Experiences with the TOEFL

About two weeks ago, I participated in the TOEFL-test.

I felt, I could share a few impressions:

Before the Test

Before the test, once you have signed up, there is normally a sort of “training unit” you can go through to prepare the test. Unfortunately, it is Windows only – not for MAC.

Already a few years back, but especially nowadays, I am always astonished at how one of the best systems on the market is being ignored (I asked Brockhaus a few years back, whether the Encyclopedia, which was available on a big Memory Stick, was not produced for Mac. At that time, I was teaching at a High School and my decisions important for which books (or, if applicable, software) for the German lessons were to be bought. Because I have a Mac, I would have certainly not supported a publisher which ignored my computer.. so short-sighted, just to think in terms of the majority) just for reasons of standardisation or convenience of the site-maker. There is definitely space for improvement here… The test we may have to take, but why would we have to abstain from using MAC for preparation ?

(But else, I found helpful staff for open questions and signing up.)

During and after the Test

I do have my results now, and I am thankful that they are good enough for the purpose for which I need them.

But during and after the test, I started to doubt the way the test is being constructed.

Admitted, if you pass the TOEFL with a good result, you will know English. Yet, it seems to me, there may be cases, in which the results might not, actually, be entirely able to reflect the degree of one’s abilities.

As a part of the test, you have to listen to lectures and people speaking [while you have to sign a confidentiality agreement, this knowledge can be taken from the internet, so let me refer to that for my statement here]. If you are just a little absent-minded for a couple of seconds, or if you are accustomed to, rather than listening to lecturers, reading and acquiring the knowledge you need for yourself, you might miss something, and, if there is a question related to that, simply not be able to give an adequate reply to certain questions without guessing.

It is nice to be able to remember all the words a professor says, perhaps. But: if you are interested in the subject, that automatically becomes easier.

If you are not interested (and you might encounter something in the TOEFL, you are really not interested in at the moment), it is more difficult.

Yet, what you will study, usually is of interest to you. So, even if it was the task of the TOEFL to measure your abilities to study (which it is not, its task is to measure your abilities to study in English, if you do it for an application to a an academic institution), it would have to take into account this problem and adapt accordingly.

In any case, not always being able to concentrate on every word certainly does not mean, that you were incapable of studying in English, does it ? –

Also, why does one have to reply orally to some questions in a certain amount of time ?

While teaching German in Japan, I initially was astonished when, after giving some homework, a student asked me something like “And how much would you like me to write ? Half a page ?”

I always told them to say what they had to say. Was it more, fine – was it less – fine [Well, not fine, maybe in so far as they still needed to write more to practice their German, but fine in the sense that the task as given is fulfilled adequately.].

I consider all these formalisms to be uncreative and unnatural.

When talking to a real conversational partner, you adapt to the needs of the moment. You listen. You feel what to say.

By not having people examine, but a machine, many aspects of communication, of the art of communication, are not adequately taken into account.

After the test, I talked to another participant. He pointed out, that a real teacher, a real speaker, could determine in a couple of minutes, whether you were able in English or not. He thought the test more or less just to be a method to make money.

By streamlining to mechanical “measurements” and average ideas on how people “should” reply, one risks to lose them, who excel, who got to were they are by unorthodox yet efficient measures, and one creates the impression of a justice, that does not really exist. For justice is, if you look deeper, never formal, but linked to the true core of what we really are.

Indeed – if you want to get good people to your country, get the creative ones.

And ensure they are not left behind, just because formalised methods of testing do not take into account unorthodox methods of studying and not having practiced listening to what, in the end, is highly irrelevant to the listener (*) – them, who are the creators, them, who would bring a country forward, them, who are truly creating this world.

(*) I realise, you might find a certain contradiction to what I said above. Let me clarify: It may be important to listen, but in a conversation, you have to grasp what is really important, and then, if adequate, respond accordingly or “just be the space for it”, as Eckhart Tolle perhaps might say. You do not necessarily need to remember all the details.


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