Last semester, the on-line BBS (Bulletin Board System), Sookmyung Community, was very hot because of G-MATE. G-MATE is a downscale form of the MATE (Multimedia Assisted Test of English, Local English certification test of SMU) and replaces final tests of English Discussion and Presentation (First Semester) and English Writing & Reading (Second Semester) which are mandatory liberal arts courses. Why did the test arouse public opinion of SMU?
All That MATE
MATE is an instrument for assessing the level of English Speaking & Writing ability to perform using multimedia methods developed by SMU. The manager of smumate website said, “Examinees can know not just test results but work and limit which can be performed with their English ability and choose their learning direction based on the results. That’s because MATE estimates not minor errors in grammar, but the natural purpose of communication and message delivering generally.” Passing the MATE test was a requirement for graduation up to the year before last. The cost for the test is seventy thousand won (Writing) and forty thousand won (Speaking). Citizen reporter of Ohmynews, Kim Sujin said in her article (2011), “Universities’ graduation commerce is endless. For example, SMU confirmed only one test free and the other time, undergraduates have to pay the fee continually to pass the MATE test.” Finally, enrolled students complained about MATE and SMU allowed the MATE test to be replaced by TOFEL or TOEIC test results (limited to the class of ’09 and after) and made the G-MATE on March, 2010. Complaints of Students continue despite school authorities’ efforts. That is because if Sookmyungians can’t pass the test, they have to get an F.
MATE VS. Sookmyungians
In the on-line BBS, Sookmyung Community, ID wawoomin wrote, “Although I did my best in the class, I got an F. I can’t understand why I didn’t pass the MATE test. We (class of ’10 and after) can’t even substitute the MATE test for other English certification tests. I really wonder if it is fair that the credit was estimated with only MATE test result in case of failure.” Twenty two Sookmyungians agreed about that with various comments. Other Sookmyungians also said, “I don’t know about the clear test results of MATE. I didn’t accept my score and the test results are different according to topics’ levels of difficulty.” and “I think it is unfair and I can’t receive scholarship because of an F, although I studied very hard.” The General Education Institute explained, “The government is developing a national English certification test to reduce private education expenses and curb reliance on a foreign English test. 90 percent of students passed G-MATE in the first semester, 2011, and about 80 percent of those who failed also passed through retaking the course in the second semester. And three raters processed fair grading. Meanwhile, MATE is a graduation requirement, so students take the test during their senior semester and fail to graduate. So, SMU decided to train with the English ability from the freshman year. Now, please think practically, English Writing & Speaking ability is so important to go into the world.” However, it is the many Sookmyungians’ position that they can’t understand the necessity of the MATE. Park, ’10 in the School of English, said “I think the class was not of any help to pass the MATE test.” And Bae, ’10 in the Division of Chinese Language & Literature, said “I want to concentrate to study TOFEL or TOEIC which can be acknowledged when I enter the company.” Why then should Sookmyungians learn MATE and SMU assert necessity of MATE potently?
The Difference of MATE
As people require the ability of using English more and more, the TEPS (Test of English Proficiency developed by Seoul National University), the FLEX (Foreign Language EXamination) from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, and the MATE from SMU have been developed to compete with the established test. There are many opinions that the high scores from the TOEFL and the TOEIC is sometimes useless when people manage a business in real society.1 For evaluating the ability of using English which is needed in everyday life or the progress of the business, the three universities are doing their best. The TEPS treats the subject and situations from a wide field which covers everyday life. It is effective enough to improve actual English ability because it was made with questions from business, study, and everyday life. The FLEX is also planned to suit Koreans and their actual circumstances. The tests developed by foreigners do not catch the errors which emerge for Koreans particularly, so they are designed to suit the real conditions of Korea with the language ability model of Bachman (1990) and Bachman and Palmer (1996). The MATE writing is based on the study about the writing ability estimation by ACTFL,2 which is used in the United States.
