English test for college-bound students
By Lee Chang-sup
A student’s English score will be one of decisive factors for admission to prestigious universities this year. Let’s take a look at this year’s English test for college admissions in order to evaluate its level and to suggest ways of helping students get high scores through well-designed programs.
The test has been getting progressively more difficult. It is a tall order for students to complete the 50 questions, including 17 listening questions, in 70 minutes. In fact, many of the 30,000 English teachers in Korea would find it difficult to get a perfect score. Only those able to read English newspapers without difficulty will do well on the test.
Most students will be able to comfortably solve around 70 percent of the test, as much of the test is similar to what they have studied at school or through the state-run Educational Broadcasting System (EBS) study kits. The remaining 30 percent of the test, however, will pose problems. In this portion of the test, test takers are supposed to read a 150-word test kit in about two minutes. This means that just reading the 30 kits will take at least 60 minutes. Reading at such a speed is not easy even for teachers.
The test may be more difficult than the TOEIC, although the two tests are different in nature. Vocabulary in the test is often too abstract for high-school students to understand. Although the test vocabulary purportedly comes from the 4,500 words in high-school English textbooks, high scorers must have an excellent command of around 10,000 words, the same vocabulary used by The Korea Times.
Ability to read the text quickly is the greatest challenge. This skill is possible only if students have a head start or undergo intensive practice. Without intensive training, most test takers will fail to read all the texts within the time limit.
The state-run Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation said that those who have faithfully studied the textbooks and subscribed to the EBS texts will be able to get excellent grades. This announcement is misleading; however, as 30 percent of the questions consist of texts on topics with which test takers are unfamiliar. Unlike the TOEIC, the test gauges test takers’ critical thinking skills, which are necessary for their academic pursuit at college.
Private tutoring is thus unavoidable if prospective test takers hope to be able to solve this 30 percent of the test. Furthermore, under the guidance of teachers and parents, students should make it a habit to read at least one or two texts from English books or dailies every day. The texts should be longer than 150 words and should be sampled from multiple topics. Mastering grammar and building vocabulary power are also crucial. Students need to master about 10,000 words, twice as many as the high-school vocabulary.
Parents should therefore motivate their children to read English books regularly at an early age, optimally starting in elementary school. Parents who have college diplomas should be able to help their children study for this text. They should pick one or two topics from English publications every day and study them together. However, many parents do not have the time, experience, or knowledge necessary to assist their children.
Topics in the test vary significantly, covering lifestyle issues, science, anthropology, physics, current English, movies, biology, and the economy. In order to familiarize students with these topics, teachers should have regular sessions with students during which they read English books together. Encouraging students to form a habit of listening to CNN and other English-language news channels is also crucial.
Examiners want students to possess the vocabulary and fast-reading skills necessary to read an English daily or publication. Teachers and parents should thus view English newspapers as study resources. Newspapers cover a wide variety of topics and are instrumental in learning to read quickly and fluently. The New York Times is an excellent choice for choosing readings. It is one of the most respected English-language newspapers, and is read by many American intellectuals. The paper maintains a policy of using vocabulary freshman high-school students understand. In the same vein, The Korea Times also uses only 10,000 words so that proficient high-school students are able to read it without difficulty.
The danger is in the fact that students must also attend to their other subjects, and thus have little time to read English texts on a daily basis. Professional guidance can encourage students to use their study time wisely.
Getting high scores in the examinations for college-bound students, and in the TOEIC and TOEFL, is a major achievement, but these high scorers are not necessarily proficient in practical English. High scorers on the official English proficiency tests, including examinations for college-bound students, sometimes struggle to read English newspapers.
Educators should fill the gap between the high score and real fluency, and get students on a program of daily reading. Once they have a solid roadmap for studying, students should be able to easily achieve high scores on English tests.
Lee Chang-sup is the executive managing director of The Korea Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.