How to get a CELTA Pass A

by Caitlin

Have you enrolled in a CELTA course? Learn how to get the highest possible grade – a Pass A – so you can start your ESL career off right!

If you’re here trying to figure out how to get a CELTA pass A, then you’ve likely done some research on the 4-week English language teacher training course. Perhaps you’ve already signed up and paid for the course. If that’s the case then you’re probably feeling overwhelmed at the daunting task of embarking on the intensive.

I am here to tell you that you will survive! In fact, you may even do better than that.

I took the course at ILSC Montreal as a 22-year-old, 18 months out of undergrad. In college I’d done a degree in business management with a minor in religious studies. Outside of school I’d babysat and I’d taught horseback riding lessons, apart from those things I had zero teaching experience going into the course. And, spoiler alert, I got a CELTA grade A.

Going in, my goal was simple: I wanted to pass the CELTA.

Two weeks after completion of the course, I got my preliminary grade from the school I’d attended, I didn’t just pass, I’d received a pass A.

In case you’ve not been briefed on the CELTA grading system yet, it’s essentially a pass/fail system – but they also give out a ‘pass B’ and a ‘pass A’ which one of my tutors explained to me as being honors and high honors.

The CELTA grades percentages are more or less as follows. About 70% of CELTA participants get a standard pass on the course, about 25% get a pass B, the CELTA pass A percentage is about 3%, and the final 2% fail. My pass A was eventually confirmed by Cambridge.

After receiving the preliminary pass A CELTA later confirmed, I did a google search to look for info on ‘How to get a CELTA pass A’ (what had I done right??). I immediately found a blog that stated

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 (i.e. one of their parents was a teacher or some such – that kind of exposure does have value).

I am here to tell you – as a mere mortal – that it’s not impossible.

Of course, there is no one true formula to getting a pass A (or a pass B) some people are going to be naturally stronger at this than others but there are, undoubtedly, a number of things you can do to help yourself out.

What Does the CELTA Course Involve?

I am hoping, that if you’re here already enrolled, tuition paid, figuring out your game plan for top marks, you’ve already got a pretty firm grasp on what you’ll be doing on the course. But I am a thorough person (did I learn to be on my CELTA?!) so let’s review.

The exact breakdown of those hours from day to day will depend on the school you attend, however, half of them will be you as a student, and the second half will be you either as a teacher or observing others teaching. I spent mornings in the classroom as a student and afternoons in the classroom as a teacher, or observing other teachers.

Your teaching practice group is a group of your peers who you will observe and be observed by throughout your CELTA course. This group is also who you will do peer feedback sessions with. Depending on the size of your overall program, you will most likely transition week to week through the different CELTA tutors as leaders of your teaching practice group. My specific CETLA course was a bit bloated so a third tutor was brought in and we roared between the three.

At the school I attended, each teacher taught every second day for an increasing amount of time. Our longest lessons were 45 minutes in total. Each of your lessons, along with your lesson plans, the materials you prepared, and your feedback session, will be assessed and will contribute towards your final grade. You will also have four written assignments, one each week, which will also count in your final grade.

More or less, that’s the content you should expect. While each particular school might tweak their curriculum ever so slightly, with Cambridge University overseeing all programs around the world, there has to be some uniformity, so nothing will be far from what I’ve described.

10 Tips for a CELTA Pass A

Like I’ve already mentioned, there is no one true formula to ultimately finding yourself in the 3% of CELTA graduates who earn a Pass A – but there are certainly commonalities amongst them.   These are my top tips for getting top CELTA grades.

Be Professional

This seems like a given, you are training to become a teacher after all, but to many (at least on my course) it is not. For half the day you’re a student, and for the other half you’re a teacher, it’s very tempting to let your inner college kid shine through.


Here are some ideas on how to up your professionalism:

  • Dress nicely (no flip flops, shorts, clothes that are too revealing or too frumpy)
  • Don’t whine and complain.
  • Act professionally towards your colleagues. This isn’t a sorority house and it doesn’t matter how much you like anyone else, be courteous and polite to all of your fellow students.
  • Act professionally towards your tutors. They’re the ones who not only have the experience, but are also giving you your grade – behave accordingly.

Be Prompt

Being prompt is part of being professional, but it deserves its own category because it’s just that important. Here’s what you need to plan for:

  • Be sitting in your seat, ready and waiting, when it’s time for class to start. Don’t be out photo copying for your lesson.  Don’t be off getting coffee or just barely arriving in the building. Be ready.
  • The same goes for every time you are meant to be somewhere. After lunch or any other break promptness is just as important as it is in the mornings.
  • This applies to handing things in too. Everything that is due, is due at a specific time as designated by your tutors. That includes lesson plans, self-evaluations, and written assignments. Whether or not your tutors are cut throat about that rule, they will notice tardiness, and it will affect the way they grade you.

