New CEFR-aligned English syllabus

THE latest Malaysian University English Test (MUET) has been given the thumbs up by language experts.

Penang Matriculation College English language senior lecturer Mawarni Mustafa said the equal distribution of maximum scores for each component in the revised format is a good improvement.Mawarni MustafaMawarni Mustafa

“From a language learning perspective, this drives home the message that all four skills of the language are equally important, ” said Mawarni, who is also a MUET specialist writer for The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (NiE) pullout.

She added that it shows a shift in approach to English language learning in Malaysia.

“Ten years ago, many Malaysian English language teachers were very much focused on developing reading and writing skills because these were the skills that could be easily tested in public examinations, ” she shared.

She hopes that with the new format and the ruling that makes it compulsory for all students pursuing first degrees in Malaysian public universities to sit for the MUET, it will bring about a change in how students learn the language.

“Only when an important exam such as the MUET gives equal weighting to the Listening component that listening skills will be regarded as important, ” she said.

She also pointed out that the change is extremely timely in keeping with the wider opportunities of learning the language that are afforded by rapid developments in information and communications technology.

“Nowadays, the Internet allows for language input from a diverse range of media such as podcasts, YouTube videos and Instagram posts. No longer are visual learners at an advantage, as auditory learners now have more learning opportunities, ” she said.

Yesterday marked the first time candidates were tested based on the latest revision of the syllabus and test specifications.

Over the course of three hours and 20 minutes, the MUET 2021 Session 1 candidates were tested on the Reading, Writing and Listening components, while earlier in February, they sat for the Speaking test.

The second revision since 1999, the changes involving the four components have been made in order to align MUET with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

The changes have also been undertaken to ensure that MUET retains its position in testing English proficiency, according to a booklet by the Malaysian Examinations Council detailing the MUET-CEFR-aligned test specifications.Shanti SubramaniamShanti Subramaniam

Echoing Mawarni’s sentiments, MUET Excellent Teacher Shanti Subramaniam from Kolej Tingkatan Enam Sri Istana, Klang, Selangor, gave her nod to the equal weighting of marks for the MUET components.

“MUET is a skills-based test and all the skills are given equal importance in the revised format. Students have to be proficient in all the four skills to be able to obtain a high band, ” she said.

Shanti is especially pleased with the CEFR level of language proficiency to which the questions are set.

“The questions are pitched at the B1 and B2 (independent user) level. Therefore, students should be able to answer the questions. The proficient students can take their answers to a higher C1 or C2 level.

“It is also easier for teachers to place the students at the respective bands based on the CEFR descriptors, ” she added.

According to Shanti, many schools and colleges have decided to register their students for the MUET 2021 Session 2 – instead of the first session – due to the uncertainty presented by the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

“The Speaking test will be carried out in June while the other components will be tested in July, ” she said.

She added that with the CEFR-aligned format, teachers can find many materials for teaching and learning the English language, in particular at the CEFR B2 level, on the Internet, and adapt the materials for use in the classroom.Chandrika MenonChandrika Menon

Her colleague Chandrika Menon said the revised format is necessary as English language exam papers for PT3 and SPM have been aligned with the CEFR.

“It was not that the old format was not working. It was to avoid a ‘culture shock’ for students. The old format was totally different from that of their SPM English paper, ” she said.

The revised test format has some features such as information transfer, gap filling and letter or email writing that are familiar to the students, she added.

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