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0842 Taking a Standardized Test

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 842: Taking a Standardized Test

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 842. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Eslpod.com is the place to go for a Learning Guide to this episode. You’ll improve your English faster than you thought possible.

This episode is a dialog between a father and his daughter, Maria, about having to take certain kinds of tests in school, what are called “standardized tests.” Let’s get started!

[start of dialog]

Dad: It’s time you start preparing for the MCFL Test.

Maria: Dad, that’s 12 months away! I don’t need to start looking at test prep materials right now.

Dad: Yes, you do. Like all high-stakes testing, familiarity with the types of questions you’ll be asked will help you. You need to score well on it if you want to be admitted to a good university. The MCFL is only administered twice each year, so you’d better be prepared when the time comes.

Maria: I don’t really believe in standardized tests. Our teacher says that they don’t really measure how well you’ll do in college or in life.

Dad: It doesn’t matter what you – or your teacher – believe. Colleges consider test scores in admissions and that’s what’s important. Let’s start with some tips on answering multiple choice and true-false questions.

Maria: I know all about taking standardized tests, Dad. I’ve been taking them every year at school and I’m sick of them. Put your name here. Bubble in your answer there. I’m sick to death of those tests.

Dad: Then you’ll feel perfectly comfortable taking this one.

Maria: Why can’t they give us open-ended or essay questions? I’d do much better on those.

Dad: Bite your tongue! Those would be much more difficult to study for. Ready for question number one?

Maria: As ready as I’ll ever be.

[end of dialog]

Dad begins by saying to Maria, “It’s time you start preparing for the MCFL Test.” “MCFL” (MCFL) is not a real test. It sounds a little like the TOEFL Test, however. Dad says, “It’s time you start preparing.” You need to start preparing for or working on your MCFL Test. You have to get ready to take it. Maria says, “Dad, that’s 12 months away.” That’s 12 months from now, when I’ll have to actually take that test. “I don’t need to start looking at test prep materials right now.” “Test prep” – “prep” stands for preparation – is time spent studying a subject that you are going to be tested on. If you’re going to take a math test, you might want to prepare by studying test prep materials about math. “Test prep” usually refers to taking tests that are official examinations, tests that are, as we’ll see in a moment, “standardized.”

Dad says, “Yes you do. Like all high-stakes testing, familiarity with the types of questions you’ll be asked will help you.” “High-stakes” is an expression used for something that is very important, depending on what happens. If it goes one way, there will be major consequences. It will have significant results. “High-stakes testing” is testing that determines, for example, whether a student can go to college or not. In some countries, there are national examinations and all of the students who want to go to the university have to take an exam. That’s an example of a high-stakes test. We have similar exams here in the United States for college, the most popular being the SAT Exam.

Dad says that “Familiarity with the types of questions you’ll be asked will help you.” “To be familiar” (familiar) means to know about something. So, familiarity is describing how much you know about a certain thing, how much knowledge you have. Dad is saying that if you understand the kinds of questions on the test, you’ll do better, which is generally true.

Dad says, “You need to score well on it if you want to be admitted to a good university.” “To score well” means to do well on an examination. “I scored well on my math exam.” “I got a good grade.” “I got a good result.” “To score” can also mean to get more points in a game, an athletic competition like a soccer game or a football game. Maria needs to score well if she wants to be admitted to a good university. “To be admitted” means to be invited to be a student there. “The MCFL is only administered twice each year, so you’d better be prepared when the time comes.” “Administer” means to, in this case, offer the examination. It’s a time when you can take the test. The test will be administered at 4 o’clock in the auditorium – the big place where people meet. That’s where the test will be administered. That’s where it will be given.

Maria says, “I don’t really believe in standardized tests.” The word “standardized” is in the title of this episode. It refers to examinations that many different people have taken and that a statistical analysis has been made so that you know, generally speaking, what percentage of people score here, what percentage of people score with this amount of points and so forth. “Standardized tests” are tests that are developed usually by special testing companies. And they make sure that the tests are all fair, that the test will give you the same result if you take it on Monday versus if you take it on Friday. They look at the questions of the tests to make sure that they’re asking what they’re supposed to be asking and so forth. That’s a standardized test. In the United States, we have lots of standardized tests in our schools. The most popular one, as I mentioned before, is the SAT – the Scholastic Achievement Test – which helps determine whether you are going to go to a university or not.

Maria says, “Our teacher says that they” – the standardized tests – “don’t really measure how well you do in college or in life.” “To measure” (measure) here means to determine how important something is, to determine the value of something. Maria says that her teacher says that standardized tests don’t really measure how well you do in college or in life. “Measure” has a couple of other meanings in English as well. Take a look at our Learning Guide for those.

Maria’s father disagrees with Maria and her teacher. He says, “It doesn’t matter what you or your teacher believe.” “It doesn’t matter” means it’s not important. He says, “Colleges consider test scores in admissions and that’s what’s important.” The colleges in universities look at how well you do on these tests to decide if you are going to get into or be admitted to that college.

Dad says, “Let’s start with some tips on answering multiple choice and true-false questions.” A “tip” (tip) is a small piece of advice about something, how to do something better. A “multiple (multiple) choice (choice) question” is a question where you have two or more possible answers, possible options. You have to select which one is correct. Typically, there are four or five options on a multiple choice question. With a “true-false” question, you have only two options, either the statement – the sentence – is true or it’s false. Minneapolis is the capital of Minnesota, true or false? False. St. Paul is the capital of Minnesota. That’s a true-false question.

Maria says, “I know all about taking standardized tests dad. I’ve been taking them every year at school and I’m sick of them.” “To be sick of something” means you’re tired of them. You don’t want to have anymore. Maria says, “Put your name here. Bubble in your answer there. I’m sick to death of those tests.” What Maria is doing is she’s imitating the directions, the instructions you get when you take one of these exams. “Put your name here.” Write your name here. “Bubble in your answer there.” On many standardized tests, most, perhaps, all standardized tests really; you answer the questions by filling in little circles with a pencil. This is to “bubble in.” It’s kind of a weird expression. “Bubble” (bubble) has some other meanings in English as well. Take a look at our Learning Guide for those. But “to bubble in” means to fill in the little circle that indicates what you think the correct answer is for that question. Maria says, “I’m sick to death of those tests.” “To be sick to death” means the same as to be sick of something. It means you are tired of them. You don’t want to take them anymore.

Dad says, “Then you’ll feel perfectly comfortable taking this one.” He’s saying, “Well, if you’re so familiar with these tests, this next test won’t be any problem.” Maria says, “Why can’t they give us open-ended or essay questions.” An “open-ended question” is a question that doesn’t have just one answer. It’s a question that may require a couple of sentences to answer and that could have a lot of different answers. An “essay (essay) question” is a question that requires, usually, several paragraphs to answer. “Describe the three main causes of the Civil War in the United States.” Well, you can’t answer that in a few words. It would require several paragraphs at least. That’s an essay question. Standardized tests often don’t have these kinds of questions because a computer cannot easily score them. A computer cannot easily determine which answers you got right or wrong. Someone actually has to read the questions and read the answers, more importantly, in order to give you a score.

Dad says, “Bite your tongue.” “To bite (bite) your tongue (tongue)” is simply an expression, meaning to be quiet, to stop talking about this. Dad says, “Those would be much more difficult to study for” - “those” meaning open-ended and essay questions. “Ready for question number one?” Dad says. Dad is going to prepare her for the test. Maria says, “As ready as I’ll ever be.” This is a phrase we use when you are showing that you are willing to do something but that you probably don’t really want to do it and that you’re not very well prepared to do it. “As ready as I’ll ever be,” Maria says.

Now let’s listen to the dialog this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialog]

Dad: It’s time you start preparing for the MCFL Test.

Maria: Dad, that’s 12 months away! I don’t need to start looking at test prep materials right now.

Dad: Yes, you do. Like all high-stakes testing, familiarity with the types of questions you’ll be asked will help you. You need to score well on it if you want to be admitted to a good university. The MCFL is only administered twice each year, so you’d better be prepared when the time comes.

Maria: I don’t really believe in standardized tests. Our teacher says that they don’t really measure how well you’ll do in college or in life.

Dad: It doesn’t matter what you – or your teacher – believe. Colleges consider test scores in admissions and that’s what’s important. Let’s start with some tips on answering multiple choice and true-false questions.

Maria: I know all about taking standardized tests, Dad. I’ve been taking them every year at school and I’m sick of them. Put your name here. Bubble in your answer there. I’m sick to death of those tests.

Dad: Then you’ll feel perfectly comfortable taking this one.

Maria: Why can’t they give us open-ended or essay questions? I’d do much better on those.

Dad: Bite your tongue! Those would be much more difficult to study for. Ready for question number one?

Maria: As ready as I’ll ever be.

[end of dialog]

Dr. Lucy Tse is the best scriptwriter in the world – true or false? True.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again here on ESL Podcast.

Glossary
test prep – test preparation; time spent studying a subject and the way in which it will be tested, so that one can try to get the best score possible

* Some people are using smart phone applications to study vocabulary words as part of their test prep.

high-stakes testing – the practice of using tests to determine which people are qualified for something, so that the results of the exam have a big impact on that person’s future

* Does high-stakes testing really help colleges determine which young people will make the best students?

familiarity – a measure of how much one has been exposed to something, understands it, and feels comfortable with it

* All of these jobs require familiarity with this accounting computer program.

to score – to receive a certain number of points on an exam or in a game

* Only 20% of the people taking this test had a passing score.

to be admitted – to be invited to become a student at a university or to become a member of an organization after one has applied for the opportunity

* Charlene was the first woman to be admitted to the club.

to administer – to organize, offer, and supervise an exam at a particular time and place

* Is the GRE, the test for graduate school admission, administered overseas?

