Paradigm Language Institute

Everything Old is New Again: 2016 SAT

Monday, June 15, 2015

Part 1: It’s Not the End of the World

As many of you are aware, the SAT is a big part of the U.S. college admissions process, not to mention a part of the process for many non-U.S. universities, including several here in Thailand. As a result, it winds up being the source of a lot of admission-related stress. And that’s just in a normal admissions cycle. Over the coming year, however, things will be anything but normal, as ETS has announced a major overhaul of the SAT, which is due to be launched in PSAT (“Preliminary” or “Practice” SAT) form this October, and as the new SAT Reasoning test in March, 2016. As a result, many people have gone from just being stressed to full-blown freaking out. Sensationalistic headlines such as “New SAT to End Test Prep!” abound, and everyone from teachers to counselors to admissions representatives (not to mention students) is wondering what it means to them. Let the panic begin!
Chill, folks. This isn’t the first time the SAT has changed; in fact, it is one of several times the test has been re-engineered over the years. The last time this happened was in 2005, and we quickly realized that, for all the hype, this wasn’t going to be anywhere near as big a deal as everyone was saying. Some types of questions disappeared, a not-really-new section was added (basically the SAT Writing Subject Test was attached as the Writing section of the “new” test), and some new passage types were added. We adjusted, and life went on.
So, is that what’s going to happen this time?
Well, yes and no. While it’s true that this is a far more major overhaul than the one in 2005, we’re not exactly in uncharted territory as far as preparing students for this test (well, at least some of us, anyway). To understand this, have a look at the SAT’s “competition.”
While the SAT may be ubiquitous with the college application process, it is not the only game in town when it comes to standardized tests. While not the juggernaut that the SAT is, the ACT has been steadily gaining popularity over the years, to the point it has started to worry the folks at ETS. What about the ACT has caused this worry? Is it a concern that the SAT really isn’t measuring/predicting anything apart from family income? Not at all! That’s been going on for decades and they haven’t bothered to care about that yet. Fewer people taking the SAT means fewer registration fees paid, which means less money earned by ETS. ETS loves money. Therefore, in order to minimize their losses, the folks at ETS looked at what was gaining in popularity, namely the ACT, and basically adopted much of its format.
Want to know the details of the changes? Stay tuned for the next post!
If you have any other questions, let me know. I’m always happy to talk (which may explain all of those student migraines)!

Alec Goldman
US Preparation Programs


Monday, April 7, 2014

Education Minister Chaturon Chaisaeng has attacked the pathetic English - language courses taught in schools nationwide. Poor teaching methods,he said, have turned out millions of students who are unable to speak the language.His points were valid, his criticisms well-meant, and he was on- topic he was addressing 200 English teachers. But he once again shied away from both the problem and the solution.The problem with the Thai education system is not that it turns out students who study English for 10 years but cannot speak it.
          The solution is not the lack of a central proficiency test. Both of these are symptoms of what is truly a national disease. The real problem is that the education system and Mr Chaturon's Ministry of Education are graduating students who are abysmally under-educated. And the solution is top-to-bottom reform-ministry, bureaucracy, schools and teachers.
         Mr Chaturon knows this. Since his welcome appointment as minister, he has acknowledged as much. His public appearance last week with the English teachers received much comment. But earlier in the week, he had even more important things to say.He engaged the Teachers Council of Thailand (TCT) over licensing. The TCT said licensing teaches assures quality. Mr Chaturon shocked them by arguing they are wrong; in fact, licensing only maintains low standards and protects the poorest quality teachers from review and accountability.
      Another surprise followed. Discussing the abysmal performance of Thai student during standard testing of reading comprehension, Mr Chaturon refused to blame teachers and headmasters. The failure of school children to understand what they read "is the failure of the education system as a whole", the minister said. Teachers are instructing children in imperfect curricula, drawn up to flawed standards, and taught in the18th century manner of rote, discarded decades ago almost everywhere in the world but in the lower grades of Thai education.
       Early computer software writers had a phrase for this GIGO. The acronym means "garbage out". Any system, including a child's education, will always produce bad results if fed bad material. Mr Chaturon, in his address to the English teachers, mentioned specific problems including too little conversation, too much grammar,emphasis on memorization and lack of opportunity to apply language classes in the real world.
         In general terms, he is right about English. But even if he manages to fix the small sub-set, the entire system of education will remain flawed, producing graduates in name, but unable to function well in the outside world. The Thai education system does not lack funds. It lacks the will to reform itself.
        Mr Chaturon is well liked, well admired and has plenty of political capital to sink into the task of being a good education minister. Reform was always going to be an uphill struggle. At every step and stage, from right inside the minister's office all the way down to the smallest rural classroom, opposition to reform is fierce. Everyone knows the problems, but many fear to take the responsibility of fixing them.
        Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the government should urge Mr Chaturon to begin meaningful reform. Political will and a strong leader will not ensure success of such reform. But without a respected minister the chance for political reform will fail, dooming future years of graduates to the poor performance of today.

Source: Bangkok Post Newspaper, Tuesday, October 1, 2013 P.8
A time to Cherish Photography

Handling IELTS speaking test confusion

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Judging by the frequent comments made by students preparing for IELTS (International English Language Testing System), many candidates believe they’ll lose marks if they ask for speaking test questions to be explained or repeated.

In fact, there’s no specific penalty if test takers who are confused by a question ask the examiner to explain it or say it again.

In conversations between people who are native speakers of the same language, it’s always possible that one person won’t hear another person properly, or needs a word or question to be clarified.

Given that the IELTS speaking test involves a lengthy discussion between a native speaker and a non-native speaker of English, it’s even more likely that either of these situations will happen.

Asking for clarification or repetition during a speaking test allows the communication between the candidate and the examiner to keep going. This is most appropriate.

After all, the test is designed to assess candidates’ ability to use spoken English to answer questions, to speak at length and to talk with the examiner.

Test takers who know how to handle confusion caused by not hearing or not understanding questions will be able to show their speaking abilities all the more.

Feedback on IELTS test performance

Friday, January 3, 2014

Cristina, a nurse in the Philippines, needs to get band score 7 in speaking with an overall score of at least 6.5 in IELTS (International English Language Testing System). She wrote this:

“I took IELTS twice in the last few weeks, and I managed to improve my writing score from 6.5 to 7.0. Sadly, however, I got 6.5 for speaking both times.

“Can the test centre give me feedback on specific aspects in the ielts speaking test?”

Here’s my reply: There’s no doubt that you need well-developed English skills to get band 7 in any skill area (listening, reading, writing and speaking).

However, as you’ve found, it’s particularly challenging to get a high band score in the ielts speaking test. That’s partly because it’s a productive skill and not a receptive skill.

Marks For IELTS Speaking Fluency

Friday, December 6, 2013

Van Anh, a teacher in Vietnam, asked me this question:

“In a recent article, you said that test takers might get a lower mark for fluency if they correct themselves. Can you please explain why correcting oneself risks lowering the mark for fluency? How much self-correction is acceptable in the ielts speaking test? How much is too much?”

Here’s my reply:

The term “fluency” refers to a speaker’s ability to talk readily, smoothly and effortlessly. The rate, or speed, at which the person talks is also a factor in fluency.

A person is said to be very fluent in a language if he or she can speak at a normal pace with few (or no) pauses, very little repetition and very few corrections.

Fluency in any language is important. Listeners can find it difficult to understand or follow the ideas a speaker wants to communicate if the speaker has problems with fluency. For this reason, fluency is assessed in IELTS.

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