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QW 012912 “TOEIC manometer”

What is all the fuss about the statement recently issued by IIBC? They announced that the reproduction of The TOEIC test items is no longer allowed regardless of the media, such as Internet-posting, televising, radio-broadcasting, e-mailing, texting, lecturing or whatever. As you probably know, the TOEIC test items are never to be disclosed for some, allegedly, legitimate reasons. It is said that 40 % of the tests items are recycled ones, meaning it could be a bit more likely to achieve high scores if you’re familiar with those recycled items, or you can predict what will appear on the test you’re about to take. There must be complicated circumstances behind their recent action which seems rather abrupt and bold. Some might say that it aims to maintain the fairness and validity of the TOEIC test by preventing the actual test items from circulating among future test-takers. Others might say that it is meant to deal with the complaints to IIBC that those who have access to the information of previous tests have a huge advantage over the ones who don’t. Either way, it is obvious that IIBC is being sensitive, or at least wants to look so, about the circulation of the previous test items.

For me, as one of almost two million TOEIC test-takers here in Japan, I don’t necessarily disagree with the beefed-up policy of IIBC. In fact, it doesn’t mean much to me as a test-taker whether I’m familiar with the previously tested items. Rather, it would be more educational or even exciting to me if I had no memory or record of the previous tests that I had taken so that each TOEIC test could measure my abilities as accurately as possible. It’s needless to say that it’s so much better to spend about 5565 yen and 3 hours to solve 200 fresh-from-the-press questions than to solve 120 brand-new questions and 80 recycled ones, but unfortunately, we can’t ask for such a thing. I might have a little more complicated view as a teacher, but strictly as a test-taker, I consider the TOEIC test as a kind of medical equipment that examines your physical condition, such as a manometer (blood-pressure gauge). The TOEIC manometer, so to speak, tells you about “fraction” of your English-health in its own scale. Nobody would claim that a manometer won’t give advice or suggestions for overall health just like doctors do. Nobody would see benefit in predicting how a manometer will measure your health. The TOEIC manometer has its own usage and purpose, limited yet helpful, to identify what needs to be treated regarding “fraction” of your English-health. We should never forget that we need to take care of so many other things than the data that a manometer reveals to us in order to obtain and maintain a sound body. Or am I being too idealistic or simple-minded?

(60 minutes / 478 words)

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QW 012812 “Half-baked answer”

It’s becoming my Saturday morning routine to have a 25 minute Skype lessen. Today’s tutor was Eric, whose class I booked last Thursday but I couldn’t take his lesson, I thought, due to some mechanical failure. It turned out that there was sudden power outage in the area in his neighborhood just 5 minutes before my class was going to start. He lost access to Skype and canceled all his lessons that night. In fact, that night I was the most exhausted in recent years (hyperbole alert!), so it was sort of fortunate or me not to have a lesson and obtain one make-up lesson instead.

Today’s topic was the article on sports officials reprimanded by IOC (the International Olympic Committee). The following is one of the discussion questions, “Viewpoint Discussions” as they call them, I was asked after going over the article. How would you answer the question?

Q: What do you think should be done to an official or important person who shows negative behavior?

My initial response was something like “I think you should punish those people severely to prevent future wrongdoings. Officials and important persons can elicit public attention, so it can be effective to treat them in such way.” And Eric responded to my statement like “But what if they didn’t do something that deserves such punishment? They might want to claim that they did nothing wrong or you’ll need to prove that they actually did something.” Then I seconded like “Yeah, it depends on how you define negative behavior. So what I said earlier was for the case that they did something almost like a crime or much more severe.” Reflecting what I had said listening to the recording, I guess that I didn’t understand the question as I should. My response was half-baked and unelaborated, which reminds me that it’s a good communication strategy to ask back your speaking partner by restating or redefining the question yourself, or asking him or her to put the question in a different way, or you just can give up answering the question like “I haven’t given any serious thoughts to that. Sorry.” Shouldn’t be so bad, huh?

(40 minutes / 362 words)

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This is would-be-my-favorite "half-baked".
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QW 012712 “Women get stupider when in group?”

The following is an excerpt from Slate podcast Double X Gabfest published Jan. 26th 2012 that I transcribed. What could be your reaction to this comment?

… When I think about the way I conduct myself in a meeting, I often find myself distracted by observing people’s reactions to what’s going on. … I’m taking the social temperature, you know I’m worried about people are reacting to what I say, not because of a lack of confidence necessarily. It’s just somehow my brain is more preoccupied with what’s going on, and that way, that we’re actually discussing because sometimes, frankly, what’s being talked about in group settings and work meetings are not interesting.

