Saturday, December 31, 2011

MUET 2011 - Views & Reply

There was an interesting letter to the Editor of The STAR concerning what was perceived as changes in the frequency and the raised fees for the MUET exams & the deterioriating standard of marking.

Here's the letter below and the accompanying reply by the MOE of Malaysia for your information.

Rodney Tan

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Sunday December 18, 2011


Don’t make a mockery of MUET


AS A newly-retired English language teacher who has taught MUET ( Malaysia University English Test) classes for more than a decade, I have always subscribed to the view that decisions taken about educational matters should always be guided by the best interests of the students and not sacrificed on the altar of financial gains.

Thus when I recently learnt that the test would be conducted three times next year — March, July and November — and the registration fee raised from RM60 to RM100, I am compelled to offer my views on many of the issues affecting the MUET classes.

To begin with, logic will dictate that many school candidates will now choose to sit for the test in March to secure a good Band score as fast as possible (which is what many Lower Six students are going to do ), failing which they can then choose to sit for the exam in July and November to secure higher scores and in the process, swell the coffers of the Malaysian Examinations Council (MEC).

And that is what administering the MUET three times a year will bring about — making a mockery of the whole purpose of introducing MUET in the first place.

So now, instead of the recommended 80 hours of MUET sessions, many schools will have to make do with less than 35 hours. Leaving aside the question on whether such a move is practical or wise the issue should be: What good will such a plan bring about when students are allowed to sit for their MUET exam so soon? Clearly, a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.

Unhappy situation

As matters now stand, the students are being given the option to sit for the MUET in May instead of November creating an unhappy situation whereby after the test, MUET teachers have a hard time getting students to stay engaged in their MUET lessons. In previous years, to keep my English classes going after the MUET in May, I would teach my students Phonetics and Business Communication, among other things. However there were students who upon receiving their MUET results in July, were not keen to follow the MUET lessons, especially if they had secured Bands 5 and 4. This in effect meant that I only had to teach the group of students who registered to resit their MUET exam in November. With Lower Six students now allowed to sit for their MUET exam in March, students would be left to their own devices once the exams are over.

They would most likely use their MUET periods to revise their other STPM subjects.

And such unfortunate circumstances have conspired to make MUET teachers the butt of jokes and resentment in schools for allegedly getting paid for having such a “good” time in school, no thanks to the flexible MUET dates.

Having taught MUET classes for so many years, I must say the standards of marking and grading MUET papers have somewhat become inconsistent over the years.

In the early years of MUET, only two or three students would manage to secure a Band 5. Then, after some years, just like the grade inflation plaguing SPM subjects, almost half the students in the better MUET classes were able to secure Band 5. In fact, even average students were able to obtain a Band 4! And it is surprising to find that students who fared so poorly in their written English have still managed to secure a low Band 5 for the test.

The fact is that when students are able to work out most of the answers for the Reading Comprehension paper which carries 45% of the overall aggregate scores (under the old test specifications) and do moderately well in the speaking and listening components, which together carry 30% of the aggregate scores, it is still possible for them to secure a low Band 5 even if they barely pass the writing component which constitutes 25 % of the aggregate scores.

Thus, when MUET is not perceived as a reliable measure of the candidates’ English language proficiency, it has become largely optional, if considered at all, in applying for admission in local private colleges with “twinning” courses with their overseas counterparts which allocate little importance to it.

When students head to Singapore for their tertiary education, they are made to sit for the English Qualifying Test, even if they have secured a high Band 5 in MUET. This is not surprising as many applicants can’t even write a few sentences without grammatical errors!

It is a sad reflection of how the standard of English has deteriorated in schools these days.

Poor standards

Below is an example of an an opinion written by a student on whether modern advertising is a bad influence on today’s youth.

“… nowadays, when we swift on the televisyens, most of the time is for advertised the advertisement. When they watching the TV programme, the children are also watching together by them. ….Some of the business people are using a women body to advertised their product …”

Let me also point out that fine tuning the writing component by replacing Question 1, which was formerly a summary question with a question on the interpretation of data will not do any good as MUET teachers do no have the luxury of time to put their charges through an intensive course to polish up the latter’s grammar and vocabulary skills. To persist with the current writing paper is akin to putting the cart before the horse.

It would also be wise if the MEC takes note that since Question 1 in the writing component now involves statistics, some calculations and analysis of data, maintaining the 1½ hours for the paper is hardly sufficient.

