[LEARNING CURVE]Testing the limits of today’s students

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[LEARNING CURVE]Testing the limits of today’s students

I once read about a researcher who, as part of his research to prove that multiple choice exams were not a good measure of knowledge or ability, went to Thailand to take a university science exam written in Thai and scored 25%. As I recall, the researcher was an arts professor who knew no Thai whatsoever.
Of course, his point was that while exams of any kind can be a useful tool for measuring knowledge of a subject, they should not be seen as the best or only tool to gauge one’s ability. Frankly speaking, this is a lesson many of my students could benefit from.
At the university where I teach, there are two ways to get out of our mandatory freshman English course. The first is by passing an exemption test open to those who have grown up overseas and more than likely attended an international school where much of the curriculum was taught in English. With both a written test (similar to TOEIC) and an interview and/or writing test, it is probably the only valid way to exempt students from the class in question.
The other is a system where a particular department can allow students who have taken an entire course to substitute a high score on the TOEIC test for their course grade, if they’re unsatisfied with it. But this not only messes up the percentages on the grading curve, but also seems to defeat the whole purpose of requiring students to take English courses taught by native English speakers in the first place. Of course, I don’t need to mention the cases of students I have failed for lack of effort, poor attendance or just plain bad attitudes who later miraculously turned their failure into a success with a 990 on the TOEIC.
Last week, I read that universities like Yonsei and Seoul National are busily increasing their curriculum offered in English. Since I’ve been here, the demand from other departments for native speakers to teach their courses in English has increased greatly. With course offerings in international studies, tourism, English literature and information technology among others, it would seem that the days when exam scores should count for more than actual class work or grades earned are numbered. I even heard from a friend that companies like Samsung are now requiring interviewees to make a presentation in English as part of the hiring process. Perhaps someone should warn my students about these developments, but in my experience they will probably be the last to know and the most likely to be disadvantaged by any changes to the system.

by Tory Thorkelson
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