To begin with however, I would like to recount my own recent experience taking the TOEIC Speaking and Writing test. Early in September, I was invited by ETS to take the computer-based TOEIC Speaking and Writing test in Taipei. I live in Taoyuan, so the first challenge was getting out of bed early enough on Sunday morning to get to the venue in time for the 9.00 a.m. test!
Sitting on the train heading north, I was feeling a little anxious about the prospect of taking the test. While English is my mother tongue, I did worry that if I didn’t do well, it would be more than a little embarrassing. Imagine how I’d feel if the ETS people called and said, “Well Graham, the results are out. You failed the test miserably. And, our international research tells us that on average, bottle-nosed dolphins score higher than you do!”
ETS had kindly provided me with a test kit, so the night before the test I thumbed through Tactics for TOEIC, and picked up a sense of what the test looked like. I mentally worked my way through some of the sample questions and I was feeling OK about the test structure and the level of difficulty of the questions. What I didn’t know was whether or not I might “freeze” during the test. In the speaking test, I was concerned that my mind might go blank and I’d just sit there like a fish out of water, my mouth opening and closing mechanically…but not a single sound coming out.
測驗前一晚，我翻閱了ETS提供給我的題庫《Tactics for TOEIC》，因此對於測驗有了一份簡單的認知。我把範例題目在我腦海裡演練過一遍，對於考試的架構、還有考題的困難度感覺都還OK。但我所不知道的是，我是否會在考試期間突然定格？在口說測驗時，我擔心我的腦袋會一片空白，而我就坐在那邊像一條離水的魚，嘴巴只能機械地開合，卻無法發出任何一點聲音。
I found the test venue easily enough, and along with the other examinees, I completed the registration, filed into the computer room and found my assigned seat. The test administration team walked us through how to use and adjust the headphones and microphone and then, we were ready to go.
With everything in place, I stared intently at the instructions on the screen. “Houston, we have a problem!” My attempts to log in were not working. The system was spitting me out like I was some kind of toothpaste! After a few heartfelt 對不起, 對不起’s, and a couple of frantic calls to Ground Control – whom I imagined was some poor IT guy trying to have his Sunday morning breakfast in Starbucks – the test crew finally logged me in and I was ready to fly.
當一切準備就緒，我認真地看著螢幕上的指示。“Houston, we have a problem! ”（太空人求救語）我試圖登入但無法成功，系統一直把我擠壓出來，就像我是某種牙膏一般。在幾句由衷地道歉，和瘋狂打電話給那位可能正在STARBUCKS享用他星期天早餐的可憐IT人員，監考人員終於讓我順利地登入，而我也準備起飛（開始考試）了。
After a couple of minutes spent reading the instructions, the speaking test began. The first two tasks on the speaking test require reading a text aloud. Although there were perhaps no more than 30 other examinees in the computer lab, I was a little distracted by the sound of everyone reading into their microphones. I couldn’t hear what they were saying exactly, but it sounded to me like I was in a Buddhist monastery during an energetic chanting session.
I settled in, reading my texts aloud with slightly exaggerated precision. I worked my way through the tasks; responding to questions, proposing a solution, and expressing an opinion. I completed them all, stumbling occasionally as I raced against that clock as it counted down uncaringly, in the corner of the screen. The challenge, as I see it, is to arrange your thoughts with little or no preparation time. I felt empathy for my fellow examinees who were of course, also required to come up with the appropriate English to express themselves.
With the speaking test completed, the writing test soon began. The writing is computer-based also and in addition to English language skills, you have to be a competent typist. If you are a ‘one-finger wonder’, good luck in getting through the test in time!
In the first writing task we were given two words which we needed to combine into a single sentence. Not too bad, I thought. Next, we were required to answer two business e-mails with specific instructions on how to respond. The final task was an opinion essay for which we were given 30 minutes to write at least 300 words. Again, it is a challenge to write and type out your ideas in a coherent way while working against the clock.
The two-hours required for the test shot by, and my fellow examinees and I poured out onto the street, and headed our separate ways. Thinking back about the test, I felt a heightened sense of respect for Taiwan’s well-practiced test takers. I found taking the test challenging and if it was a tense affair for me, a native English speaker, how much more so for the other examinees. So, hats off to Taiwan’s long-suffering students of English. May all of your hard work pay off sooner, rather than later, and may we all outscore those damn clever dolphins !