For the past few weeks I’ve been going easy on my students. In writing class we haven’t done much writing, and in speaking class we’ve just done a few easy and fun activities. Why? Well, my students were under a lot of pressure, A LOT, and I didn’t want to add to their burden.
So what was the pressure? A test of course. A stupid, meaningless test that has dictated their classwork and will actually be important in their future jobs.
The test is called TEM-4 and it is a nation-wide requirement for every university english major. (TEM stands for Test for English Majors.) Every sophomore has to take it, and as I always teach sophomores, I have been through this test several times. I’ve seen it crush spirits, steal souls and turn cute, happy-go-lucky girls into trembling towers of anger, and reduce proud students to tears.
You think I might be exaggerating a little, but I assure you, not much. Every college approaches the TEM-4 differently, and unfortunately for my students this school treats it very, very seriously. I say unfortunately because at other schools they just study on their free time, but continue learning normal things in class.
But at my school every class is dedicated to preparing for this stupid test. In listening class, they just do TEM-4 exercises, in reading class, they just do TEM-4 exercises, in comprehensive class they stop using their textbooks and just study, yeah you know, TEM-4 exercise. Then after class they go to the library and study more.
The foreign teachers are exempt from teaching TEM-4 stuff because, frankly, we just cannot be trusted. We are totally clueless and would probably lead the students down the totally wrong path if we tried. I’m a big “tests are bullshit” advocate, but I know my words can only go so far. Yes, tests ARE bullshit, and in 5 years from now they will barely remember them. But it IS important for them and their future careers so I can’t entirely dismiss them.
That’s why, this year, I decided to also take the TEM-4. Not the real thing of course, but I had a student give me a sample test, and I sat down one recent afternoon to take it. Here are my results:
Dictation and Listening: (I didn’t have the audio portion so I skipped this one, but let’s assume I would have gotten 100, although my spelling is not quite perfect so maybe I would have gotten one or two wrong.)
Cloze: In this section you are asked to “fill in the blanks” in a non-fiction article. In the test I took the story was about different styles of money throughout history. I had 15 minutes to answer 20 questions, but it only took me 3 minutes. I got 4 wrong.
I feel like this section is made to trick the students. Check out this sentence, “Iron, in lumps, bars or rings, is still used in many countries ____ paper money.”
The answer choices were, “in spite of,” “instead of,” “along with,” or “in line with.” Grammatically speaking I thought ‘instead of” or ‘along with’ were the best answers. But of course they have totally opposite meanings. This is an English test, not a general knowledge test, so I kind of felt it was unfair and a trick. (Naturally I just guessed and ended up guessing the wrong one. I’m a terrible test taker.)
Grammar & Vocab: In this section you have a sentence with a missing word and 4 options to choose from. This section took me 5 minutes and I got 6 out of 29 wrong.
One I agree with, the other “wrong” answers were totally not wrong in my opinion, but were actually poor english. For instance: “Had Judy been more careful on the maths exam, she ____ much better results now.”
I immediately looked for the “would have gotten,” answer, but it wasn’t one of the choices. Instead, I chose the next closest thing (in my mind) “would be getting,” but no, the answer key said that “could have got,” was the right answer.
Just to make sure I wasn’t crazy, I asked some other foreign teachers (American). I read the sentence without giving the choices and they also guess “would have gotten,” so I’m not totally insane. I’m not sure if this is just plain wrong, or old fashioned type grammar. Anyway, it kind of made me mad.
Reading comprehension: In this section you read a short story then answer questions. It took me 9 minutes, and I got 3 out of 20 wrong.
The students only have 25 minutes to complete this part, and it took me 9 minutes (and I’m a fast reader even for native speakers), so I feel like it is actually a lot of work in a short amount of time. I was surprised to find the articles were mildly interesting, especially one about the mythical beginnings of many english words. Like the word tantalized, comes from the name of a king in Greek mythology. I am a fan of ancient myths, but I didn’t know this one.
Anyway, so this section was fine, I just had some problems with pieces in the story. I laughed out loud when they called hell, “the lower world,” (Just to afraid to say the word hell, eh?) but I got mad when there was blatant sexism in the public speaking essay. “Women hate it (public speaking) most, since girls are pressurized from an early age to be concerned with appearances of all kinds.” Well thanks test, just in case some girls thought public speaking was fun, this will surely knock a little wind from their sails.
So I estimate my score was about 85-90%. Shockingly low for a native speaker right? But I shared my results with my students in hopes of relieving their pressure. I wanted to show them even a native speaker couldn’t get a perfect score, so they should worry less. Instead, they took the opposite message from it, “I’m so jealous!” and “you are so smart!” was what I heard the most. Oh well, I tried…