Be Self-Aware

Not all of us are self-aware. That’s (kinda) ok. But, if you’re not, let this course teach you how to be. Here are some things to keep in mind or your path to self awareness:

  • Be honest. If something in a lesson didn’t go so well, admit it. It’s better to realize, and to admit, that you need to improve than to act as if all is well when it in fact is not.
  • If you’re honestly not sure how things went, ask one of your peers, maybe you really did think your lesson went swimmingly. Find an honest buddy to check in with each day.
  • Your tutor doesn’t assign a grade for each teaching practice until after the review – which you will be a part of. If you go in knowing what went wrong – or at least being aware that something did in fact go wrong – and with some idea of how you could do it better next time, you’ll be a lot better off than if you talk about a botched lesson as if it was heaven sent.

Be Engaged

Engagement is something that will truly make all the difference in your final grade. Remember – nobody expects that you come in knowing even an ounce about teaching. And four weeks is a short time to prove you’ve learned much of Anything. So, really, displaying engagement, interest, and a willingness to learn will get you farther than anything else. There are lots of ways you can not only be engaged, but also put your engagement on display. Here are a few:

  • Participate actively in input sessions with your tutors.
  • Participate actively in peer feedback. Critique your peers’ lessons as much, if not more, as they critique yours. These sessions are an essential aspect of your grade.
  • Ask questions, give answers, don’t be afraid to be wrong, I always was. Being involved is so much more important than being right.
  • Go to your tutors with questions outside of when they come to you, it shows you care.

Be Organized

Organization is certainly easier for some than others, but it is so vital to your successI’m not an organized person, but I got myself together for the course and it really paid off. Here’s what I did:

  • Keep a binder and keep it neat. Create a filing system, hole punch every handout you get, and put it into that binder to refer back to later.
  • Be organized before you go in to teach your lessons. I had a folder just to bring into my teaching practice, on one side was the things I was going to use for myself: my lesson plan and my personal copy of all my handouts with my notes on the back. On the other side was everything I was going to hand out. Each paper was copied – with plenty of extras just in case, paper clipped, numbered with a sticky note, and placed in the order I would use them. The most disastrous lessons I saw were the ones that were completely and utterly unorganized.
  • This is the only thing you should have going on in your life, if you’re taking other courses or working other jobs it’s not going to work out. So, since it’s the only thing you have to think about, just put all your effort into it, take 10 minutes at the end of each day and organize yourself, it truly will pay off.

Be Friendly With Your Students

Establishing this relationship makes the rest of it a whole lot easier.

  • Treat your students formally, but as friends. Laugh and joke with them – while painting decorum in your ‘classroom’. Having a solid relationship with the students will be a huge help to fight any butterflies that might be flitting around.
  • When things get rough in a lesson you can, at the very least, continue to be at ease with your students and that type of rapport shows. I watched many lessons and a few train wrecks. But there were two types of train wrecks: the type where only those of us observing noticed, and the type where everyone – including the students, noticed. The ones where the students noticed were because the teacher had never established a good relationship with them and awkwardness hung thick in the air.
  • Remember that students are human beings and what’s more, they are in the classroom with the full knowledge that you are learning to become a teacher. They are the ones judging you the least out of everyone in the room, so have fun with them!

Be Able To Take Suggestions

Remember, yet again, no one expects that you know anything coming in. Being able to take suggestions as time goes on is such a huge part of what the tutors are looking for.  Many of us go in with no experience, it’s how you change and develop that matters.

  • The people who I saw struggle the most – unlike what the blogess I quoted at the beginning implied – were those who had already taught and were set in their ways, unwilling to take suggestions, or change anything they already knew to do.
  • The tutors don’t expect a lot on day one and all they expect on day two is that you take what they told you on day one and work with it. It is better to try it out and fail with it then to ignore that it was ever said.
  • Don’t sit in feedback and get defensive when your peers or tutor are giving suggestions, they are only trying to help you out, teach you, and ultimately pass you. How you handle the direction and possible the constructive criticism, is taken into account.

Be Able To Follow Direction

You signed up for a CELTA, so you are going to learn the CELTA way of teaching, which is a clear script. What you should do, say, point, act, etc is all laid out for you point blank and if you do not like it, you will not pass.

  • Your tutors will give you an extremely clear formula of how to build everything from a lesson plan, to a handout, to your assignments, take note of what they say and do exactly that. It’s lovely if you know another way, but during the CELTA – no one cares.
  • Each day, as a student, you’ll be taught a new strategy either for lesson planning or for teaching. The very best thing you can possibly do is give that element a try in your next lesson.
  • We are all super glad you have an alternative that works really well. In ten years, when you’ve got experience, references, and a resume under your belt, open your own school and teach however you want.

