I was getting flashbacks to memorizing all the prime ministers in high school. Yikes. What else have you got, Nathan?
Nathan [00:05:35] Alright. Here’s another common worry with an easy fix. Test takers sometimes ask, “I’m taking the test soon and I have no idea what to expect. I’m kind of panicking here. How can I quickly get familiar with things?”
Chris [00:05:47] Yeah, that’s common for sure. So what is the best answer here?
Nathan [00:05:51] Well, according to the surveys we’ve conducted, many test-takers give themselves only a month or less to prepare. If this is the case for you, don’t worry. There are plenty of things you can do to get ready. I don’t want to get sidetracked here talking about prep materials in depth, you can check out—Chris, which episode did you talk about the free study materials?
Chris [00:06:13] Oh, that was Episode 3. Definitely worth a listen if you haven’t checked it out already. And of course, there are the prep materials on our online store as well.
Nathan [00:06:21] Right. So there are lots of different resources to help you prepare. But at the very least, take a look at our pair of free practice tests. If you’re taking the test in just a few days, it’s worth having a look. They’ll take just a few hours each or less if you’re just quickly clicking through them. I know you’ve probably heard this before, but honestly, they’re worth checking out. They’re available straight from the website and they’re also waiting for you in your CELPIP account, and they’re probably the best way to get a feel for how the test functions. That way, you’ll have no surprises on test day. And even if you’re feeling confident about your language proficiency, it doesn’t hurt to check them out.
CJ [00:07:01] Yes, I am always down for free things, and especially if they’re useful like this. So, is a month enough time to prepare? Like, ideal situation? What do you suggest?
Nathan [00:07:16] Well, I mean, everyone comes from different backgrounds with different levels of English, and there may be different aspects of the language that you want to focus on. So there’s no one length of time that’s going to fit for everyone. But generally, if you have the opportunity, it’s good to start preparing for the test as early as you can, even a few months before or more, depending on how confident you are in your current level of English.
CJ [00:07:40] All right, thanks. So what’s your next tip then?
Nathan [00:07:45] OK, I think everyone’s really going to enjoy this one because it’s all about grammar.
Chris [00:07:51] I’m not sure I put enjoy and grammar in the same sentence.
Nathan [00:07:55] OK, fair enough. But in this case, I think it makes sense. The thing I wanted to mention was that it’s totally fine if you make a few grammar or spelling mistakes. Really, don’t worry about it. It’s completely normal.
CJ [00:08:07] OK, interesting. I like what I’m hearing here. Can you tell me a bit more about that though?
Nathan [00:08:15] Yeah, for sure. So let’s think for a minute about how we communicate in everyday life outside of any testing situation. It doesn’t matter what our first language is. When we communicate in day-to-day situations, we all make mistakes. Maybe we stumble over a few words when we’re speaking with a relative, or maybe we make some typos or grammar mistakes when we’re sending an email to a coworker. It happens to everyone. And honestly, it’s no big deal.
CJ [00:08:42] OK, well, I’m sure our listeners will appreciate hearing that. I mean, honestly, I do as well.
Nathan [00:08:49] Exactly. Now, I don’t mean to say that when you’re taking the test, you can just avoid proofreading your work. You should still proofread your writing, but don’t focus exclusively on grammar and spelling mistakes. And when you speak, you should still try to express yourself as clearly and precisely as possible, but there’s no need to go back and correct every single mistake that you make. The thing is, raters don’t really care if you mess up here and there unless you make so many mistakes that it impedes the clarity of what you’re saying. Instead, it’s more important that you focus on presenting your ideas in a way that’s understandable to the raters.
CJ [00:09:26] Nathan, that’s such good advice. So if I were to quickly summarize this for our listeners, I would say…
Nathan [00:09:34] Yeah, that’s fair enough. That was kind of a long explanation. OK, so to summarize, don’t worry if you make a few grammar or spelling mistakes here and there; raters don’t really care about that. Instead, focus on what raters do care about: clearly expressing your ideas with lots of depth.
Chris [00:09:52] Well, that’s certainly one less thing to worry about. Now, here’s a common question we get from test takers. Do I need to worry about which greeting and sign-off I use during the email task of the Writing Test?
Nathan [00:10:05] Great question, Chris. And the short answer is nope. But let me explain a little bit further. So in one task of the Writing Test, you’ll write a response in the form of an email. And as you’re likely aware, emails usually start with a greeting. These can range from informal and personal, like “Hi Chris,” to formal and less personal, such as “To whom it may concern,” and lots of other variations. And emails usually end with a sign-off telling the reader that they have reached the end. “Best regards,” “Cheers,” and “Yours Sincerely” are common sign-offs.
Chris [00:10:42] “Thanks” is another one. I feel like I type that like 20 times a day.
Nathan [00:10:46] Yeah, yeah. I think my favorite is probably “Cheers.” But my point here is that if I suddenly forgot to write a greeting or sign off, my emails would be just as readable as they were before.
Chris [00:10:58] So you’re saying that greetings and sign-offs don’t really matter?
