Saturday, February 03, 2007

As simple as pie and relatives

I thought it would be easy. As simple as making spaghetti. A cinch. A breeze. A picnic. A piece of cake. An easy A…

But I was wrong.

Taking the TOEIC Test (Test of English for International Communication) as a native English speaker was tougher than I had anticipated.

I expected to get 100% as the questions seemed pretty clear and the grammar (though absolutely NOTHING like the way people actually speak) was fairly straightforward.

So, when I learned that I had missed two questions, I was duly chagrined. I would no longer be able to walk into my Test Prep class as a Teacher with any dignity or semblance of authority. My students would whisper and giggle in the corners, passing notes that read: “Miss –C, Miss –C, She ain’t got da skillz to teach no English to me!” and I would cower on my back-pedalling unicycle when asked to confirm “the most common, American usage” of the subjunctive.

I still don’t know which questions I missed.

But, I have my suspicions.

I remember finding the “listening” questions most trialing, as they pretended to resemble real-life conversations. In these questions, I was forced to listen to a phrase or question posed by a stereotypical Aussie, Brit or American, and then asked to choose the appropriate response.

One question went like this:

“Excuse me. Can you tell me what time the bus leaves?”

a) Yes, on Monday.
b) No, I’m not interested.
c) Yes, at 1:30.
d) No, he’s my brother.

Now, I knew I was supposed to choose the BEST of all possible answers. Since, I had absolutely no idea what bus the slow-speaking, elocution-trained English man was talking about, I chose b). Was my test graded unfairly because I didn’t care about the English voice actor’s bus schedule?

The other listening question I remember giving me difficulty was:

“Mary, what should we have for dinner tonight?”

a) Let’s go to the movies.
b) Pizza and salad.
c) At 8:30.
d) My sister and her husband.

Pizza and salad??! Who eats pizza and salad? Pizza and beer--yes, but... Clearly the answer was d).

Those test writers are sneaky bastards, I tell you.


dingobear said...

Haha! Funny post, -c, I definitely agree that you chose the best answers. Goes to show you the folly that is standardized testing ...

Cap'n Rich said...

Tee hee -c.

It was a trick to determine if you were cheating on the test by breaking into the testing office the night before and stealing the test answers. I'm glad you didn't fall that old ruse.

You're a great spy. Carry on.

-c said...

dingobear- I've always hated standardized testing, probably because I'm so terrible at it. To be honest, I never took a standardized test until HS SATs. (the Culprit being: Waldorf Education- I'll write a few posts on it some day--)

cap'n- Be careful what you say. You might blow my cover.

Carrying on, then.

dingobear said...

Wow, Waldorf education ... I bet that would make for a few interesting posts ...

kingfelix said...

i tried one of these kinds of English tests in the US. the GRE? i think it was. and not only was the English presented to me nothing like anybody speaks, as you point out, it was also an Americanized form of this non-existent discourse.

pretty much most of my answers were wrong.

and i'm no dummy, i had scored enough on the LSAT to go to a good law school. i think, on a slightly more serious note, that some of these tests have drifted away into a format where it is essential to buy specialised learning materials from vested interests in order to pass (certainly the case with Bar Exams).

anybody attempting to get a free ride using their own intelligence must be crushed! success has to have a cost. anything else just isn't American.

Frustrated Writer said...

This reminded me of a few tests that I've taken and you were right to avoid the "obvious" answers and to go with your gut. Unfortunately the folks who grade those tests aren't appreciative of your individuality and choosing to go with the "right" answer. I hate those questions where you are supposed to pick the phrase that uses the word in the most appropriate manner when the word I would've used in any of those phrases isn't even offered.

What a mean twisted life those test makers must live.

-c said...

dingobear- yeah, 15 years of waldorf education makes for some good material. I'll get to it some day.

kingfelix- I would not be at all surprised to learn that many of these tests were nudgingly supported by learning material interests. But, in the case of the TOEIC, I think, more likely is that no one has the balls to rewrite it so that it reflects modern use of the English language. Afterall, there IS no globally agreed upon English, when it comes to most things...

frustrated- Yeah, I'm pretty convinced those test-makers live in dank underground dens and have to floss their teeth with the ends of stalactites made of pure evil...;)

ted said...

In my days as an AEON peon, I missed six. Now after a donut box of years in the land of little people and even littler irony, I'd miss more. Oh well, let's dance!