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Oral Examinations

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Joined: 17 Nov 2003
Posts: 3
Location: China

PostPosted: Mon Nov 24, 2003 10:25 am    Post subject: Oral Examinations Reply with quote

I am in need of some desperate help. Currently, I am teaching in China and have now been informed that I have to do oral examinations for all my students. I have a total of around 450 students and I have no idea of what would be the most practical way of doing this.

Does anyone have any experience of teaching conversation English to large groups, preferable over 30 students per class?

Your ideas and suggestions would be much appreciated.

Pamela Confused Question Idea
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Joined: 16 Jan 2003
Posts: 274

PostPosted: Mon Nov 24, 2003 2:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I too teach in China, have been doing this for almost nine years. I well understand your predicament.

Your situation has two problems:
a) Teaching large classes, and giving them an exam;
b) thinking about your contribution to this sort of community.

I will deal with B) first.
Don't take your job too seriously. If you appluy common sense to China and its education system, you should immediately notice English is an also-ran as a subject, not regarded as a useful skill but much rather as one of many subjects in which students have to pass exams. Exams are the A and the O to a golden career.
Check how teachers in past exams discharged their responsabilities - and you will see an inordinately high number of students passed. Where are they now? Right - you may have rubbed shoulders with some of them, not knowing they passed an exam - their English is next to zero.
Fact is that in China guanxi alone decides how many students make it past the post. If your charges fail in their exam, the school will come down on you, not them. You will have to modify requirements to suit laggards' needs to pass the exam! Sad but true.

As a matter of fact, I had some very good classes, and I designed my exams in a more Western fashion. Several failed - and the school upgraded their scores!
Let's agree in passing that for a teacher to have to give her own students an exit exam is unprofessional. I only believe in exams done by teacher colleagues that don't know my own students - no special favours and relationships, please! But this is China, and that's why 95 out of 100 can't communicate in English in spite of having "studied" the lingo for up to ten years!

So, what about my answer to A)?

As hinted above, design an exam based on what you taught them over the past term. I don't know your students' level, so it's difficult to come up with concrete help.
I had normal school students, and I expected them to respond naturally in situations typical of anywhere, in which the students had to communicate with me in English. I wrote a question each on five different pieces of paper, and the student whose turn it was to come to the exam had to draw one of those five slips of paper.
She had then ten minutes to mull it over in a separate room, where I allowed them to consult reference works.
Then, each student had two minutes to talk as much as she could, failing which would prompt me to ask pointed questions.
I asked, for instance, "you arrive by train in town X, to visit a friend of yours; you find out you left your friend's address behind. What are you going to do?"
Well, that was a difficult one for my college students, but they actually did quite well - most of them. But then again, my criteria were:
- Speak coherently and logically, using adequate English;
- speak in whole sentences;
- grammar;
- address the question;
- use a minimum of 50 words.

Just an idea. The school will set no parameters except later when they will tell you that at least nine students of every ten must have passed the exam...
They won't even second someone to help you with the exam.

it is going to be nothing but a show - even if it scares the hell out of your poor students!
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 25, 2003 9:22 am    Post subject: Oral Examinations Reply with quote


Thank you for your reply. 9 years is a long time to be teaching in China and I believe you have gained alot of experience doing so. China is my second teaching post and I am learning new things all the time. The culture especially!!!

I have to agree that where I am working is a joke. I am teaching at a university in the North East of China and my classes are all mixed ability from beginners to intermediates all in one class. Believe me when I say, its not easy teaching all levels, but now, I do what I can with the limited resources that I have. I was given a book, now out of print, called New Person to Person and a tape recorder and they sent me and the other teachers on our merry way.

The suggestions you put forward sounds pretty good and I will put some thought into how I can adapt it to suit my needs with the book that I have. Time is a major factor, if I give my students 10 minutes each it will take to long. I have a good idea how my students are as I have been keeping close tabs on them and giving them homework which I have given them a grade for. The exam in 70% of the overall mark and the 30% is made up of 3 pieces of homework, class attendance and participation in class. All the admin is done, its just this exam which is given me the master headache.

I have now been in China for 2 months and am already learning how things work here. The univesity don't really care too much for the students as long as there are English speakers. It didn't take me too long to find that out, but I am here for the students and want to give them a functional way to use english and to share with them my culture as some of them don't have a clue of any life outside of China.

Well, I am not going to get too serious about it, as you said, if they can change the grade to bump up the figures, then whats the point. All I know I've done my part, if they think this is the best way to teach their young then we will continue to see Chinese teachers teaching their version of english even though they have studied it for 10 years!!!!

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 25, 2003 10:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello, Pam,

I like your measured answer. YOu are not one to be bogged down easily. Still, you are planning on giving your students too much - not that some deserve your help - but: do ALL of them care for your effort? I rather doubt that! But, hey, evry time I have excellent rapport with them I want to give them too.
Just for your information: Ten minutes per student in the exam is WAY TOO MUCH! You are not going to be rewarde for your extra time on the school premises! In your case, it might be advisable to separate the different levels and to give them different tasks to perform. ANd: Time allocation should not reach more than 2 to three minutes, basta! Ten minutes, and you alone with how many students to be tested??? 50? 150? Multiply that with the time allocated per student... And then, you have to make sure you give accurate reports, writing names correctly...

How about simple role-plays between a salesperson and a customer, a hotel reception clerk and a tourist, whatever? I am digging these examples up for your lower-end "customers".
I am in a very bad mood today... I found my boss is just one other vegetable intellectually - forgetting to tell me today's classes were ...cancelled!
And, of course, "it's not my fault, therefore I can't pay you..." Lost half a day, and got mightily worked up.
That's Chinese culture.
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Location: China

PostPosted: Wed Dec 03, 2003 9:26 am    Post subject: Oral Examinations Reply with quote

Roger, thanks for the input on suggestive ways to do my exam. Wish me luck as I will be starting in the next two weeks and will be doing it over a 2 week period.

I've decided on a simple question and answer based on what I've already taught them and will probably do it in pairs, giving them a topic and they talk to each other. This will cut down on alot of time.

Thanks for your help and your suggestions.
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