Online study

Getting a CELTA Pass A πŸ‘¨πŸ»β€πŸŽ“

Here’s everything I learned in the process of earning CELTA’s top grade, plus something you won’t find elsewhere: Pass-A-quality example lesson plans, assignments, and more.

Are you doing a CELTA course and shooting for an A? Or just want to learn more about what it takes? You’re in the right place.

Let’s start by being more pessimistic, but then we’ll dial it back. First, here’s Jo Gakonga with a short summary of the CELTA assessment guidelines:

Jenna Cody also has a great write-up about her experience getting a Pass A, and how difficult/intense it was.

Both Jo and Jenna want you to know that you probably shouldn’t be aiming for a Pass A. Jo starts out with this line: “The rather harsh truth that you might not want to hear is that you’re almost certain not to get a Pass A at CELTA. They don’t give that very easily.” And here’s Jenna: “I highly doubt that someone on the CELTA course with zero teaching experience could get a Pass A unless they were preternaturally talented or had some indirect experience.” Then there are Cambridge’s published grade stats, broken down by country for 2004–2018. The 2018 results show that about 5% got a Pass A.

So how hard is it? Pass A will take a lot of work, but I think everything above paints too pessimistic a picture. I got it without any teaching experience, and I don’t think I’m that talented. There are lots of things you can do to improve your odds, and I’m here to help!

My first advantage was that I did a semi-full-time six week course. Four week courses are probably the most common, and the limited time is why CELTA is described by almost all students as intense. I was very grateful for the extra two weeks in my course, and it definitely gave me more time to polish everything I did. So for starters, don’t do a four week course if you can help it. However, in order to find a course with a longer schedule, you might need to shop around internationally…

Choosing a CELTA Training Center

It used to be that you had to do the course in person. Covid changed that. Now you can shop around internationally and attend online, choosing whatever center you want that fits your budget, ideal start date, course duration, and time zone. CELTA is very standardized and teaching centers get close scrutiny from Cambridge, so I’m guessing that tutors in most locations are at least decent. And your tutors and students will all be speaking English no matter where you take the course.

I went with International House Mexico. In addition to being among the cheapest centers in the world (at least for their online course), their time zone is friendly for US students, and most of their instructors turned out to be excellent.

Note that many companies teach Cambridge’s CELTA course, which was confusing to me at first when trying to choose a location and start date. The biggest players are International House and Teaching House, both of which have many locations around the world. But there are many other training centers and universities that also teach CELTA. Cambridge’s official site can help you sort through them all by country and city, but its UX is not great. StudyCELTA has an easier to use search that lets you find places based on CELTA course type (online intensive, online part time, online blended, full time face to face, or part time face to face) and course starting date, but they only show testing centers that they partner with. I used a mix of both websites to narrow down my choices.

Example Materials

Possibly the most useful thing you can do (even more than giving yourself extra time for the course) is to learn from high quality teaching demos and example materials. CELTA tutors will conduct some demo classes and probably give you example materials for some (but not all) assignments, as well as example teaching practice (TP) lesson plans from a prior student or two at their center. You should definitely learn from those! However, the quality of those written materials may vary. Some will definitely not be at Pass A level. So here I’m providing examples of my own work to give you ideas about how to approach and structure things, and give you a sense of the level of work that will be needed. If this helps you, please let me know in the comments!

These are meant to be examples only. Don’t use any parts of them directly. Cambridge holds the submissions of all past CELTA students, including me, and they put assignments (and possibly other work) through plagiarism detectors. They’ll deny you a certification at the end of the course if they detect that you reused someone else’s work.

Hopefully yours come out better than mine!

Of course, your written materials won’t be everything. Being effective during teaching practices is at least equally important. So I’ve got more tips…