Nathan [00:11:02] Well, try to include them for the sake of completeness, but just don’t obsess over them. So if you forget them or don’t have time, it’s not the end of the world. What I’d encourage our listeners to do is think of things from a rater’s perspective. Be practical and ask yourself what can I do to make it easier for the raters to understand? Paragraphing, transitions, all that kind of stuff, can help. Test takers tend to get stuck on rules without thinking about what’s behind those rules. So, is the ability to use a sign-off a good way to evaluate someone to level of English proficiency? Honestly, it’s just not that important. Now, how you develop your ideas, the vocabulary you use, the details you provide to support those ideas, that really indicates your skill. But memorizing a two-word sign-off, eh, not so much.
CJ [00:11:59] OK, I’m loving this. So what I’m hearing is that if a test taker forgets to include a greeting or sign off in their emails, it won’t really impact their score, so they shouldn’t worry about it.
Nathan [00:12:11] Yep, that’s right. And sort of connected to this. I’ve noticed that some test takers will actually write out complete fake email addresses for themselves and the person they’re writing to. They’ll even come up with a subject line just like you’d see in a real email client.
CJ [00:12:28] Oh, wow. Is that a requirement of the test, too?
Nathan [00:12:31] It sure isn’t. Now, writing out things like email addresses and subjects may make your email look more realistic, but I guarantee you that none of that is necessary. And in fact, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you spend time on it. The raters don’t care if you include fake email addresses or not. You’re wasting your time here, which you could instead be using on something more important, like making sure the main ideas of your response are nicely supported by details.
CJ [00:13:01] OK, well, I’m glad we cleared that up. So there’s another time-saving tip for our listeners. Don’t worry about formatting your email response to look realistic. It doesn’t really matter. OK, awesome. Moving on, Nathan, you must have something else for us.
Nathan [00:13:17] Oh, you know, I do. Since we’re talking about writing, let’s stay on this topic for a few more minutes. So for any listeners who aren’t aware, you’ll be given a pen and notepaper during the test. This is to help you brainstorm ideas and make notes. It’s particularly useful in the Writing and Speaking sections.
Chris [00:13:37] Oh, yeah, that’s a common feature in tests. I remember taking lots of tests in the past on various subjects where I’d also received some paper to write ideas on.
Nathan [00:13:46] Yep. Super common. And did your notepaper ever contribute to your test score?
Chris [00:13:52] Hmm. Come to think of it, no. It had no impact on my score. I don’t think my instructors even looked at it.
Nathan [00:13:59] And it’s the same for CELPIP. The raters will never look at your notepaper. Its only purpose is to help you organize your notes. So if you write out a full page of notes about your Writing or Speaking responses, that’s great. If you don’t touch it, that’s also fine. And if you write out a shopping list for when you get groceries after the test, that—actually ,actually, don’t do that. Keep the note paper to test content, otherwise you’re just wasting time. But what I’m saying here is that the note paper won’t affect your score either way, so don’t worry about how messy your notes are or even whether you use the paper or not.
Chris [00:14:36] Well, I bet a lot of our listeners are making huge sighs of relief right now. What’s something else the test takers don’t have to worry about?
Nathan [00:14:45] OK, so for this point, I’m going to jump over to the Speaking section. This is another thing that we get lots of questions about. So in some of the Speaking tasks, you’re asked to talk about something from your personal experience. Maybe you need to discuss a time you looked for a job or describe a memorable experience you had with a relative, things like that. And many test takers worry about what to do if they don’t have any experiences to draw from, or what if they go blank and simply can’t remember anything to talk about.
CJ [00:15:16] OK, now that I think about it, yeah, those are some really good points. What would a test taker do if they don’t have any related experiences to discuss?
Nathan [00:15:25] Well, you’ve probably guessed my answer by now. Don’t worry. The thing to keep in mind here is that none of what you say has to be real. Everything you say can be completely fake. The raters never care whether the content you’re discussing is real or not while they’re assessing your responses. The only thing they care about is how clearly you’ve expressed yourself and the depth of content in your response.
CJ [00:15:49] Oh, yeah, that makes total sense. So test takers can talk about pretty much anything in that case?
Nathan [00:15:56] No, not just anything. If you’re asked to talk about an experience with your family, you can’t just go and describe a scene from Star Wars or something. Remember that the content of your response has to be relevant and accurately fulfill each aspect of the question. The important thing is that the content doesn’t have to be true to your life. Don’t worry about that. As long as what you say is clear, precise, and relevant to the task, that’s all you need to care about.
CJ [00:16:23] Well, that’s really, really helpful to know. And we’re almost out of time here. So how about a couple more points?
Nathan [00:16:31] You betcha. Here’s one that’s a really common concern among test takers. Do I have to worry about understanding every single word in a Reading or Listening passage?
CJ [00:16:41] OK, I’m noticing a trend in your answers here. I’m guessing the answer is no.
Nathan [00:16:47] That’s right. No, you don’t need to know the meaning of every word you come across. I mean, I’ve been speaking English my whole life, and I still sometimes come across words in books that I don’t know, or words I’ve been mispronouncing for years without realizing it.
