Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mid-term Time

It's that time of year again, when EPIK teachers across the country breath a collective sigh of relief and hagwon teachers shoot collective evil eye darts at EPIK teachers. Exam time! For high school teachers at least, this means half-days of little or no work supervising students as they write their mid-terms.

Though for many of us EPIKers, the start of exams actually spells the end of easy street - the week before exams most of my classes are canceled to give teachers an opportunity to catch students up on material yet to be covered in the curriculum. Sometimes students will choose not to have class at all, opting instead for a period of "self-study".

This morning students took their English exam. I snagged a copy of the 1st and 3rd grade tests, and thought I'd share some of the exam Qs with you here, just in case you were wondering what Korean students are actually supposed to be learning. This will also give you a good idea of the disparity between students' "testing level" and their "speaking level." Though most people would say that the latter is a more important skill when it comes to language, it matters little to Korean students, since it's not on the test.

The majority of my students, even some of those in high-level ("testing level") classes, struggle to put a single sentence together. One common scenario takes place each day as hey line up outside of the classroom door. They look at me with blank faces, pointing at the door and motioning for me to open it. I pretend I don't understand, and invariably one of them will yell "Door!" or "Open!" I gaze back at them blankly, and say "What door?" or "You want me to open what?" They continue to mumble to each other until someone finally steps up and says "Open the door, please," at which point I unlock the door and let them into the classroom. Sometimes they will forget the "please," and depending on how long it has taken them to form this simple sentence, I'll let it slide.

Here are some sample test questions from the first (fresh/soph) and third (senior) grade mid-term exams. Go ahead, test yourself!

1st grade sample Q's:

8. According to the following passage, why don't Calvaria tree seeds germinate?

In some cases two species are so dependent upon each other that if one becomes extinct, the other will as well. This nearly happened with trees that relied on the now-extinct Dodo birds. They once roamed Mauritius, a tropical island located in the Indian Ocean. However, they became extinct during the late 19th century. They were over-hunted by humans and other animals. After they disappeared, the Calvaria tree soon stopped sprouting seeds. Scientists finally concluded that, for the seeds of the Calvaria tree to sprout, they needed to first be digested by the Dodo bird.

1. As the seeds were too old to sprout in desert.
2. As two species are so dependent on each other.
3. As the Dodo birds ate all the seeds of Calvaria tree.
4. As the Dodo birds roamed Mauritius, a tropical island.
5. As the Dodo birds did not digest the Calvaria tree seeds.

14. Which underlined word is incorrect?

A highway was 1 built through our suburb some months ago. After that, the noise at our sports field was so unbearable that 2 complaints led the authorities to hold a public hearing. I outlined ow the noise 3 affected our games, and ended by telling officials the only time it was quiet enough to play was between 4 pm and 6 pm. One official 4 eyed me doubtfully and said "I don't understand that. Traffic is 5 smoothest between four and six." "You're right," I said. "That's when it isn't moving well."

18. Which of the following underlined phrases is incorrect?

New Zealand is 1 a little larger than the UK. Its largest city, Auckland, has over one million people living in it. 2 In area, though, Auckland is about twice 3 as big as London, England, which has a population of 7.2 million people. You can see easily that Auckland is 4 less crowded than London. There are fewer cars, too, but more boats. In fact, Auckland is called the "City of Sails" because more people own sailboats there than in 5 any other cities in the world.

3rd Grade Sample Q's:

Page 1: Definitions. Select the appropriate word from the word bank below to fit the definition.
Word bank: network, prosperous, contraction, progress, utter, emit, grab, cultivate, let go over, expert, intense, stagger, habitat, instinct, puzzled, organize, sink, surge, disturb...

1. Which option below refers to a different person?

A teenage boy played 1his new rock album for his father, who was a classical music fan. The father declared that this was terrific music, and 2he began to explain why he found it artistically admirable. Rather than being pleased, the boy was annoyed. "Can't I have anything to myself?" 3he asked. 4He wanted, in the matter of music, to feel that 5he was the expert and his father was taking it over. In the matters of music, clothes, or ways of talking, the parents' purpose may not be to control but to feel solidarity with their children. Yet the children may experience their parents' moves to accept or imitate their behavior as a power-based invasion.

10. Choose the number where the selected sentence would be most appropriate.

However, these superficial judgements are usually revised after a longer exposure to the foreigner's speech.

We judge a foreigner's knowledge of our language by the number and sort of mistakes he makes. ( 1 ) We are inclined to think he knows our language quite well if he does not make many mistakes. ( 2 ) It does not usually occur to us that he may be avoiding taking risks and confining himself to doing only what he knows he can do right. ( 3 ) A person who does not have expert knowledge probably judges a foreigner's ability in his language by how good the foreigner's pronunciation is or by how hesitantly he speaks. ( 4 ) He tends to assume that poor pronunciation is equal to a general lack of knowledge of the language, and that broken speech is confined to those who do not know the language well. ( 5 )

23. Choose the appropriate selection to fill in the blank.

Children don't need all of their time schedule. I am a stay-at-home mom with an eight-year-old and a six-year-old. I don't schedule play dates. My girls don't go to dance, gymnastics, piano lessons, or sports camp. They don't want to, and that's fine with me. They play outside in the daytime and do absolutely nothing structured: they go for walks, ride bikes, go to the beach, a park, or a picnic. My acquaintances worry for them, but they need not. My two girls always stay curious about the things aorund them. Sometimes they give an ingenious solution to a problem others can't imagine. I think this could be achieved _______.

1. by playing competently with peers
2. by expressing their negative feelings
3. by interacting positively with other peers
4. by getting the opportunity to think on their own
5. by going to sports camp which attract their interest


These are just a few of the questions on the midterm, which is written collectively by all of the grade's English teachers (except me). Most of them choose passages out of the textbook and re-word them to confuse the students. Some of the teachers run their questions by me before submitting them, to ensure that they make sense. Others don't, with sometimes hilariously confusing results. On one exam, a teacher wrote a question in which the student had to choose between "immigrate" and "emigrate" in 5 different places. The way the passage was worded, either word would have worked in every single instance. Luckily another teacher brought the question to me before the test went to the printer, and we fixed it.

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