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ESOL – Literacy – Numeracy


English Speaking Board (ESB) ESOL Exams

The organisation where I work has all but dropped Cambridge ESOL exams and are offering exams from ESB (English Speaking Board).


At the time of writing I am preparing a class for their ESOL Entry 3 reading exam. While the reading texts in the sample papers do not appear to be particularly difficult, the assessment method is very different from Cambridge ESOL.

For example, at Entry 3, there are 21 marks that are awarded across 7 different criteria. Candidates must achieve all 7 criteria in order to pass the exam and they have 3 opportunities to meet each criteria (i.e. 3 questions x 7 criteria = 21 possible marks):

  • 1.1 Identify the main points of short straightforward text
  • 1.2 Identify main events in short straightforward
  • 1.3 Use language features to identify meaning in short straightforward text
  • 1.4 Identify the meaning of words and phrases in short straightforward text
  • 2.1 Identify the purpose of short straightforward text
  • 3.1 Obtain information from short straightforward text for a given task
  • 4.1 Use first and second placed letters to order words in alphabetical order

How ESB differs from Cambridge ESOL is that with Cambridge, there was an overall pass mark of around 60% and candidates at Entry 3 also had to pass the section which examined alphabetical order. With ESB, candidates must get at least one mark in each of the 7 criteria in order to pass. So, in theory it is possible for a candidate to get 7/21 and pass becasue they met all 7 criteria, while another candidate could get 18/21 and fail becasue they didn’t meet one of the criteria. (This was confirmed in writing by ESB).


At Entry 3, there are 3 questions that must be answered in 1 hour. Similar to the reading exam, there are criteria that the candidate must achieve in order to pass:

  • 1.1 Plan text for the intended audience
  • 2.1 Produce content for the intended audience
  • 2.2 Structure main points in short paragraphs
  • 2.3 Sequence text chronologically, using connectives, conjunctions and discourse markers appropriate to Entry 3
  • 2.4 Use grammar correctly, with 4 correct sentences using Entry 3 level grammar
  • 2.5 Use punctuation correctly
  • 2.6 Spell words appropriate to the level correctly
  • 3.1 Complete a form with open and closed responses correctly

There are 2 opportunities to achieve each criteria, with the exception of criteria 1.1 and 3.1 which can only be achieved in the second and first tasks respectively (because task 1 is always a form, task 2 always requires a plan).

A representative from ESB visited our organisation to talk about the assessment criteria and what was interesting is that the writing is assessed according to whether it is appropriate for the level. For example, a candidate taking the Entry 3 writing exam may produce texts with correct spelling and grammar, but it would not achieve the criteria if it consists of content that an Entry 2 or Entry 1 candidate could produce. In other words, the complexity of the sentences and the range of vocabulary needs to reflect the level of the exam.

Many of my learners find meeting criteria 2.4 (producing 4 correct senteces with Entry 3 grammar) the most difficult to achieve. The ESB representative made an interesting remark regarding this criteria, which was if the candidate did not produce 4 correct sentences in a particular task, then a moderator would look at the paper and decide of there were enough grammatically correct sentences produced in the whole paper, as well as other aspects of the candidate’s writing being of an acceptable standard.

Reading and writing sample papers

Here are the links to reading and writing sample papers:

Speaking and listening

Speaking and listening exam videos can be found on YouTube.

Links to speaking and listening exam syllabuses and sample papers can be found below:

The format of the ESB speaking and listening exams are similar to Cambridge. For example, at Entry 3, there are 4 parts to the exam: exchanging personal information (Q&A), an unprepared talk, a role play and the listening (with a discussion). The exam is done in pairs and takes an estimated 29 minutes to complete.

One difference between the 2 exams is the number of people in the exam room. In addition to the 2 candidates taking the exam, there is 1 examiner from ESB who also takes on the role of interlocutor. With Cambridge, there is one examiner from Cambridge and a separate interlocutor, who is usually a tutor at the candidate’s organisation.

I was able to sit-in on an ESB speaking and listening exam and my general impression was that the examiners are very friendly and do their best to encourage candidates to speak. With Cambridge, the exam feels much more formal, with the interlocutor having to follow a script and a strict time limit, with minimal participation from the examiner.

However, in terms of the method of assessment, ESB appears to have a much stricter set of criteria that candidates must meet in order to pass. For example, many candidates at my organisation found the criteria to use the past tense accurately particulary challenging and failed as a result.

entry 1entry 2entry 3ESBESOLexam materialslevel 1websites

spicytoothadmin • October 29, 2016

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