Future uncertain for Internet English test

More test sites will be added worldwide where Internet-based testing is available.

by Elizabeth Giorgi

Years ago, English language proficiency exams were taken with a standard No. 2 pencil and paper.

In the technology age, it is no surprise that the testing has been upgraded to computers and the Internet. However, simpler might be better in the end.

Beginning in February, there are more locations throughout the world that provide the Test of English as a Foreign Language where Internet-based testing is available.

International students who arrive at the University are required to take and pass one of three acceptable English language proficiency exams before they can register for classes and the Internet-based test is one of the acceptable versions.

The test initially was made available in September 2005, said graduate student admissions director, Andrea Scott. In March, many European countries will be added to the sites and European educators are worried there will be serious problems with access to the tests for students.

ì(Test of English as a Foreign Language) has had serious access problems with the iBT, even though it is on the Internet,” she said.

Individuals have to register online within a 20-day range of when they would like to take the test in order to ensure they will have a test available to them, Scott said.

Servers arenít large enough to provide for the increased numbers, sometimes making them hard to access. The problem will only worsen as more servers are added to the tests around the world, Scott said.

In addition to the Test of English as a Foreign Language, the University also accepts the Michigan English Language Assessment Battery and the International English Language Testing System, said International Student Adviser Theresa GanglGhassemlouei who worked in the Minnesota English Center on campus until it closed in 2004.

Similar to most tests, the Michigan English Language Assessment Battery tests listening comprehension, reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary, she said.

GanglGhassemlouei said students who take the test often are instructed by an adviser to take a course in a specific area of English, such as writing or reading, in addition to their other classes, to improve in areas where their English might be weak.

Lynne Ackerberg, director of Language Instruction for the English Language program, said the department provides courses in English for undergraduate, graduate and professional students as well as faculty members and community members.

The program began in fall 2004 and continues to see an increase in the number of people enrolling in courses to improve their English, she said.

ìThe message is that students really want to be able to communicate well in spoken English and in writing, and they really want to communicate well on this campus,” Ackerberg said.

The center offers classes in English pronunciation, reading, composition, grammar, listening comprehension and speaking, she said, and pronunciation is the most popular course.

Computer science graduate student David Kuo-Wei Hsu said he took the pronunciation course in order to learn pronunciation rules and communication skills.

He said the class was helpful for him because he felt as if he was learning in an ìeasy and safe” environment with other students who were trying to improve their English as well.

Ackerberg said she doesnít think the recent difficulties with the IBT will affect students that are already attending classes at the University. However, Scott said, it is going to be difficult to know what the outcome will be for future international students who choose to come to the University.

ìIt is hard to tell because so far we have gotten very few who have been reporting an iBT score, but it could be that we donít have the highest number of students who are applying from those countries,” she said.