I can’t disagree with the last part that what’s being talked about in group settings and work meetings are not interesting. True, it really is not interesting oftentimes. And I’d say we, females, pay attention to what’s going on in a group, and that way, we keep the ball going when in group discussions. The part I found interesting is that the female commentator said that she often finds herself distracted by observing people’s reactions. Tonight I dined with the people with whom I’ll be working as a team in which I’m the only female. While I was listening to this podcast on home-bound train, I recalled how I had reacted during tonight’s meeting. I know it’s a matter of my personality, not necessarily a gender-specific trait, yet I can see some relevance to what is said in this Double X Gabfest. When nicely put, I take the social temperature. When candidly put, I get distracted by or preoccupied with people’s reactions to what’s going on. Such tendency of mine surfaces even when I’m teaching, I guess. That could be one of the reasons why I tend to be too concerned about feedback from the students. Oh, well, for this issue, it should be added that a lack of confidence might come into play. This could be another good topic for a future QW post.

(40 minutes / 339 words)

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QW 012412 “Urgency in my speech”

Eric, one of my Skype lesson tutors, speaks flawless English with impeccably natural American accent. The perfection in his speech is such that I can easily imagine that he must be a great teacher for a pronunciation neutralization class in the Philippines. There are so many different reasons why I like him as a teacher, one of which is that he gives me corrective feedback on my speech every time I finish reading a discussion article aloud. He’s never easy on me, at least it feels so to me, but I very much appreciate his candor, the equivalent of which I won’ be able to find in any other tutors. To describe my oral rendition of a discussion article, he once said that he could see some kind of “urgency” in my speech. I was impressed with his sensible word choice of “urgency”. Yeah, that’s what it was. I wanted to get the picture of how the rate of speech that Eric considered as appropriate could sound like, so I asked him to read a couple of sentences in the first paragraph aloud and he kindly did that for me. Then I said to myself, “Oh, well, that’s the pace he wanted me to realize. And my speech is nothing compared to his, by the way!” His model speech was not at all urgent or fast, but intelligible and soothing to my ears. That’s what I should emulate. Two lessons later, the last night’s lesson in fact, I got “passed” from him. He told me that my speech was improved and I should keep that way of speech. In fact, he soon didn’t mention anything and tried moving onto comprehension questions, so I was like “Oh, I was not good enough to receive any comment. Gee…” Then, he was as though he had suddenly remembered what he had to say, and gave me such comment. If he had done it on purpose, he knew what to do as a skillful teacher for sure.

(30 minutes / 333 words)

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This is another kind of "urgency".
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QW 012212 “300/30 Topic 8”

It’s the eighth QW 30/300 piece. This is how I practice writing a 300 word essay in 30 minutes. First I read a sample answer in the textbook and try memorizing it as precisely as possible in five or six minutes. Then I reproduce the sample essay by heart. The point of this practice method is to learn how ideas are organized in clear, cogent, and convincing ways by copying the sample essays.

【Topic 8】
Groups or organization are an important part of some people’ lives. Why do you think groups or organizations are important to people? Use specific reasons and examples to explain your answer. .
Reference: Tactics for TOEIC Speaking and Writing Tests, p. 224 (Oxford)


Groups and organizations can be an important part of people’s live for many different reasons. Among various motives that people would have, I think the very reason that most people would agree is that they would like get involved with groups and organizations in order to enjoy sharing common goals or interests while having a sense of belonging to a particular community. I would say that being a part of a community in which you can share thoughts, ideas, and interests brings you the sense of happiness and well-being.

People have hobbies and they like to spend their free time doing something interesting and amusing to them. This could be physical activities, such as football, yoga, ballroom dance, or intellectual interests such as a book club, a chess club, or any kinds of language learning group. Through being a part of those groups or organizations, people can spend time with others who have the same interests as theirs and discuss the common issues while deepening their understanding of the subject matter.

Groups and organizations that people would join can also be something more serious than hobbies. For instance, being a part of a political party or a religious group allows people to define themselves by aligning themselves with a certain group and distancing themselves from other groups. It helps people identify a meaningful way to live their own lives that they would never find out otherwise.

In conclusion, I would say that groups and organizations help people feel part of something bigger than themselves and enjoy a bond with other members of a community. I think that being sociable is an important aspect of people’s well-being. In this regard, groups and organizations contribute to providing people with an opportunity to socialize and be connected to people with the shared interests.

(30 minutes / 300 words in essay) (40 minutes / 420 words in total)

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