More Tips

  • Do a practice/dry-run of each lesson beforehand. If you have a longsuffering partner, family member, or friend willing to do this with you, take advantage of that! Otherwise, it’s still worth doing on your own (and responding to yourself as students might).
    • This will mean an additional 45+ minutes of prep for each lesson, but I found it so beneficial that I stuck with it every time. During every dry-run, my first pass was somewhat rough and I was able to make adjustments that made it better the second time around with real students. It helped me understand where things weren’t working and also where I needed to shorten things to stay within the available time.
    • Your first few dry-runs will also be good opportunities to make sure you’re fully comfortable with any tools you’ll be using like Zoom whiteboards/breakout rooms, Google Slides/Forms/Jamboards, etc.
  • After submitting a TP lesson plan, prepare a streamlined version that you can print in advance of your lesson (see example above). This printout should be easy to read at a glance and exclude any fluff you won’t need during the lesson (e.g., references, full language analysis, etc.). Use it during your dry-run and the actual lesson.
  • Incorporate any feedback tutors give you into your very next TP if possible, or as soon as appropriate. They want to see you show growth and responsiveness to feedback during the course. If your style or preferred teaching methodologies are different than theirs, that’s fine to go back to after the CELTA course. In the meantime you should follow the opinionated approach that you’re paying them to teach you.
  • Participate at least a little in post-TP peer feedback, and write meaningful self evaluations. Both are expected for students with high grades. To make self evals easier to write, I waited until getting TP feedback from my tutors, then incorporated their feedback into what I wrote.
  • When preparing your first two TP lesson plans, it’s okay to ask your tutors lots of questions and ask for help. I even sent drafts beforehand to my tutor, after he offered to provide early feedback if we did so. But after the first two, try to avoid asking questions over email. They expect Pass A students to be highly independent with their lesson plans.
    • It’s okay to ask more questions about assignments, though, since that’s not held against you in the same way.
  • Your instructor will have a one-on-one discussion with you as part of your stage 2 progress report. That’s a great time to ask what grade you’re on track for, and what the gap is between that and Pass B or Pass A.
    • For me, initially my tutor said that if I was scored then, I’d probably get a Pass B. He also gave some helpful tips on where to focus to continue doing better.
    • After my next TP, I asked if I’d made enough progress on the areas he mentioned to be on track for Pass A, and I got even more advice.
  • I was told that Pass A students typically include lots of scripting in their TP lesson plans, including for any instructions, transitions between lesson stages, ICQs (instruction checking questions), and CCQs (concept checking questions). And of course, make sure your scripts are concise and appropriately graded for the level of the students. I started out a bit wordy, and continually got feedback about reducing TTT (teacher talking time).
  • Make sure to include a language analysis table or section in every lesson plan. Learn everything you can about your language focus for the lesson. In addition to this being important for higher grades, the time I spent on this helped me several times when questions from students came up. I had solid answers for them as a result of the research I’d done beforehand.
  • Since all assignments are allowed to be resubmitted once, CELTA tutors stress that failing an assignment on the first try is no big deal, and that you can think of the first submission as a draft that you’ll get feedback on before submitting the final version. But I wouldn’t rely on this. Getting a Pass B will be very hard if you need a resubmission for more than one assignment, and Pass A might not be possible with any resubmissions. Take extra time before submitting to get your polish in on the first try.
  • One of my tutors said assignments have a 10% word count leeway, so there’s no need to spend extra time e.g. finding a few more words to shave off if you’re over the limit. But you might want to confirm with your own tutors that it’s okay to rely on this.
  • Be organized and on time for everything. I recommend that each week, you prepare a detailed checklist of everything you need to do for CELTA that week (see the example below). The schedule given to me by IH Mexico was kind of a messβ€”hard to follow, and too high level for me. Partly as a result, my peer that I worked most closely with occasionally prepared for the wrong things or didn’t realize an assignment was due until the last minute. My checklists made it much easier for me, and made me feel good about completing even small things that I’d then get to check off.

Following is my checklist for week five that I wrote in Evernote (which lets you easily create lists with checkboxes). In it, “πŸŽ™οΈ” marks things to show up live for (Zoom calls), and “⏰” marks deadlines.

  • πŸŽ™οΈ Monday 11am: Live group class
  • Read tutor feedback for LRT assignment
  • Prepare TP5 (speaking) lesson plan
    • Read guided lesson plan
    • Read examples and references
    • Read my prep notes from 12/04
    • Review demo lesson
    • ⏰ Wednesday 2 hr before: Submit final online
    • Prepare print sheet
  • Prepare TP6 (functional language) lesson plan
    • Read guided lesson plan
    • Read examples and references
    • Read my prep notes from 12/04 and 12/09
    • ⏰ Friday 2 hr before: Submit final online
    • Prepare print sheet
  • πŸŽ™οΈ Wednesday 8pm: TP5 (speaking)
    • Dry run beforehand
    • ⏰ Thursday: Write and submit self evaluation
    • Read tutor feedback
  • πŸŽ™οΈ Friday 8pm: TP6 (functional language)
    • Dry run beforehand
    • Guided lesson planning session for next week
    • ⏰ Saturday: Write and submit self evaluation
    • Read tutor feedback
  • Unit 14: Correction
  • Unit 18: Lesson Planning 2
  • Unit 19: Writing
  • Unit 20: Recording & Recycling Language
  • Observation: Task-based learning: Justin Vollmer (1 hr online)
  • Ask tutor about delta between my current performance and Pass A
  • ⏰ Friday: Submit 3rd assignment (FOL)
    • Read tutor feedback
  • Write 4th assignment (LFC)
    • Read instructions
    • Read suggested resources and examples
  • Fill in CELTA-5 info for the week
  • Finish draft of to-do list for week 6

If any of this helped you, please let me know in the comments. And feel free to share your own advice for readers.

Are you preparing for CELTA? Then check out my post on the best English teaching books to help you prepare.

2 thoughts on “Getting a CELTA Pass A πŸ‘¨πŸ»β€πŸŽ“”

  1. This is amazing! Thank you so much for your insight and all the detail you included! I start my CELTA this coming Monday! I’m also doing it with IH Mexico City, but I’m taking the part time course, so it will be spread out over 12 weeks. Fingers crossed!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *