Tuesday, April 17, 2012

time and the toefl

It has been a while since I gathered my thoughts about this idea, and they have changed since a whole generation of Saudi students has risen up the ranks, struggling mightily with the issue of time. I almost feel like telling them, time is one of the skills, but it's the most important skill, since it is part of all the other three sections (I used to say that about vocabulary, but they can learn vocabulary).

They've risen to the top of the program; they are fairly good writers, having finally mastered the spelling of five or six thousand words that they need the most, and picking up the western organizational habits by listening carefully and complying willingly to what their teacher says. So they have fairly good skills, and even their reading is not bad, if you give them enough time to go left to right, pick up every word carefully, and put it together. But alas, this is where it falls apart. They are too slow, too deliberate. And they can't become faster readers until they are better readers in terms of pure quantity.

So the question is, when you have fifty questions in fifty five minutes, and a student gets 45, say, on the paper-based, turning into a 450 if all three skills are equal, and you wonder, if you gave him/her five more minutes, or ten, or fifteen, would it make a huge difference? I'm sure it would. I wonder about the other factors: how continuously rushed on the time can cause minds to slip in haste; how stress causes a freeze at crucial times, etc. I'd actually like to see this tested out, live, with Saudi students. Maybe it has been! I'll do the research. A related question would be: how does this mirror their academic experience, or, in real life, do they actually have that five or ten more minutes, if they choose to use it?

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