It’s 7:35 in the morning and the English mid-term exam is set to begin in fifteen minutes. With a cup of hot instant nescafe coffee in my left hand and a half eaten banana in my right, I am standing outside the science room to collect the 8th and 9th grade English exam. While I waited, I noticed how informal this whole process was. I was to pick up the tests at 7:40, distribute the test and begin the test by 7:50; it all seemed a bit rushed.
At 8:00am the listening (听力) section began. Blasted over the school’s PA system, students waited for their grade’s section to play. Prior to the start of the listening section, some students began writing the Chinese translation next to questions and possible solutions on the test.
Attached is a 5 minute video of the 8th grade listening section. I was blown away by the difficulty and range of skills the students needed to demonstrate mastery over. As mentioned before, students at Laoying Middle School begin studying English in the 7th grade, however, their text book and thus test requirements, proceed at a pace with the assumption that students have been studying English since the 3rd grade.
What I hope to disclose in the next few paragraphs are my observations of the skills asked, test taking strategies, and students confidence in English.
(disclaimer: the students, whom I administered the test for, are among the lowest performing students in the 8th and 9th grade.)
The listening section of the English test is known to be one of the more difficult portions of the exam due to the students lack of exposure and their local teacher’s english accent. Part one of the listening section, students listened to a sentence then chose the picture that best corresponded with the meaning of the sentence. Part two, students had to listen to a sentence then choose the correct response. Part three, students listened to a paragraph then had to answer multiple choice questions related to the content of the paragraph.
After the listening section, came multiple choice-which tested students on grammar, conjugation, and reading comprehension. Last, came the essay portion-where students were given a prompt and are expected to write a paragraph. I noticed one particular strategy, where students would simply copy sentences from the reading comprehension portion of the exam and switch out vocabulary.
As I watched students struggle through the exam (some simply giving up and sleeping), part of me felt sympathy for the students. They are tested on and forced to learn a language with little practical application. Given all of their adversity, I can’t help but think about this opportunity that is given to them. These students, born to peasant families, have an opportunity to learn a second language that could truly make a difference in their lives. They only need to take advantage of it and rise to their own potential.
The 9th grade topic was asking students to describe how they study for English–as one student put it “no pain, no gain”