As the advisor for the English Club at this University, I attend as many of the gatherings as possible. This last gathering was on Monday. The club has various themes. This week's was TOEIC preparation.
I'm not really in favor of TOEIC preparation as a theme. It seems shallow and less effective than other potential activities, but it isn't my club. As a matter of fact, I have a meeting with the club leadership today to express my feelings about this and other issues. I'll write about that later.
The activity, for two hours was this. The group in charge of the activity copied some listening questions on a piece of paper and as we listened to a CD, we tried to answer the questions. At the end of the question, and after people had heard the passage enough times, we analysed the question and what the answers were and were not. I'm not sure how the questions were chosen. My guess is that they were chosen randomly. They were very difficult, with words in them that I was not familiar with, some locations in Washington State, and "dungenss spit." After looking on the internet for a location I finally know what it is. It's on the Puget Sound. For this Hillbilly, the only spit I knew was the kind you do when you're chewing tobacco. And I couldn't figure out why spitting in a dungeon would be a tourist attraction.
At the end of the activity, the students were feeling pretty beat up, and I was feeling like they had just spent 2 hours finding out what they couldn't do. I made three points.
1. The TOEIC is not real communication. As for the listening, in real communication, if you don't understand what the other person is saying, you can ask them to repeat, simplify, or change the words in their statement. There are pictures, maps, gestures and context to rely on. All of them absent in a test.
2. Most of the TOEIC test is above their level. If the average score in the club was 300, and I'm being generous, then there are 690 points above them. Two-thirds of the test is going to be beyond them. They can practice and develop their language ability to reduce that amount, but the test itself is going to be that way.
3. The questions are tricky. In the listening test there is a section where the speaker makes a statement or asks a question. The test takers must choose from three spoken responses which would be the best to respond to the innitial statement. One is the correct response. One is a distractor. One is totally off base. First, the initial statements or questions are totally without context. Second, in real communication no one would respond in the way the test is arranged unless they misunderstood, were intellectually challenged, or unless they were being funny or rude.
Preparing for the TOEIC test is all well and good, but there needs to be more of a systematic approach to it for this Enlgish Club.