The original posting: IF TOEIC HAD SPEAKING AND WRITING SECTIONS
I understand that you are against studying for a test. Although I am aware of the problems associated with test preparation that you pointed out above, like only improving test-taking techniques and not English, I know from my own experience as an EFL learner preparing for Cambridge exams that something useful can be learned in test preparation.
I guess it depends on how you study English overall, or how you define 'STUDYING ENGLISH'. If you study for the test by only reviewing questions given in the past and working on questions likely to be given in the future, your general proficiency in English (even in writing and speaking) wouldn't be measured, at least fairly and accurately. For instance, you were able to answer several questions correctly only because you'd learned the same questions, given in the past, in several TOEIC preparatory books, though you don't know why it is grammatically correct; you've just learned that's the way it is. Or you knew the translated definitions of certain big words because you'd learned from TOEIC preparatory vocabulary books, though you'd never seen them or heard them actually used in books, articles, journals, dramas, movies and so on.
NOW THAT'S NOT EDUCATION, THAT'S CORRUPTION! If you can prepare for the test so perfectly as to predict the test items, then it'll no longer measure your proficiency in English at all, regardless of reading or writing, it'll simply measure how well you've prepared for the test or how well you know the test itself. (Sadly there are many ESL learners out there trying so hard to predict question that will be given in the next test, right now, right this moment. REMEMBER, THAT'S JUST CORRUPTION!)
YOU ANSWER QUESTIONS WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF ENGLISH, NOT WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF PREVIOUSLY GIVEN QUESTIONS! I think this sad, pathetic tendency of studying past questions to predict future questions has looted so deeply into the mentality of Nipponese ESL learners. So quite naturally, those learners, wont to this type of studying method, would no doubt adapt the same technique to dealing with speaking and writing sections. Right after the official announcement of the inclusion of speaking and writing sections, they'd go wild to look for the ways and means to be successful in these newly included sections, puttying so much more effort to learn about various test techniques than to learn how to speak and how to write.
Well, I know this is mostly just my speculation, which has been pretty much given without providing even a very basic range of empirical phenomena associated with them, and I'm not saying every single TOEIC learner (including TOEIC bloggers) would be categorized as the said ones above, but I guess not many people would disagree with me for saying that a significant number of people would choose to look for and take shortcuts, and the inclusion of speaking and writing sections would induce only a small number of people to immerse into an intensive and extensive speaking & writing training beyond the test preparatory level.
If the standard TOEIC test ever had a writing section, it would certainly include an email-writing task similar to the one appearing in the TOEIC Writing Test, like the one below.
Directions: Read the e-mail below and write an e-mail that responds to the information. Respond as if you have recently moved to a new city. In your e-mail to the committee, make at least TWO requests for information.
FROM: Dale City Welcome Committee
TO: New Dale City Residents
SUBJECT: Welcome to your new home
DATE: July 23
Welcome! We would like to be the first to welcome you to Dale City. We know that there are many things to do when you move, from finding your way around town to setting up your utilities. Please contact us if you need any help at all.
As you said, most of the test takers would look for and take shortcuts to tackle this type of question. The shortcuts would be learning useful phrases to start an e-mail, make a request, and end an e-mail and writing a mock e-mail using them. By doing such exercise over and over again, they would become able to write an exam-passing e-mail. At the same time, they would become able to write a simple e-mail like instructed above in real life, which is something. Those who have never written an e-mail in English are not able to write one. If the inclusion of a writing section to the standard TOEIC test led them to practice writing e-mails and if they eventually acquired e-mail writing skills through test preparation, that would be a good thing because they would learn something useful in real life. That is different from learning something that is only useful for a test and has no use in real life.
I am under the impression that you write for pleasure. I know writing can be fun, but it requires time, effort and energy and can be painful, too. So, lazy people like myself do not write for pleasure very often. I did a lot of writing practice in the past but it was because I wanted to pass the exams. Had it not been for the Cambridge exams, I wouldn’t have done much writing practice and I wouldn’t be able to have a blogospherical debate with you in English. When I was an EFL student in London, I took a lot of exam preparation courses. We used exam practice books, which were collections of past papers. The writing section was like this:
PAPER 2 COMPOSITION (2 hours)
Write two only of the following composition exercises. Your answers must follow exactly the instructions given. Write in pen, not pencil. You are allowed to make alterations, but see that your work is clear and easy to read.
1 Briefly describe the neighbourhood you live in and a few of the more interesting people who live and work there. (About 350 words)
2 “You are what you eat.” How important is diet to health and well-being?
3 “What a strange day it had been! Losing such a small article had led to the most amazing consequences.” Use this as the first or last sentence of a story. (About 350 words)
4 Because of bad weather conditions your plane had to make an unscheduled landing. Write a letter to the airline company complaining about the lack of food, accommodation and service provided, and demand compensation. (About 300 words)
5 Basing your answer on your reading of the prescribed text concerned, answer one of the following. (About 350 words)
GRAHAM GREEN: The Quiet American
What part does the triangular relationship between Pyle, Fowler and Phuong play in the story?
JANE AUSTEN: Persuasion
Explain how in Persuasion Anne had been forced into prudent behaviour in her youth yet was able to find romance as she grew older.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY: A Farewell to Arms
Would you agree that A Farewell to Arms is no more than the story of love affair between an American lieutenant and an English nurse?
(Form Cambridge Proficiency Examination Practice 5, Cambridge University Press, 1993)
Each week, we wrote one essay on one of these essay titles in a past paper as homework, and the teacher marked it and gave us feedback. We practiced on the past questions because we knew the questions on our exam would be similar. So my writing practice was limited to the test preparatory level working on past questions. Even so, my writing improved significantly through this kind of practice.
There are different ways of studying for an English exam. You can improve your English through exam preparation if you do it in the right way. I want my blog readers to improve their English while preparing for TOEIC. That is my hope.
I read your latest article and actually visited FDJ’s blogosphere. I would like to extend my apologies for not knowing this TOEIC Vocabulary in the News series was built with the aim of encouraging readers to respond in English.
From now on, I will try to provide my comments on the series in English.