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October 25, 2005

Repost: Tests and English --by Bruce Lin

TOEIC, TOEFL, IELTS, GRE, GEPT…so many tests there to puzzle you. Which one is better in proving your English worth? Actually, it would be plainly silly to compare them, as English is so vast and complicated that one test alone can't judge your ability; no test will ever be perfect enough to improve your English. Yet, one approach remains simple and true – if you USE English every day, your English will be better with each passing day. So many English textbooks serve more like detours than short-cuts – they show you English rules that you will forever have hard time memorizing. To use English, you don't need those rules. However, when you use English, you have to constantly refer to those rules in order to refine your English.

In society, unfortunately, people never have the interest to know you; their mentality is only high enough to understand a certificate. Memorizing those rules becomes important. The thing is, tests can't really determine abilities, but people need those stinky certificates to help them move forward. My concern is, tests kill your interests in learning English. Preparing for a test is seldom inspiring, and it is a real torture to go through it. When you pass a test, you probably wish not to go through it again. Worse, if you fail, you would believe that the low testing score represents you – a stigma that is hard to shed. You either do not want to take the test again or unwillingly give it a second try. With an attitude like that, your English will never go anywhere. If you lose interest in learning, even God cannot save you. It takes daily habit to learn English; it is absurd to pressure yourself to learn every day.

A test can not tell you interesting stories, it does not help you interpret texts, it does not guide you to appreciate the author's writing style, and it does not lead you to the universe. Probably the worse thing a test can do is that it does not allow mistakes. It's okay to make mistakes – you should, actually. Mistakes are step stones by which we get to climb higher. You don't need an English master to tell you this; it's common sense. Please see the following quote from an essay, To Err is human:

Everything people do, they do imperfectly. This is not a flaw but an asset. If we always performed perfectly, we could not maintain the tentativeness and flexibility that characterize human learning and the ways we interact with our environment and with on another…Unlike the computer, people do not exhibit specifically programmed, totally dependable responses time after time. We are tentative, we act impulsively, we make mistakes, and we tolerate our own deviations and the mistakes of others. (Yetta M. Goodman and Kenneth S. Goodman, 1994)

Don't let those tests stop you. Don't let your mistakes stops you. If you don't give yourself a chance, who will?

Weijen

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