Wednesday November 9, 2005

PMR English paper WAS easy

Each time after a public examination, there are always complaints lashed out at the examining body by parents, teachers and other educators either about question papers being too easy or questions set that were not in accordance with the syllabus.  

This has happened over the past two years. It wasn’t the case many years ago when everybody from the top down was serious about the whole examination process from the time the questions were prepared to the time they were administered and marked to the announcement of results. Even changes to the format were given due thought and announced a year or two ahead.  

These days, changes are abrupt and sometimes the announcement of a change is made only a few months before the examination. When this happens, the questions set have to be made easy in order to hide our own planning inefficacy.  

Examinations determine a person’s choice of study and career later in life. As such, the examining body should carry out its duty properly. It is time we seriously looked not only into the setting of questions but also into the administering and marking of the scripts and the release of the results. 

After 40 years of teaching English and having held portfolios as Master English Teacher, examiner and question designer, I fully agree with the complaints that parents, teachers and union representatives recently expressed about their apprehension and disappointment over the recent PMR English Language paper.  

It is even more disappointing to note that in response to this, the Malaysian Examinations Syndicate (MES) got all defensive. I was flabbergasted when the MES claimed that the paper this year was of the same difficulty level as last year.  

Out of curiosity, I administered this year’s PMR paper to 22 students comprising four Standard 6 students (two from SRJK and two from SRK), eight Form 1 students and eight Form 2 students, some of whom had scored B or C in the UPSR.  

To my surprise, the students obtained more than 34 correct answers. In fact, a student from an SK school (UPSR student) managed to get 37 correct answers.  

How would you vouch for such a good performance? The answer is simple – the paper is EASY.  

That was also the general opinion of these students. To add oil to fire, these students also completed Paper 1 in 30 minutes. If someone in Sarawak claimed that his or her students did not find the paper easy, then I would only blame the teaching and the preparation that went along in anticipation of the PMR Examination. 

Without prejudice, I would like to express my personal views on this year’s English paper: 

In Paper 1, some of the questions should have been given more thought in order to exact a certain level of thinking and application skills. I would just like to highlight a few. 

Question 1: 

a. The question could have been effective without the picture. 

b. However, if the evaluators think that the picture is important, then distractors A and D should have been reworded to relate them to “book” because “went to the library” and “came to the library late” do not match the act in the picture (librarian pointing to the book). This being the case, students could easily eliminate these two distractors right away.  

Question 2: 

The word “memo” can be misleading because in a standard memo pad, the word MEMO is printed. Moreover, it is wrong for a student to send a memo to a teacher in the hierarchy of communication. Instead of “memo”, the word “note” would have been appropriate. 

Compare this question with Question 6 in which the word “message” is appropriately used.  

Question 9 (Vocabulary question): 

The word “collided” used in the report is a verb. I suppose option A is the correct answer but it does not convey the exact meaning. The word “crashed” by itself would mean something different but with the preposition “to”, the answer would have been very accurate. 

Section D 

I see the stimulus given for Questions 25–28 containing a few basic mistakes.  

a. Let’s have a lively Day!!!         

Why is the letter ‘D’ in “Day” in upper case? Can someone clarify this? 

b. Since “spelling bee”, “drawing competition” and “lucky draw” are in noun forms, likewise “sing along” should have been hyphenated as “sing-along” or “sing-a-long” and “story telling” should have been “storytelling” to maintain consistency of usage. 

Paper 2
Section B

I was not happy with the rubric given for the summary question. “Rewrite” could mean “write it again ?” This actually confused a number of PMR students who I met after the English paper.  

The evaluators/testers should have maintained the same rubric as was given in the sample format sent to schools at the beginning of the year.  

The rubric could have been improved to read as follows: 

“Rewrite by summarising the advantages of television to children ?” 

I know the MES has an unprecedented task in preparing question papers, administering them and marking them but there is one important thing that would keep our public examinations recognised globally – that is, QUALITY.  

In terms of administering a test, I would say kudos to the MES, but with regard to the setting of questions and the marking of examination scripts, I think the MES should seriously review the whole process, especially in appointing item/question designers and examiners. Only people specialised in the respective subjects and who have undergone exhaustive training and been appraised from time to time should be appointed.  

From my own observation as an ex-English teacher, I know there are many appointees in relation to public examinations, especially English, who do not even have a basic degree in English/TESL/TEFL. I would not know the criteria used by the MES in their selection of designers of questions or examiners. My request to the MES is to update the profile of the people involved in the setting and marking of question papers. That should be treated as a priority.  

You can’t get a Chemistry, Maths or a Physical Education teacher to set English Language question papers or mark the candidates’ scripts just because they can speak and understand English. The person involved must have a genuine diploma or degree in the subject concerned and must have gone through the various methods of testing and marking enhanced by years of committed teaching in the subject of their specialisation.  

I know there are a handful of question designers and examiners who are given one class (probably a weak one) merely to comply with the MES’s criteria that they should be teaching the subject. If someone is in the good books of the headmaster or principal, he or she gets appointed and the MES would not question the integrity of the headmaster or principal. The MES should therefore update their examiners’ profiles. 

If the MES is unable to get the adequate number of people, it is only right for them to recall retired people who are willing to contribute. I am sure there are many out there. In Britain, retired people are roped in to help handle examinations.  

If we do this, I do not think that in future the issue of examination papers being easy, errors appearing in question papers and dubious standards of marking would become the core of annual complaints.  

Let us uphold the integrity of our examination system. – Mindful


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