Speak to me! English Speaking Tests for South Korean Middle & High School

Have you ever been excited about tests? Yeah, neither have I. However, the tables have turned and for the first time ever I am the one giving the tests. I couldn’t help but feel excited for testing time for all my students in both middle school and high school. As a native English teacher, I have not given any tests to my students since I started this job. It definitely felt like some type of evaluation was well overdue. I wanted to see just how much they’ve learned and retained from the lessons I have taught.

I was excited about this past week because it required zero lesson planning on my part! I seriously despise lesson planning, mainly because I overthink and feel like I can never come up with anything that is creative and fun enough for my students. Coming up with a handful of speaking test questions was a piece of cake though. It probably took me about 30 minutes to come up with all of the questions for all grade levels. I formulated the questions directly from the last 5 lessons that I taught in the weeks leading up to their test. I usually teach different material for every grade level in middle school, however, I do try to incorporate cultural (American) holidays and other “filler” classes to break away from their textbooks.

The last lesson I gave to all of my students in both middle and high school was about MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). I thought it was important that they learn about this hot topic in English class, since it’s all people seem to be talking about in South Korea lately. In addition to the topic of MERS, each grade level had questions based on the following topics:

MIDDLE SCHOOL SPEAKING TEST TOPICS (Grades 1-3)

  • pets (what kind of pet do you want?)
  • past experiences (have you ever…?)
  • animal idioms (I am as sick as a dog)
  • music (what kind of music do you like?)
  • pet peeves (I can’t stand…)

IMG_6837HIGH SCHOOL SPEAKING TEST TOPICS (1st Grade only)

  • Movies (what type of movies do you like?/what kind of movie did you last see?/did you like the movie?/what is your favorite movie?) *most students were hoping to pick this topic and the ones that did were so relieved
  • Sickness/Illness (what do you say if your head/tooth/throat/stomach hurts?)
  • Small Talk (Hey, how are you? Long time no see…What’s the weather like? See you later!) *the LEAST favorite topic among all my students, American aren’t the only ones who hate small talk!
  • Rules at public places/signs (What does this sign mean?/Are we allowed to….?)

BEFORE THE TEST

The students were given the test questions a week in advance to help them prepare and practice. I reviewed the questions and answers with them at the beginning and end of each class. I encouraged them to practice with their peers and ask for help if they needed it.

The middle school students had to study for 5 questions, but were only asked 3 during the exam. The high schoolers, on the other hand, had 20 questions and had to study for all of them because they pick their topic at random during the test.

DURING THE EXAM

Each middle school class averages about 25-30 students per class and all my high school classes have over 30 students per class. I spent about 2-3 minutes per student asking them the questions and giving them ample time to think about their answer and speak. I gave each student about 30 seconds to answer me before I moved on. If they gave me no answer at all, I would give them the answer at the end and ask them to repeat after me.

GRADING/EVALUATION

 Middle school

Grading based on 5 speaking criteria:

  1. Content: Is the student’s answer related to the topic being asked?
  2. Grammar: Is the student using the proper tenses and sentence structure to answer the question?
  3. Fluency: Is the student able to speak smoothly and coherently without pauses?
  4. Pronunciation: Can I understand the words coming out of their mouth? Would an average Native English speaker be able to understand their answer?
  5. Attitude: Did they try to answer the question? Did they make an effort to communicate with me?

With a total of 5 grading criteria with equal weight and 3 speaking test questions, the maximum number of points a student needed to get 100% was 15 points. I simply tallied up the marks after each question and divided by 15 for their final grade.

High School students were asked to pick a topic at random from a box. I then asked them 4 questions related to the topic they chose.

High school

Grading based on 4 speaking criteria:

  1. Content: Is the student’s answer related to the topic being asked?
  2. Fluency: Is the student able to speak smoothly and coherently?
  3. Accuracy: Is the answer correct?
  4. Pronunciation: : Can I understand the words coming out of their mouth? Would an average Native English speaker be able to understand their answer?

Each of these criteria was then graded from a scale of 1-5. 1 unsatisfactory to 5 being excellent. My high school co-teacher determined how to weigh each criterion for the final grade percentage. It took me a little longer to evaluate each student using this method but it was how she wIMG_6819anted it to be done so I did not protest.

Many students did very well all across the board, but most fell somewhere in between 70-90%. There were also a handful of students who simply did not speak at all or just kept answering, “I don’t know” for every question. I tried to help these students by giving them the answer and having them repeat it at least 3 times, and if they gave some effort they still got some points for trying. It also seemed that many of them memorized answers, so when they heard a trigger word they just spat out any answer related to the topic. They also have the hardest time annunciating “TH” sounds like “mouth,” “breath,” and “throat.” There were so many times that I stuck out my tongue to emphasize the TH sound for them, and we would just be sitting there sticking our tongues out at each other.

Most students were nervous in the hot seat. I did not want to intimidate them in any way. Some students kept apologizing to me when they couldn’t think of the answer and I couldn’t help but feel bad whenever that happened. I praised those who spoke at all and encouraged those who had some trouble.

I desperately wanted all of them to do well. After all, their understanding is a direct reflection of the effectiveness of my teaching. The majority of Korean students are very shy and getting them to speak isn’t easy. It’s an everyday challenge for me, but one that is so rewarding to overcome.

Who knew testing could make me feel so good?

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