“making” a test

I am now writing a textbook for the prep school I’m working at.  This book will be used for the novice – intermediate  learners of English (high school freshmen) with or without an intent to take TOEFL in the future. Three instructors take their own responsibility for each part of the book. Mine is to make questions (and answers) that are similar to those of the actual TOEFL test.

Sounds like a routine job that bears nothing worth mentioning. Well, I feel the very opposite.

I can get correct answers to the actual TOEFL reading questions (or whatever section), so just reading a given  passage and thinking about correct answers does not give me any new knowledge or deepen my understanding of the TOEFL. That’s when making, as opposed to answering,  questions works. If you try to make appropriate questions for the reading passage, you will have to take into consideration far more things than just answering questions.

First, a type of question should be determined. Should I ask an “Inference question” to give learners an opportunity to think really hard? Should I ask a “factual question” so that the learners can practice skimming for the relevant information quickly?

Second,  part of the passage to be singled out for the question should be determined. If I want to make the question harder, I will pick up a sentence that is harder to understand. At the same time, I want to make sure that the learners understand what the passage is all about, so maybe I should choose a sentence that shows the main idea of the passage. If I do this all the time, however, the questions will be similar to one another. There need to be some details to be asked for a change.

Third, I make four answer choices. This is where the test-“maker” can (or cannot) show his ability to test the learners’ ability. It is important to know how they misunderstand the sentence in question, and what phrases they find misleading. It is well-known that the correct answer choice, if made by a layperson, tends to be longer than the other three choices. I should avoid that, too.

Finally, which of the four choices should be correct? This is a matter of psychological issue which I don’t know much about. In Q1, the answer was B. Then, what should be the answer to Q2? A? C? D? or B, again? I have a certain formula for this, but I will not share this here (for obvious reasons).

I should also mention how lucky I am because the school has already given me passages from which I can choose for the text. If I had to choose (or write!) passages for the textbook from scratch, the entire task would take 3~4 times longer.


Facts vs Rhetorical devices

It’s been long since lay people started to notice all the exaggerations and hyperbole that the mass media used. We have already been used to them heard in the current topics, so no one even turns to them for serious consideration. That is partly because those news items and events will not have an immediate effect on our lives. Whether Japan has the right to collective self-defense or not, our lives will remain the same for the time being (or so many people think).

However, when it comes to the weather forecast, people tend to take it rather seriously, because it will affect their activities the following day. This current typhoon called Neoguri has been raging throughout the nation. It is a big typhoon, so no one should ignore the news, but the tone of the forecasts made me feel as if it were the sign of the earth approaching the apocalypse – the end of the world.

This typhoon is one of the strongest and most devastating in years. Everyone living along its path should brace for torrential rains and possible mudslides!

This typhoon will bring the amount of rain that no one ever has experienced in life!

It will also cause lightning to strike along the way. Please do not go out if it can wait!

Now, what’s going on outside? I see it only drizzling, and basically, it’s quiet out there. Oh the sun has just started to shine…

I know that the meteorological agency intentionally exaggerated the phenomenon, because they know people will blame on them if things turn out terrible, and because they know some people will never try to evacuate unless the forecast is way too dreadful.

I find this very interesting because I can see a similar phenomenon among TOEFL test-takers. Those who have reached (or haven’t yet reached) the required score of the test just give you their interpretation and reflection, not facts and figures.

When you ask anyone you know for practical advice for the upcoming TOEFL test, it is very unlikely that you will be happy with the advice. It will either threaten you and discourage you or you will take it too lightly.

Why? Because once they have taken the test and gotten through with it, they tend to be a bit too proud of it by exaggerating the facts. It means that they don’t release the facts and figures; instead they share with you their interpretation and reflection.

Oh boy! It was like a hell to prepare for the TOEFL, if you think about how many words I memorized! I didn’t even make such an effort when I got into university!

I was not that poor at English, but still it took me years to reach the required score!

In retrospect, TOEFL was just a test. If you learn how to deal with it a bit, you can make it to a certain extent.

It’s outrageous to put in so much time and money in the TOEFL score!

All of the comments above are half true, and half wrong, you know what I mean?

All I need is numbers. All I need is facts and figures. If the weather forecast gives me some factual information about the typhoon (It has an atmospheric pressure of 990 hpa at its center and it is moving toward northeast at a speed of 45 kph…), then I, as a mature adult, would know what to do with it. The same applies to the TOEFL.


Something I learned from hosting seminars

My new year’s resolution was to hold a monthly seminar. It turns out that I held my first seminar in May and since then I’ve been offering one seminar every month. In July, my seminar will fall on 7/20. In August, I am planning to offer one mainly for university students this time.

One thing that I noticed about a seminar was that those participants are passionate and well motivated to reach their goals. Even though the seminar would cater to those novice learners who were still struggling at the basic questions of the TOEFL (which, by the way, are not so easy in the first place), the first couple of participants (those who signed up for the seminar) were way above my target.

That was partly because they just wanted to see me in person. That was partly because they happened to have no particular plan for the day. However, what I felt about them was that they were full of vim and vigor. That, I presume, is why they are better at English than others.

Come to think of it, those who have been studying English for a long time but haven’t achieved a goal that they first set seem to be a bit  reserved, awkward, and passive.

Probably, both advanced and novice learners have read similar books, put in just as much time, and invested in a similar amount of money thus far, but there is a wide gap between the two. Since learning English (as a foreign language) does not require much intelligence (Look at me!), I would say the only thing left would be their mindset.

You don’t have to change your personality, because that is not the kind of mindset that I am talking about. However, if you always hesitate to participate in a seminar, or to speak to a foreigner, or raise your hand in class, that may be the culprit that delays your linguistic development.