With a stellar reputation, Trinity College London has been providing English language certification since 1938. Approved by the UK Border Agency, it is also recognised by the University and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS), appropriating overseas students for entry into UK higher education. An estimated 700,000 assessments are delivered each year, and according to sources, this figure is on the rise.
With three main examinations to choose from Graded Examinations in Spoken English (GESE), Integrated Skills in English (ISE) and Spoken English for Work (SEW), students are sure to find a language assessment that best suits them and their objectives. While ISE focuses on all four language disciplines (speaking, writing, listening and reading), GESE, which is perhaps the most popular exam in the Trinity suite, hones in on candidates’ speaking and listening capabilities, something Kevin McNally from London-based Hampstead School of English part of the EAC portfolio of schools is keen to emphasise. Having run Trinity prep courses since 2001, he says, “[Trinity exams] are very popular…as the emphasis is on the spoken language which is an area most students want to work on.”
Consisting of 12 different grades, which, says Dr Val Hennessy, Principal of International House Bristol, makes it very easy to choose the right level for each candidate the GESE end-examination is quite distinct in format. Very much performance-based, students sit a one-to-one oral examination with a native English-speaking examiner all based in the UK and sent around the world to ensure that the exam is standardized. In addition, candidates are encouraged to speak about personal experiences as opposed to focussing on textbook examples, thus allowing students to relax into the exam environment, asserts Hennessy. “It helps that candidates get to choose what to talk about: younger students might bring in their favourite teddy or toy, older or more advanced candidates can bring articles they are particularly interested in. This personal focus seems to relax candidates as they know a large part of what they will be talking about,” she notes.
While Trinity examinations are available all year-round, those canvassed for this article noted that the uptake for preparation courses is generally seasonal with many offering Trinity prep as part of their summer programming or on a request basis. “They are not the most in demand exam but we do receive requests, especially in the summer,” vouches Linda Polkowski, Vice Principal of Anglolang Academy in Scarborough. Claire Rickards from EAC Language Centres details a similar trend. “They have always been available by request for groups attending summer vacation courses and for low season groups in our year-round schools in Edinburgh and Hastings.” McNally, meanwhile, asserts that while Trinity preparation programmes may be less popular in terms of regularity offered just once or twice a year at the school they are particularly popular with group bookings.
Other providers point out that Trinity exam preparation is not necessarily a stand-alone course, with some building it into an already existing language programme. For example, at EAC students can take a course comprising 15 hours of general English per week which includes, says Rickards, a course book, topic-based syllabus, including project work and excursion preparation, including three hours of Trinity GESE examination preparation. New for summer 2012, their premium centres in Godolphin (Salisbury) and Buxton will offer 20 hours of general English per week, including five hours of GESE prep as well as supervised homework sessions.
Trinity exam prep forms part of the summer programming at Millfield English Language Holiday Courses in Somerset. Karen Page, at the school, notes that the introduction of a prep course seven years ago was an innovative step. At its inception stage, Trinity’s flexibility (in terms of exam dates and accessibility (students from ages five-to-70 can apply to sit the exam) were fundamental in their decision to introduce a designated course. “The Trinity exam fitted nicely within the timescale that we could work within. We also appreciated that the various levels show progression for returning students,” she explains. Preparation courses at the centre form part of their 15 hours a week general English programme, with additional tuition available if required. She adds, “Millfield is a Trinity examination centre and holds examination days on two occasions during the summer course. Most years we have in excess of one hundred students sitting the exam.”
In terms of nationality mix, McNally indicates a strong Italian bias for this particular exam programme, particularly high school-aged students, a trend also identified at Anglolang and Linguacentre in London. James Hordon, Director at ATC International in Hull which has several summer centres notes that they introduced Trinity exam prep courses as a vacation option two years ago and so far this has gathered a lot of interest from Southern European countries. “We have held Trinity exams at five of our vacation centres in the UK this July…we have worked very closely with Trinity to roll this out as we have examined over 1,500 students this summer from beginner to advanced, with a minimum age of 12.”