Be Detailed

Detail is most important when writing your lesson plans. Here’s how to approach it:

  • Write out your directions.
  • Write out your instruction checking question’s. (You’ll learn what these are on the course)
  • Write how long you’re going to give the students.
  • Write what you’re going to do during that time.
  • Write out your concept checking question’s (You’ll learn what these are on the course) and write out the answers.
  • Write out EVERYTHING. Not only will the tutors give you a better grade for your thoroughness, but it will in fact help you. If you freeze in front of the class you will have a word for word script in front of you of what you are going to do and say.

Be Nice

Being nice follows along with professionalism and friendliness, but it itself is so important it gets its own bullet point. Here’s why:

  • Remember, not only are your tutors grading you, but, especially for those of us with no previous experience, they are your references.
  • They don’t want to refer someone who they don’t like, and they won’t. They don’t want the CELTA certification getting a bad reputation and if they think you are not a nice person they won’t give you a nice reference. It’s that simple – why should they? So, for the next four weeks put on a smile and suck up to everyone you meet. I did it, so can you.
students on my celta in Montreal Canada
My classmates!

Further Thoughts on Passing Your CELTA

I’ll say it one more time: there is not set formula for passing this course.

With schools all over the world and teachers with varying standards, what works in one spot simply might not work in another. But there is no question that certain guidelines will be the same.

I’ve also heard a lot about how you have to get an ‘above standard’ on x out of x teaching practices, and you have to pass x out of x assignments to get a ‘pass B’ or even more to get a ‘pass A’.

Don’t believe it.

Of course, you do need to do quite well on all of your work and getting high grades is necessary for a high grade pass, but it’s not the only thing that matters and there’s no clear-cut rule.

CELTA has a great reputation around the world, it is one of the two most highly recognized ESL teacher certification and that means they want to be turning out teachers who meet that standard. So, do your best, aim to please, and aim to pass, and you just may do much better then you ever expected.

Lastly, I hear a lot about how you have to say goodbye to a social life during your course, to cooking dinners, or getting a good night’s sleep. During my CELTA course, I ran every other day after class (one of the very few times ever in my life I maintained a regular running schedule), I cooked myself dinner each night, I went out and had too much fun every Friday night, and I dedicated my Saturdays to nursing my Friday night fun, and during the week I went to sleep by 10:30 just about every night. It is all entirely possible.

Remember to breathe.

Remember to enjoy yourself.

Good luck.

Life After CELTA

Wow! O.K. Well done!

You’ve made it. You finished your CELTA. Did you pass? Did you get a high pass grade?

Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you and if my tips helped you through the process, even better.

But now what?

Get a job!

That’s why you signed up the arduous 4-week course, isn’t it?

I took my CELTA in May in Montreal and by mid July I was in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam where I’d already been offered and accepted a job which I started at the end of that month. I taught young learners and my very first weekend I taught almost double the hours I taught in my entire CELTA course.

Since then I have taught in Australia, Prague, The U.S., and England. ESL teaching opportunities are everywhere this certification will open job prospects to you around the world. I have never had a shortage of opportunities and most recently have started my own online teaching platform which has quickly proved fruitful based on my years of experience in the classroom and extensive ESL network.

I think an important thing to mention, finally, is how much I enjoyed the CELTA.

I really, truly did. And I have enjoyed myself in the classroom ever since.

Alright – not when the 4-year old with boogers hanging out of his eft nostril spews all over the floor – maybe not then – but the rest of the time, definitely.

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Tiago Bueno February 28, 2019 - 9:31 pm

Hi, there! I finished my CELTA course at IH Cape Town two weeks ago and got a provisional pass A grade. I read your post before the course and your tips proved to be super helpful. Thanks a lot!

Caitlin March 1, 2019 - 5:59 am

Hi Tiago! Thanks so much for reporting back. Congratulations on your Pass A! How exciting and super well done to you. I’m so glad that my tips were of help 🙂 Good luck with your upcoming teaching career!

Le November 11, 2020 - 2:08 am

Hi Caitlin

Thanks for such a positive post on CELTA’s journey.

May I asked which books did you use for your references?

Thanks heaps

Caitlin November 12, 2020 - 11:49 am

Thanks for reading Le! I don’t recall using many books for reference when on my CELTA. It’s important to remember that you won’t be graded on your English knowledge but rather your ability to take the teaching skills that are taught on board. You’ll only ever have to teach one language point at a time – and it will be quite straightforward.


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