standardized test – a test that is taken by many people at the same time, where each person answers the same questions and all the tests are scored in the same way

* In the United States, most students take standardized tests every year and their teachers’ and schools’ performance is judged by the results of those tests.

to measure – to assess the size or weight of something; to determine how small or large something is; to assess the value of something

* It’s important to measure ingredients carefully when you’re baking, but you can be more flexible when you’re cooking.

tip – a small piece of advice; a suggestion; guidance for doing something well or better than one would otherwise do it

* A chef once gave me a great tip: to peel tomatoes, boil them for one minute first and then the skin will come off easily.

multiple choice question – a question on an exam where one selects the correct answer from a list of 4 or 5 possible answers

* That was a tricky multiple choice question with no clear right answer.

true-false question – a statement on an exam where one has to indicate whether the statement is true (correct; accurate) or false (incorrect; inaccurate)

* Here’s an easy true-false question: “The War of 1812 started in 1812. True or false?”

to bubble in – to use a pencil to color in a small circle to indicate the answer one has selected on a standardized test that is graded by a computer

* It’s important to bubble in the circles completely, or the computer might not be able to read your answer.

sick to death – not wanting to have or do something any more, usually because one has had or done it too much already

* Brent tried to be a vegetarian, but soon he was sick to death of eating beans and tofu.

open-ended – a question that cannot be answered with a single word, and instead requires a more detailed response

* Drake is trying to improve communication with his teenager daughter by asking open-ended questions, like, “Who did you eat lunch with today?”

essay – a long, well-organized, written response to a statement or question, or a detailed explanation of one’s opinion or position

* Please write a ten-page essay describing the fall of the Roman Empire.

to bite (one’s) tongue – to be quiet; to stop talking about a particular topic

* You want to ask for the manager’s approval before we change the project’s budget? Bite your tongue! She would never approve it, so we’ll just do it without asking.

as ready as I’ll ever be – a phrase used when one is willing to do something, but does not feel fully prepared and does not really want to do it

* A: Are you ready to give your speech?

B: I’m very nervous, but I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

Comprehension Questions
1. Which type of question would encourage the longest, most detailed answer?
a) A multiple choice question.
b) A true-false question.
c) An open-ended question.

2. Why does Dad tell Maria to bite her tongue?
a) Because he wants her to do well on the exam.
b) Because he wants her to speak more quietly.
c) Because he wants her to stop talking about something.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
to measure

The verb “to measure,” in this podcast, means to assess the size or weight of something: “How do scientists measure the distance to stars and planets?” The phrase “to measure up to (someone or something)” means to compare to someone or something, especially when talking about whether someone or something is good enough for some purpose: “The last administrator did a great job. It will be hard for anyone else to measure up to him.” The phrase “to measure (something) out” means to take an amount of something from a larger amount of it: “She went to the fabric store and measured out four yards of silk.” Finally, the phrase “to measure off” means to measure the length of something and then cut it or make a mark to show where the end is: “It’s a good idea to measure off the board at least twice before cutting it.”

to bubble in

In this podcast, the phrase “to bubble in” means to use a pencil to color in a small circle to indicate the answer one has selected on a standardized test that is graded by a computer: “Please bubble in your answers to each of these questions.” The phrase “to bubble away” means for a liquid to be boiling and/or evaporate until nothing is left: “Kylie forgot to turn off the stove, so the water was bubbling away for hours after she left the house.” The phrase “to bubble over” means to be very excited about something: “His enthusiasm for his work bubbles over into his personal life.” Finally, the phrase “to bubble up” means for someone to become increasingly excited about something; “Conversations are bubbling up around the office about opening a new office.”

Culture Note
The Army Alpha and Beta Intelligence Tests

During the first World War, the United States Army needed a way to assess the intelligence of “recruits” (people who had been persuaded to join the Army) so that they could provide appropriate training opportunities. A group of psychologists created two versions of the Army “Alpha” (the first letter of the Greek alphabet) and the Army “Beta” (the second letter of the Greek alphabet) tests. The Army Alpha test focused on “verbal” (related to speaking, listening, and reading) abilities. The Beta test focused on non-verbal activities and was given to people who did not perform well on the Alpha test.

The recruits performed surprisingly poorly on the exams. When the results were analyzed, people began to worry about how “feeble-minded” (intellectually weak; unable to think clearly) people were. One of the psychologists who had created the tests stated that the tests measure “innate intelligence,” or the intelligence a person was born with, not the intelligence “acquired” (gotten; obtained) through education or experiences. If this were true, the results would have been alarming. However, “subsequent” (later) analyses of the exams showed that this was not true.

The results of the tests were used to determine which recruits were trained as “officers” (high-ranking members of the military). But they were also used to “draw conclusions” (make determinations or judgments) about different groups of people. For example, people used the tests results to show that groups of people were more or less intelligence based on their “race” (skin color) or “national origin” (the country one came from). Examination of the tests later discovered that they were “biased” (favorin

Comprehension Answers
1 - c

2 - c