CJ [00:17:02] Yes, same I’m glad I’m not the only one.
Nathan [00:17:05] Right? That’s just part of life. And more specifically, for CELPIP, there may be times where you read or hear words you don’t know. Now, if the word is mentioned several times, it may be worth figuring out what it means. So in that case, you could try to use the surrounding context of the passage and make a reasonable guess. For example, if I said, “The bird spread its pinions and leapt into the air,” what do you figure “pinions” might mean?
Chris [00:17:32] I haven’t heard that word before, but I’m guessing from the rest of the sentence that it’s similar to wings.
Nathan [00:17:39] That’s right. And this strategy of deriving the meanings of words from their surrounding context can be super handy on the test. BUT! But but but but, it’s usually only worth doing if the word appears multiple times. If a new word only appears once in the whole passage, it’s probably not worth spending the time to figure out. So in that case, don’t worry about it. There are more important things to do, like, you know, answering the questions which are more deserving of your time.
CJ [00:18:08] OK, well, thank you for that. That really makes a lot of sense. And how about one last point before you go.
Nathan [00:18:16] Absolutely. Since we’re already on the subject of reading, let’s talk about skimming and scanning. Test takers sometimes get concerned about how much they’ll need to do this on the test or even how to do it in the first place.
CJ [00:18:30] Speaking of which, do you want to explain what these are for anyone who’s not aware?
Nathan [00:18:34] Oh, yeah, for sure. So skimming is basically when you take a really quick look at a piece of text, you’re not necessarily even reading it, just getting an overall sense of things, its length, how it’s formatted. And in terms of CELPIP, maybe how many questions you see and how many paragraphs the text is, things like that.
CJ [00:18:56] Wait. This sounds familiar.
Nathan [00:18:57] That’s cause it is. The good news is that we all skim already, even if we’re not aware we’re doing it. You ever look at an article online and scroll to the bottom before you begin to see how long it’s going to be? That’s skimming right there. Scanning, on the other hand, is when you look quickly at some text in search for specific words or phrases. If you’re cooking with a recipe, for example, you probably don’t read the entire recipe. Each time you refer to it, you probably scan for a particular ingredient you need and focus on that.
Chris [00:19:29] Well, that certainly takes some of the mystery out of things. So if most people skim and scan already, how can they apply this to CELPIP?
Nathan [00:19:38] Yeah. So for skimming, as I already mentioned, just take a quick look at the text before you begin to get a sense of its length, how much time you’ve got, how many questions, that kind of thing. And for some questions, you’ll likely need to scan for information in the text: keywords and terms, names, places, things like that. And speaking of names, these are some of the easiest things to scan for. Proper nouns are names of specific people, places, and things, and they always start with capital letters, and capitals stand out a bit more when you’re quickly scanning, so they’re easy to spot. Quotation marks stand out as well, and they’re also a good clue that a specific speaker is somewhere near them. I mean, I could go on all day about strategies here, but these are the very basics. So really skimming and scanning are easy to pick up and use, and you probably do them both already. So no need to worry too much about them on the test.
CJ [00:20:37] Nathan. Wow. OK, so we’ve covered a lot of ground here today. Just to summarize some things for our listeners of what you should not worry about during the test: there are timers for each part of the test, so you don’t need to stress out about that. And you don’t need to worry about knowing specific facts about Canada. You can resolve your concerns about the test experience by checking out the free practice test. And my personal favorite, you don’t need to worry about making a few grammar mistakes and spelling mistakes along the way.
Chris [00:21:07] Also, no need to worry about greetings and sign offs in emails, and there’s definitely no need to actually create fake email addresses or subject lines. Oh, and in addition, you don’t need to worry about how messy your notepaper is or whether you use it at all. And you don’t need to worry about using information from your personal experience. It can be fictional as long as the content is relevant to the question. And you don’t need to worry about knowing every single word in a Listening or Reading passage.
Nathan [00:21:38] And lastly, don’t stress about skimming and scanning. You probably do them both already, so just be aware of these strategies as you go through the test.
CJ [00:21:47] OK, well that’s a lot to take in, but I feel like it’s really important stuff to keep in mind when preparing for the test. So thank you so much for dropping by, Nathan. It was awesome to have you here.
Nathan [00:21:59] Sure thing. Happy to help. Or should I say no worries?
CJ [00:22:03] Oh, OK. Well, that pretty much concludes this episode of The CELPIP Podcast. What are we talking about next time, Chris?
Chris [00:22:12] Next time we’re going to talk to our newest member of the team, Simon Best. Simon brings a very unique perspective to language learning and test preparation. In addition to being a very experienced language teacher, he also has a background in theater and acting. His experience in drama informs his approach to teaching language in very interesting ways. He has a lot of great tips on how to improve your Speaking score and how to control anxiety during the test.
CJ [00:22:40] OK, I for one, am really looking forward to that. In the meantime, I hope everyone has a great week and that your test preparation is nice and stress-free.
Chris [00:22:51] Absolutely. See you next time!
CJ [00:22:54] Bye everybody!