Candidates will face severe time constraints in tackling the writing paper and only with constant practice can they hope to do well in the paper. Upper Six students will be hard-pressed to do well if they are allowed to take their MUET exams so early in March. The selection of examiners for MUET’s speaking component is another issue that needs to be urgently addressed. It is puzzling why so many competent MUET teachers are sidelined when it comes to appointing examiners for this component while those not at all involved in teaching MUET classes are selected.

Let me cite an example of a team leader who was not a MUET teacher overruling his junior co-examiner who was a MUET teacher, by assessing a candidate who spoke excellent English and performed impressively for both the individual presentation and group discussion task a Band 4, when it was obvious that the candidate was clearly of Band 5 or Band 6 calibre. The rationale? The team leader, dogmatically claimed that they should avoid giving candidates a high band score for speaking as far as possible, as instructed by their superiors!

This undesirable state of affairs is played out in some STPM subjects as well. It brings to mind what a Maths teacher involved in marking STPM exam scripts said about one of his co-markers who was a Chemistry graduate, and not a bona fide Maths teacher.

The latter had refused to accept a candidate’s Maths answer because the candidate had used another approach. The examiner, who was apparently more at home with Chemistry, chose to blindly follow what was in the marking scheme and penalised the poor student for securing the answer using a formula that differed from the one in the marking scheme!

Such instances are reasons why it is crucial to ensure that only competent and experienced examiners who are teaching the respective subjects be given the task of marking public exam papers which determine the academic future and career prospects of the candidates.

Anything short of that will not only affect the credibility of the marked papers, but also victimise some candidates through no fault of their own.

The rationale given for the introduction of MUET in 1999 was that undergraduates in local universities were wasting their time learning basic grammar, and therefore MUET was introduced to address the low English proficiency of students before pursuing higher education.

If that is the case, the present MUET general test specifications and MUET format do not address the poor grammar and vocabulary skills of many of the candidates. And things won’t get better with the early registration for the test when candidates simply do not have sufficient and sustained MUET lessons to improve their low language proficiency in English.

Grammar skills

There is a dire need to test grammar to ensure candidates take pains to improve their grammar and vocabulary skills and be aware of the common failings displayed in their written English. Grammar is an integral part of effective academic writing.

Thus, developing a better understanding of how individual words and groups of words work to form coherent sentences and paragraphs to construct academic texts will be useful. With knowledge born out of hard classroom experience, it is my contention that instead of the MUET general test specifications and exam, Form Six students are better off if they are given a well-crafted English course conducted by committed teachers to prepare them for entry to tertiary education. They can then be made to sit for a rigorous common English entrance examination for admission into public universities.

It is about time the MEC carried out a survey to find out if the present coursework and MUET serves to achieve the original aims. The council should not be too concerned with raising fees to swell its coffers. The MUET exam must surely be a means towards an end and, not an end by itself.

HENRY SOON

Via e-mail


RESPONSE TO NEWSPAPER REPORT

Ministry of Education (MOE) would like to refer to an article by Henry Soon published in Sunday Star dated 18 December 2011 on the issue of – Don’t make a mockery of MUET.

The Malaysian University English Test (MUET) is an English language proficiency test designed to measure the English language ability of students wishing to pursue first degree studies in local institutions of public learning. With MUET, English is taught at Sixth Form or pre-university level to equip students with the appropriate level of proficiency in English to enable them to perform effectively in their academic pursuits at tertiary level.

The Malaysian Examinations Council (MEC) fully agrees with Mr Henry Soon’s opinion that decisions on educational matters should be in the best interests of students. MUET will be conducted three times a year beginning 2012, in March, July and November. This policy is made after receiving numerous requests from students who intend to take MUET and after an in-depth study of its implications.

At present, candidates who take the Mid-Year MUET face problems in their appeals for intake into institutions of higher learning. The closing date for such appeals is end of June whilst the results for Mid-Year MUET are released in July. With MUET being offered three times a year, candidates who take the March MUET are able to obtain their MUET results prior to the closing date for appeals.

At present too, MUET dates clash with the examination schedules, new student intake and semester holidays of various institutions of higher learning. Hence, providing an additional test will offer better alternatives to students from these institutions to select the MUET session that best suit their needs.

Offering three exams a year too, allow more opportunities for candidates to improve their MUET score. They do not need to wait 6 months before taking the next MUET. This benefits school candidates, private candidates, and also university students who require a stipulated minimum MUET band to qualify for entrance or graduate from university. Private candidates who work in the private or public sector too have a better choice of MUET sessions as some take the MUET for promotional purposes.

