Everybody understands the theoretical value of good state exams - uniform standards, fairness, national and maybe (why not?) even international recognition, accreditation and respect. We might all agree on the value of state exams in theory, but what about in practice? Agreement on the principles of examination might prove more elusive. To be fair, EGE English has attracted quite a bit of discussion, not to say controversy, over the last few years. But regardless of our opinion or level of enthusiasm for the exams themselves, we can still all agree without reservation on one thing: We want our students to pass - and to pass well. As a native speaker, my opinion is that EGE English is a quite tough examination and it seems that, in all likelihood, the future trend is towards a greater degree of rigour rather than the reverse. But the level of this exam is as it is. If the exam is tough - then exam practice tests and exam preparation in general must also be tough in order to be realistic. Practice tests must match this high level (and arguably even go a little beyond this level) to have any value at all. EGE is more than being just about English language competence; the exam is also about calmly applying logic and deductive reasoning under pressure. It is also about strategy. It is also about establishing linguistic, socio-linguistic, discourse, strategic, socio- cultural and social competences. I am very grateful to the large number of Russian teachers who have begun to helpfully comment on this new series of exam preparation books. It is unsurprising to me that some of the texts and tasks have attracted criticism for being tough. But my opinion stands - if the level of practice is significantly easier than the real exam, then in the long term, we are doing our students a disservice. It is far, far better that we give them good and regular practice at the right level so that they will eventually be properly equipped to pass. There are nine books so far in a series published under the brand name Solovova Centre (part of Examen Publishers). They are collaborations between Elena Solovova and myself. The first book is a mixture of curriculum topics, four of them cover specific curriculum areas and four are skills based. The overall collaboration is that exam strategy is covered by Solovova, I created the texts and we both worked closely together on the tasks. In terms of strategy, Solovova believes that many students who are quite able to pass actually fail because their strategy is wrong. It is nothing to do with their ability in the English language, but is simply that they are sometimes ill-prepared when they sit down to take the exam. A common fault is that they can get too involved with the text itself and perhaps even struggle with some of the social-cultural content. Actually what they really need is practice in analysing the questions and determining exactly what is required, not wasting time trying to wrestle out the full and exact meaning in each text. For example, in one of the books there are six paragraphs on uniforms that people wear. These need to be matched to brief statements. The paragraphs describe “uniforms” in the context of football, fashion, city board rooms and even a clever robbery, as well as the more obvious use of uniforms in school or the professions. The statements to match include “uniforms are too strict”, “uniforms make you seem invisible”, etc. In the book Solovova demonstrates her experience of how much time is wasted by simply trying to grasp the full meaning. In some cases they will not be able to do this anyway. One paragraph in this exercise on uniforms describes a football “derby”. Very few students will understand that this word refers to a match between two teams from the same city, e.g. Manchester United versus Manchester City. But the point is that they don’t need to understand. They just need to answer the questions correctly. In this instance Solovova’s advice is to devote more time to the questions rather than getting lost in the text. They should think, for example, about which is the key word in the option “uniforms are too strict”. The answer is “strict” and so they need to think what this word means and what it is associated with, e.g. unfairness, stress, etc. When they have made a few notes on the different key words in the questions, they can revisit the texts and go through them like a proverbial “hot knife through butter”. Of course it can be argued that this devalues the texts. The answer to this is very simple. The texts can be revisited if the inclination is there and enjoyed or used in a different way. But the first issue is to get the correct answer quickly and to pass the exam. This is just one random example. But Solovova’s advice comes from countless hours of studying how exams are actually taken in practice sessions and then intervening to understand what the students have done and how they allocated their time. In this way this new series of books would be good value for any student - simply based on the advice she provides. The practice texts and tasks are both authentic and wide ranging. The tasks are authentic in the sense that they match the realities of the real exam. The texts were written by myself and are therefore also authentic to British culture and experience. First a few words about tasks. I put myself through the GCSE Russian. This is a UK national exam for Russian language for 16 year olds. I of course noticed this apparently universal tendency in the questions to “set traps” for students! Do I like this, agree with this? The question is of course rhetorical. It doesn’t matter what I think. If I wanted to pass the exam I simply had to acquire extra skills to navigate the “nasty” hurdles that had been laid out by the examiners for me to trip over. I adopted this approach in terms of creating tasks for this series of books. You could argue it is “being cruel to be kind”. But if students are to become accustomed to routinely (and quickly) determining what examiners are looking for, then tasks should be appropriately “tricky”. Secondly, in regard to tasks, I took the view that I could only accomplish this with the help of Solovova, her editor and the wonderful team of teachers who helped us. Some of the tasks are controversial but in our view each one has one correct answer that can be logically defended. But not everyone will agree with us and we accept this philosophically. Moving on to the subject of texts, I took the view that texts should not only match exam requirements but that they should also be fun, relevant where possible, and intrinsically enjoyable and interesting. I took the view that however onerous a task it is to prepare for exams and take practice tests, I still wanted to provide the children with texts that were both enjoyable and to some extent relevant to their lives. I wanted to give them texts that they would enjoy and content that they would remember. This seems to contradict my earlier comments about not getting lost in texts. But the idea is that practice tests can be used in two ways. First, they should be used for genuine practice. Secondly, when a teacher reviews the exam with them they can be, I hope, enjoyed. Exam preparation is a dull task for everybody and so the intention was to provide stimulating, relevant, intrinsically interesting and authentic texts for everyone to enjoy. For example, the audio dialogues in some of the books added together make some kind of story with the same characters appearing. In book 1 the dialogues revolve around a real charitable foundation and real people. The issues raised are totally relevant, including some dilemmas faced by young people and how they resolve them. They are packed with all kinds of elements including sarcasm, humour, cultural content and even romance. Many of the texts are either autobiographical or about real people I know. Fact based texts are all thoroughly researched and even contain exact correct details such as prices, opening times and websites they can really go to if they are interested. I have tried to provide texts that will be of particular interest to girls and of particular interest to boys (with the help of my own teenage children) as well as material that is of obvious general interest. Having spent a lot of time travelling around Russia I have a better idea than most native speakers about those aspects of British culture and history that are interesting to Russians. But I have always tried to find things that are a little unusual. A piece on Henry VIII for example concentrates on his influence in the development of the modem orchestra. One piece on the Beatles focuses on John Lennon’s first concert long before they formed as a group and another was about a chance meeting years after they disbanded. In providing texts based on Russian heroes, I looked for ones that I guessed they might not know about or tried to show something unexpected regarding very famous Russians. Basically I was looking for good general topic areas and trying to offer something fresh about each one. Did I succeed? You can judge for yourself. Reproduced below is a text called “Kimbolton School”. This was the school I attended and in it I make comparisons with Harry Potter’s fictional school “Hogwarts”. I hope you enjoy it. By John Parsons
Журнал “Английский язык” издательского дома “Первое сентября” № 02/2011
© 2015 Центр Елены Солововой
Итоговая аттестация за курс начальной и основной школы. Подготовка к ЕГЭ и ОГЭ. Итоговая аттестация за курс начальной и основной школы. Подготовка к ЕГЭ и ОГЭ.