Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Three Types of TOEIC Test Questions

The last few years at my old workplace I used to teach a TOEIC class. Very soon I saw that just going through the sample exercises and answers would be boring for both students and myself. More importantly, doing TOEIC simulations didn't seem to give students any concrete skills to handle the test.

So I started to 'flip' TOEIC lessons, increasing student interest, motivation, and investment in classes. One strategy I devised that students praised was the idea of a typology of TOEIC questions.

Basically, I realized that all TOEIC questions were based on the 'Three Bu.' These are in order of frequency of appearance:

1) 文法 bunpo, or grammar. Mostly seen in Incomplete Sentences.
2) 文脈 bunmyaku, or context. Mostly seen in Photograph and Short Conversation questions.
3) 文化 bunka, or culture. Mostly seen in Reading

For instance, if a question requires students to choose between verbs (wait, waited, waiting, to wait) it is testing grammar. If it is a phone message left by a job applicant with questions about content, then it is testing contextual knowledge. If the question is a conversation about how to get downtown in New York, it requires some context familiarity, but also a knowledge of NY transit culture.

I have seen these three patterns of question time and time again. Giving students the 'Three Bu' framework empowers them by allowing them to understand what is asked for and thereby eliminate red herring answers better while identifying correct candidates more confidently. This framework also challenges teachers to use a wider range of materials in class, not limiting themselves to drill books as is so often the case, but adding texts that introduce corporate culture and English world content and situations.

Look at the examples below and try to identify where the fit in the Three Bu framework. Questions were taken from

Example One
To: Supervisors
From: Judy Linquiest, Human Resource Manager
Sub: Probation periods
As of January 1st all new employees will be subject to a 3 month probationary period. Medical, holiday, and flextime benefits will not apply to new staff members until the full 3 months have expired. After the three months have been completed, please contact your employees and inform them that their probationary period has ended. The HR department will contact you by email 2 days in advance to remind you of the date. Thank you for your cooperation.

What is the main purpose of this memo?
A) To inform all employees of a new expiration date.
B) To put staff members on probation.
C) To introduce the HR department.
D) To inform supervisors of a change in policy.

Example Two
The person who is taking the minutes will be seated __________ the chairman.

A) from
B) to
C) next
D) by

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