In this post for Rachel’s blog site, I had planned to take the Thai proficiency test at the end of last year, which I did last month, and the scores are out. Please don’t get fooled by the word ‘advanced’ on the score card, the CEFR equivalent would be a B2/B2+.
If you are interested to know more about The Chulalongkorn University Proficiency Test of Thai as a Foreign Language (CU-TFL) please click here. The test is considered a benchmark among non-native Thai learners, and I remember reading this comment on Tod Daniel’s (an American, expert in Thai) blogpost on the test ‘the most stressful… hours …spent during my entire Thai learning journey’.
As you may have noticed on my score card, the test offers you flexibility of testing one or more skills at a time. I have decided to take the speaking and listening skills’ test on 26 May 2022, and once again, I am targeting an ‘advanced’ score. My scores aren’t the best, but taking the test partially has encouraged me to reflect on planning the IELTS prep-course that we offer, and a couple of other takeaways.
A couple of takeaways from the test
Time-management and decision making skills
Two of the most important skills in a high stake test, which might not find a spot in a test-prep course curriculum. To give you an example, while doing the reading test, I knew right from the start, I won’t be able to attempt 50 questions reading six passages of increasing intensity. I had to be aware of how much time I could expend on one question and one passage, keeping their level of difficulty in mind. Once I had ascertained that, I had to decide which passage to skip (and guess the answers). For that I had to detail read the first para and skim read the rest to check if the text is within my range of comprehension. The decision to continue reading or skip the passage could have played a vital role in getting an ‘advanced’ score.
Interestingly, during a feedback session post a mock IELTS reading test, one of my learners had mentioned doing something similar. She had decided to skip the second passage on the test, and come back to it later if time permits. Upon investigating further, she backed her decision with two reasons. First, awareness of her own linguistic abilities and the complexity of the text as well as the questions. Second, and importantly, she had mentally calculated the higher probability of getting questions in the third passage correct.
Comprehension before sub-skills
From a high stake test with multiple tricky choices’ questions’ perspective, I find skimming ineffective if I don’t comprehend the text almost entirely; not every word. The argument that we don’t need to understand the entire text, just skim and get the overall idea doesn’t work, in my opinion, in a test scenario. I tried skim reading a challenging text during the Thai test, but it didn’t help me attempt any of the questions because I had limited understanding of the text (probably 50%) and unfortunately, there weren’t any explicit answer questions (match the words in the question sentence and the text, et voilà). All the questions had paraphrased and very close options, which made it almost impossible to guess the correct answer, so eventually, I played odd-even-odd-even-even-odd…..…
I can draw a parallel with IELTS reading texts. A learner might understand the main topic and also probably know what each para is about but unless (s)he comprehends majority* of the text, it would be difficult to accurately guess an answer.
*I don’t have any scientific data to write a number but proponents of comprehensible input (CI) would go as high as 95% comprehension.
*BTW, according to Nation and Hu’ 2000 paper, the vast majority of L2 learners learn very little from a text which is less than 95 % comprehensible without support.
Planning to bits
It is extremely crucial to have the journey to the destination planned and broken down into small bits; daily, weekly, monthly and final goal(s). My poor writing scores highlight the little amount of time I spent planning and practicing for the test. This urged me to reflect and update our IELTS-prep course structure.
How I would organise our IELTS-prep (Academic) course
Time-frame: 8 weeks
At weekends, learners:
- listen to podcasts
- write and/or audio record a summary and/or opinion on the topic of the podcast
- complete activities designed to mitigate areas(s) of concern
- participate in group calls with other learners
- watch English films and/or series of their choice
- if need arises, take extra live session(s) to clarify grammar topics
Most of the factual input, feedback, activities to mitigate area(s) of concern, mock tests are to be done asynchronously as a lead-up or follow-up to the live sessions.
Please feel free to share any feedback you may have to improve the plan 🙂
Marcella Hu Hsueh-chao and Paul Nation, 2000, Unknown Vocabulary Density and Reading comprehension, LALS, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand