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New English aptitude exam gets a trial run

May 28,2009
A new English aptitude test developed and certified by the government is getting its first trial run. If all goes well, it will be added to the list of existing exams such as the Toefl, Toeic and Teps.

The Education Ministry said yesterday it will conduct a trial run of the test in the Seoul metropolitan area today and tomorrow with 4,000 high school juniors at 34 high schools chosen by the ministry. The ministry will officially begin administering the test in 2012.

The pilot will be used to assess the number of test questions, test type, degree of difficulty and whether the test can be administered over the Internet. The ministry is also hoping to determine whether the test, to be developed by the government-run Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation, can replace the English language subject exam in the annual college scholastic ability test, the Korean version of the SAT used in the United States. After the initial trial run, there will be a second round of testing in September and a third in December.

“A total of 30,000 students nationwide will take the pilot test,” said an official at the ministry’s English education enforcement team.

The ministry unveiled the plan to develop the exam, tentatively titled the State-Certified English Aptitude Test, last December, after Lee Myung-bak’s presidential transition team said earlier last year the English portion of the university entrance exam was limited in its ability to gauge students’ speaking and writing skills.

“[Students] who achieve high scores on the English test cannot really speak English properly,” said one of the officials on the committee at the time.

The Education Ministry said the format of the new test will be modeled after the Eiken, a state-certified English test from Japan. The Eiken measures five skills in two parts. In the first, vocabulary, reading, listening and writing skills are measured; in the second, individual test takers are interviewed by qualified examiners who assess their speaking ability. The Korean version will test speaking, writing, listening and reading, and all parts will be weighted equally.

Students can take three different types of test, based on the purpose and degree of difficulty. Level one, the most difficult, will be geared toward university sophomores and juniors, who will use the scores when applying for employment or university graduation. Levels two and three will be taken by high school students hoping to gain admission to university.

Students taking level one will be provided with their actual test scores, while those taking levels two and three will get either a pass/fail grade or numerical grades, to be determined by the ministry at a later date.

Minister Ahn Byong-man told reporters earlier that the degree of difficulty for levels two and three will be adjusted to what students actually learn in high school, “to minimize the potential of fanning private education.”

Once the new test is introduced in 2012, the government expects about 500,000 students will take it each year.

The scores of levels two and three test takers will eventually be considered in the university admissions process.

The ministry believes that educational institutions in Korea, universities overseas and the corporate sector will recognize the new state-sponsored test as a means of gauging applicants’ English proficiency.

However, Korea has had the bitter experience of seeing that ambition fail to materialize with the Teps, or Test of English Proficiency, developed by Seoul National University. The public university’s language institute spent almost a decade, beginning in the early 1990s, developing the test. It debuted in 1999, but no major universities overseas have officially recognized it.

The Toefl and IELTS currently dominate admissions applications at universities worldwide, with the Toeic accounting for a minor piece of the pie. Approximately 600 universities worldwide accept the Eiken.


By Seo Ji-eun [spring@joongang.co.kr]



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