Oral ESL Test Anxiety with Emirati Secondary School Students
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In the UAE and globally, high-stakes testing is prevalent in second language learning. One important and integral part of high-stakes English language tests is the oral proficiency interview, which can be a pre-requisite to gaining admission to an English-speaking university. The purpose of this study is to examine Emirati secondary school boys' and girls' experiences with and perceptions of anxiety in the classroom and oral assessments and tests. Furthermore, this study focuses on the different types of anxiety experienced in class and during an Edexcel IGCSE (International General Certificate in Secondary Education) ESL (English as a Second Language) OPI (oral proficiency interview). In addition, this study, conducted in the UAE, examined the strategies students used to prepare for oral tests and whether test-taking strategies students used in oral proficiency interview exams assisted with their anxiety. The study also observed physical signs of test anxiety and anxiety differences between secondary boys and girls during an Edexcel IGCSE ESL OPI test. The volunteer participants were 25, 15-17-year-old Emirati students from two IGCSE ESL classes that I do not teach. This study included a videotaped mock oral proficiency IGCSE interview; audiotaped semi-structured individual interviews, questionnaires, and an audiorecorded semi-structured focus group discussion. The findings suggested that language and test anxiety is multi-faceted and can affect boys and girls in a number of different ways and at different times during class activities and also in an OPI. In addition, all participants showed different physical signs of test anxiety during the first two stages of the OPI, and these physical signs of test anxiety were considerably less frequent in the final part of the OPI. The causes and types of anxiety reported by the students ranged from language learning difficulties, problems trying to retrieve appropriate English vocabulary, code switching from Arabic language to English and vice versa, differences in social status of the teachers/language instructors, and unfamiliarity with the interlocutor. The pedagogical implications of these findings for understanding anxiety and oral test anxiety with second language students for teachers, schools and examination boards are discussed, as are suggestions for future research. Furthermore, considering the important role of teachers in second language pedagogy and the use of English as the main language of instruction, this study also offers suggestions to lessen anxiety for oral class activities and oral assessments, and presents test-taking strategies.