Contrary to Mr Soon’s claim, the decision to include an additional MUET session in our yearly schedule was never made for “financial gains”. The additional session in fact will put more demands on MEC’s operational, administrative and financial resources, but having the best interests of our clients in mind, we believe that the benefits to our clients and nation far outweigh the additional costs incurred. In an era where institutions of higher learning are opening up opportunities for flexible entry and exit points for tertiary education, the additional MUET session will provide flexibility and enhance student mobility in line with national and international development.

On the issue of school candidates sitting for MUET in March, students not being keen to stay engaged in MUET lessons after taking the MUET early and MUET teachers being the butt of jokes and resentment due to the flexible MUET dates, this is a school administrative matter. It is stipulated clearly in a circular to schools and also in the MUET Test Specifications (page 9) that “the MUET programme should involve 240 hours of teaching time spanning three school terms. Instruction should be carried out for 8 periods a week at 40 minutes per period.” If schools do not comply with this and students feel they are prepared to take the test earlier, it is beyond the jurisdiction of the MEC. We are, however, confident that school administrators and MUET teachers will have the necessary expertise and creativity to manage the teaching-learning process in their schools. Instead of viewing the additional MUET session as a burden, we believe schools will make full use of the flexibility offered for the benefit of their students.

With regards to the issue of students scoring Band 5, well, like Mr Henry Soon stated, they are students from “the better MUET classes.” With stringent marking and a standardized set of scoring criteria, only the proficient can attain Band 5. So far, and again contrary to Mr Soon’s claim of a “grade inflation”, national records show that only 1% out of 85000 candidates have managed to obtain Band 5.

Students who apply to universities in the United Kingdom, United States or Singapore are required to sit for the IELTS, TOEFL or qualifying tests because that is the entrance requirement of such institutions.

Question 1 of the MUET writing paper has been changed from summary writing to report writing as this skill is more reflective of academic writing in universities, that is writing reports that incorporate the skills of analyzing and synthesizing ideas based on data given. Candidates are not required to carry out any calculations. The example of a piece of writing given on “modern advertising” is not based on any previous MUET question or script.

On the issue of teachers not having enough time to teach grammar and vocabulary and the MUET Test Specifications not addressing the students’ poor grasp of grammar and vocabulary, please refer again to the recommended number of hours of teaching time as stated in the Test Specifications.

MUET teachers are selected to be MUET examiners based on their qualifications in English or TESL. Some MUET teachers do not choose to be examiners, hence to get a larger pool of examiners, MEC has to appoint teachers who teach Forms Four or Five. MUET teachers have done well and are very committed in preparing their students for the MUET and the examiners too have responsibly marked the MUET scripts. Examiners for Speaking and Writing have to sit for a proficiency test and are given training on marking besides attending marking coordination meetings. It should be pointed out that MUET is a criterion-referenced test, i.e. there is a set of established criteria or standard of performance for each band. If a candidate has met the criteria set for a high band, there are no reservations in awarding the candidate the mark or band he or she deserves. As pointed out earlier, the issue of “grade inflation” (or ‘deflation’ in this case) does not arise in MUET – candidates get what they deserve according to a set of established criteria.

MUET fees have to be raised from RM60.00 to RM100.00 due to the rising costs of administering the test. MEC, in fact has been bearing the extra costs incurred which are not covered by the previous fee of RM60.00. MEC carried out a comprehensive study taking into consideration the views of students, teachers, lecturers, examiners, institutions of higher learning and State Education Departments before reviewing and implementing the MUET Test Specifications, administrative procedures and costing.

Finally, we would like to assure Mr Henry Soon and members of the public that as an examination body, MEC has always strived for continual improvement. We adhere to internationally established practices of assessment in ensuring the validity and reliability of MUET which includes among others, training of examiners, close analysis of test performance, benchmarking with and correlational studies against international tests, and constant communications with our stakeholders, including feedback from students, teachers, examiners, universities and experts in the field. Our close monitoring of MUET shows that it is a reliable measure of candidates’ proficiency in English in relation to their readiness for tertiary education.

CORPORATE COMMUNICATION UNIT

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION MALAYSIA

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Video: Words As Image

Dear All,

The video below is just a brilliant representation of a creative concept.

Its main premise is words can be treated as images.

A book by the same title is out in the market.

Enjoy!


Rodney Tan Chai Whatt

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video