[Letters]Contortions over English

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[Letters]Contortions over English

Konkuk University recently announced it would remove the English essay writing test from its application requirements for prospective transfer students for the 2010 spring semester.

The school explained that there is no need to impose the same application requirements on prospective students regardless of their major, and the latest decision is aimed to help each department better select new students. The move is also designed to ease the financial burden on prospective students who have to take numerous English prep courses in order to prepare for the English essay writing test.

The school’s argument, in principle, makes sense, but leaves many unanswered questions. For one thing, the school said it would get rid of the English essay writing test since the test scores heavily depend on the subjective judgment of whoever evaluates the paper.

But the argument can also be interpreted that any kind of writing test, whether in English or Korean, is too subjective, with little objective credibility.

However, English essay writing tests have been improved and upgraded steadily and the test is widely used to evaluate not only one’s language competency but also knowledge and capability for logical thinking. Now one needs to think about why many local colleges and companies require the prospective students and job seekers to take such tests.

If English essay writing is too subjective to be an effective testing method, why should the solution for the matter be the entire abolition of the test itself? The school said it would be able to effectively select good prospective students by judging the applicants’ various records of academic performance and talents through application screening and later through in-depth interviews.

But in the context of Korea’s education system, would one really be able to figure out the prospective students’ academic performance through application screening?

Letters of recommendation, often from those who barely know the prospective students, and applicants’ statement of purpose, for which how-to manuals are widespread on the Internet, have long been a source of frustration among college admission officers.

But there is no easy formula as handy for writing a good English essay, which requires good logical thinking and knowledge. Certainly there is no need for departments with absolutely no need for English to require an English essay writing test.

But in this day and age where globalization is rapidly seeping into every aspect of our lives, even Korean studies researchers need to learn English to better promote the culture, history and other aspects of Korea.

My little hope is that local schools take deeper consideration of all possible impacts of its decisions on English-related policies, including English essay writing, instead of choosing what seems like an easy way to please people.

Suh Hong-won, professor of English literature, Yonsei University

*Letters and commentaries for publication should be addressed “Letters to the Editor.” E-mailed letters should be sent to eopinion@joongang.co.kr. Each letter should contain the writer’s name and full address. They are subject to editing. Letters and commentaries submitted to the JoongAng Daily should not be sent to other newspapers in Korea.
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