04.04.2004 13:26 - Surviving a Foreign Language Exam.
Some of you may know that I\'ve been learning the german language. I thought I better do it as, although I went through a course some years ago, I never recieved a formal qualification, and I believe that lack of one is holding me back. I was never allowed to learn german at school, as my french was considered to be not of good enough standard. Quite rightly, I now appreciate. If you can\'t understand French, which in many respects is close to english, then you\'re going to have a hard time with german, which boasts not two sexes, but three (male, female and neutral) AND accusative, dative and genitive forms, PLUS a construction which requires that the verb change places according to which end of the sentence it\'s at, AND the fact that sexes are changed depending on the form. (Oh yes. Women frequently change into men if you\'re not careful how you address them. I presume that - and the fact that skirts are male but trousers are female - is responsible for the large amount of transvestites in Cologne, but that\'s another story..)
Having reached the end of my course, I\'ve just been through the form of torture that is a modern language exam, and I thought you might like to read my observations upon this.
There are two sections to this : The written section and the oral section - or to use the correct terms in german, Schriftliche Prüfung und Mündlicher Prüfung. The first section requires that you fill in a multiple-selection sheet rather like the mark-sense cards I used to use in the dim and dark days of the 1980s when I first learnt to program.
The first section of the test is to read and understand the instructions sent to you by the examiners, which tell you to turn up on a particular day, with a HB leaded pencil, rubber and pencil-sharpener. It was astounding how many people in the exam room hadn\'t worked this bit out correctly, and were sitting there with a pen.
So, for the hard-of-thinking, here is the first survival tip.
READ THE PIECE OF PAPER THE EXAMINING BODY SENDS YOU, FOR GODS SAKE! READ AND UNDERSTAND IT!! IF YOU CAN\'T, YOU SHOULD SERIOUSLY THINK WHETHER YOU SHOULD TAKE THE DAMN EXAM!!! IF YOU CAN\'T UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN KÜGELSCHREIBER AND BLEISTIFT, YOU ARE WASTING EVERYONES TIME!!!
The second section of the test is to understand the verbal instructions given you by the examiner. This is quite simple. You shut up, and he or she talks. You listen.
Second tip : IF YOU DON\'T UNDERSTAND, GO HOME. YOU ARE WASTING YOUR TIME.
Honestly, there were people there who asked questions about the same thing that had just been explained to them. Three times. At the end of the bloody exam they were still asking what their examination number was and where to write it.
OK. So, the first bit. Mark the answers on the sheet. Next bit is listening to a tape, and marking what you think you understood on the sheet. This tape runs continuously, and is NOT repeated. The tape-player used is usually very old or poor-quality, and is being played in an echoey room, so it HELPS IF YOU SHUT UP AND LISTEN. Don\'t drum your pencil, tap your feet, scratch, fart, sniff, repeatedly blow your nose, creak your chair AND SWITCH YOUR PHONE OFF. I swear that the next time I\'m in an exam and I hear a handy go off I will personally smash it and force the bits down the owner\'s gullet. Oh, and a word to all the Unions (IGM especially) who decided to hold a demonstration in Neumarkt right next to the VHS on the day of the exam. HAVE SOME CONSIDERATION FOR OTHERS, YOU IGNORANT BASTARDS. It does NOT help to play loud music and spout Marxist dogma through a large P.A. whilst people in the next building are trying to concentrate on their exams. Mind you, you were probably doing it deliberately, you racist bastards. Don\'t deny it. We all heard you decrying \"Außländer Arbeiter\", all us English, Czech, Russian, Venezuelan and Turkish exam candidates.
The third bit. Write a letter. It\'s not hard, although for some strange reason they give you green paper to write it on.
OK. Next day, you have the oral tests. This is basically two of you in a room with two examiners. You have to talk to each other. Now, it would be a good idea for you to have actually carried out conversations IN THE LANGUAGE YOU ARE BEING TESTED UPON for several months prior to taking the exam. I say this because it seemed to me that several of the other candidates hadn\'t ever tried it. You are, during the test, required to conduct verbal communication with the examiners and another random candidate.
NODDING OR SHAKING YOUR HEAD AND SHRUGGING IS NOT CONSIDERED A FORM OF VERBAL COMMUNICATION.
\"Er\" is also not a recognised part of any language.
One friend complained that his companion hardly talked during the test. My companion was a young Turk, who was obviously very nervous and I had to try hard to get him out of his shell, otherwise he wouldn\'t have said anything.
What puzzled me is that at the start of the test you are given three sheets containing various subjects you will be asked to discuss, and given half an hour to make notes.
Yes, notes. I read the sheets and didn\'t make notes at all. I didn\'t need to. You can take the sheets with you. Some people were scratching away furiously making notes. I don\'t know why. I don\'t see the point of making notes. For the record : We had to introduce ourselves, then discuss poll results on fashion, then organise a club outing. I can only conclude that some of my fellow candidates suffered a severe lack of imagination, understanding or are totally incapable of organising a piss-up in a brewery - something which is part and parcel of everyday German life, judging by what goes on in the Altstadt.
So, here comes my advice for potential language students.
1) THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR PRACTICE.
It is not enough to simply learn all the forms, verbs etc. You need to use the language every day in normal situations. Forget being able to parse the language for now, just make sure you can communicate.
2) THE WORST THING YOU CAN SAY IN AN ORAL EXAM IS NOTHING.
The examiners know you\'re under stress. You\'ll make mistakes. They just want to know you can communicate.