30 May 2015

VELC--a possible alternative for TOEIC

VELC has been developed as an English proficiency test for Japanese university students (normed to a large population of such EFL learners), unlike the TOEIC. I have excerpted the abstract from the article's online PDF. VELC stands for 'Visualizing English Language Competency'. It takes about 70 minutes to administer a version of the test to a group, while the TOEIC takes about 3 hours.



The authors have developed a new competency test to make visible the English-language skills of Japanese university students as much as possible. The test divides the two sections of listening and reading into three parts each, measuring listening ,(vocabulary (L1), connected speech deciphering (L2), and listening comprehension (L3) along with reading vocabulary (R1 sentence structure awareness (R2), and reading comprehension (R3). Equating data from trial testing of approximately 5000 Japanese university students, using a Rasch model, makes it possible to compare scores on the same scale no matter which of multiple forms the test takers used. The test’s coefficient of reliability is higher than 0.95, and its multiple correlation coefficient to TOEIC scores is 0.82. Feedback on results is provided through a Web-based e-Portfolio that can be described as a record of an individual’s English-language ability. Students also can use this test to ascertain changes in their own English-language abilities by taking the test periodically. As a result, it can be expected to see a variety of uses that have not been possible with previous one-time testing.

TOEIC is not a very good test for university students in Japan

First, there are a lot of questions about how both TOEIC and ETS are run. But let's ignore those for now. The real issue is whether or not TOEIC proves a very good match for university students. Is it a good English proficiency test? Problems with TOEIC include:

1.  It's too long. It's easy to get behind the audio during the listening test, and it's hard to concentrate and keep on pace to finish the reading test. About 3 hours are required to take the test, much of it concentrating intensively on the test problems.   

2.  It lacks practical communicative tasks--especially ones that require any real production, such as speaking or writing.

3.  Its main focus is business and business traveler English, so it is schematically outside of the experiences and immediate needs and interests of university students in Japan.  

4.  It too much an EFL literacy test: half the test is 'reading', and the other half, the 'listening' parts, require reading as well (e.g., Parts 3 and 4). 

5.  It's a norm-referenced test that basically puts inexperienced 18-22 year olds in direct competition with older, more experienced company and government workers for their 'level of attainment' in the tested group. 

6.  It's hard to analyze students' scores in order to come up with a better study plan for them. Many Japanese students think that their reading skills far exceed their listening ones. But at the lower proficiency levels (the bulk of the students here), the more typical pattern is for them to do much better on the listening sections of the test than the reading ones. However, it is difficult to devise a better study plan for them. It seems, though, for example, lower level learners might more quickly boost their scores by concentrating on the parts that they can master more quickly--which are probably Listening Part 3 and Reading Part 5. 

7.  Studying old tests and pseudo-TOEIC questions might help produce test-wiseness in the students, but these prove time and again to be horrible ways to help students learn English. What is needed is better-thought-out exercises and activities that help students learn, revise, and review the typical English that they need to take the TOEIC. The main thing taking practice tests does is reinforce failure and under-achievement.

Perhaps these issues also hold in places like China and South Korea too, so it is little wonder then that governments and institutions in Asia are seeking to develop language proficiency tests that might fit national cultures better. It is also understandable why some might want to develop a better language proficiency test for young adults, such as university students typically aged 18-22.  

17 May 2014


Three discussion and reading lessons for mixed-level, mixed-interest EFL classes that you can download in PDF at the following links. The bilingual vocabulary notes are provided for people who teach Japanese learners of English:

1.  Food and Culture: Special Traditional Foods (Fermented Foods)

2.  Fast Food

3.  Tea

12 February 2014


Part III of this series was a short discussion lesson on the topic of 'tea' (next to water, it is the most popular drink in the world!). Here is a complete lesson on tea. It is designed for mixed-level, mixed-ability EFL classrooms typical at high schools and universities here in Japan. There is more than enough material (reading, discussions, vocabulary study) for several lessons actually. The unit is available for viewing and downloading at the link below:


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