Through the model, it makes questions with the situation which could be faced in everyday life. MATE writing makes the writing environment which the applicants can feel the sense for the real, with the screen which is made like a postcard or email. Also MATE speaking has been developed to meet Korean situations using English as a foreign language through the merits of oral proficiency interviews from the ACTFL and simulated oral proficiency interviews from the CAL.3 Also, it is more essential to estimate English ability near to everyday life, because it estimates the communication ability such as the messages in the answers more than the accuracy of grammar. It estimates applicants’ general communication ability, so it can test the substantial English ability with higher accuracy. Therefore, it is difficult to artificially inflate the score through temporary training, reducing the gap between the result of the test and the real ability to communicate with English. The MATE is still doing its best to approximate real society. The MATE has flexibility because it can be changed for the specific purpose or applicants based on the basic type, the way to estimate and the standard to estimate. Hence, in addition to students, personnel of enterprises and government officials can be estimated substantially through development or modification for the individual purpose or character. An SMU official said, “Existing tests such as TOEFL and TOEIC were just a measure of the knowledge of verb forms and grammar, so the examinees who get high scores in the tests are sometimes not good at communicating actually. On the contrary, the MATE has set a goal to improve the English communication ability substantially, so the results from the MATE are effective to judge the ability which is needed in business or everyday life.”4
The three tests are doing their best to guarantee the objectivity. The way to estimate in the TEPS is based on IRT.5 In the past, questions were allotted the same score, the relation between the questions and the applicants’ abilities affected the scores. It has the limit that the degree of the difficulty changed according to the traits of the applicants’ groups or the questions. To overcome it’s limits, TEPS is made be not affected by the feature of each question or a group of people and the scores are allotted by probability according to the degree of the difficulty. The MATE sets questions by the ability standardized criteria and accepts the absolute evaluation based on those criteria. In the MATE speaking, it is estimated by only the records without any personal information, so it can remove the prejudice from the rater. The MATE also does its best to accustom the raters to the ACTFL guidelines and train them. It estimates through the general way to analyze and judge the whole ability of writing and speaking scientifically.
Above all, the differentiation of the MATE is using the brand-new way through multimedia to estimate. The TEPS also accommodates many people through OMR, but the MATE is more economical. The FLEX lets applicants submit the tape which is recorded by them at the end. On the other hand, the MATE uses speaking and writing tests which are presented on the computer screen, with a computer key board and headset to answer the questions. At the end, it is saved by the computer automatically, so it is convenient to manage and supervise. The tests are used in their schools differently. Freshmen have to take the TEPS, so it is held every year for freshmen. According to the results, the qualifications to take subjects for general education about English are given to the freshmen. The FLEX is admitted as 2 credits and appointed as the subject of general education. It is also admitted as the completion of the foreign language class. The MATE serves as the final test. If the student fails to meet the standard, regardless of the exercise in the class, she will fail the class. According to the department, the standard to pass is different.
To Be Better MATE
Every year, TOEFL and TOEIC draw about one billion won in royalties. Especially, although they are made with consideration for the Korean situation sincerely, Korean English tests which are made by Korean professors are hard to receive credit than the tests which are made by foreigners. Therefore the MATE cannot help avoiding the criticism that it is just nominal only. Because of low public trust and effectiveness, and the problem of high fees to apply for the MATE, in fact the MATE has degraded to an intramural English exam whose percent of exterior applicants didn’t reach 10%.6 The students finding their jobs have to suffer a double hardship to prepare for other authorized English tests such as TOEFL or TOEIC again. Senior SMU student Kim said“, I didn’t find people who prepare MATE for finding jobs at all. The university insists that MATE substitutes TOEFL or TOEIC, but there is no enterprise which recognizes MATE as one’s command of English, so everyone prepares other English exams.” She said in addition“, Mate has to be recognized to the public trust and effectiveness from the enterprises through active publicity before selecting MATE as the qualification test to graduate. It is killing time to prepare the useless English test.”7 Though the test is adjusted by the Korean situation and good for improving English, without public trust, the test can’t avoid the criticism that it is just killing time. Young gum which is contrived by Munbusung Ministry of Education, culture sports, Science and Technology in Japan) is applied for by two million every year. 61 percent of the applicants in Japan use this test.8 To be reborn as the authorized English test which is applied for by many people, it is a key point to ensure the public trust and effectiveness for the students who prepare for graduation, finding jobs and study abroad.“ SMU doesn’t use the MATE as business, but it should match the test to graduate and find jobs to reduce the students’ burden.” Kim Jae sam, researcher in Korea University laboratory said. Lee Hoyul, the chairman of the International TOESL committee also said“, The biggest problem is in the people’s cognition. TOEFL or TOEIC is recognized that it is lead by a nation. Government officials think so, too. We need to recognize that the TOEFL or TOEIC cause royalties to be leaked from us. It happens in the system. In the public, when they choose the fresh officials, they usually use the TOEIC or TOEFL in common. They think that while there are the tests such as the TOEFL, why they should need other tests."9 To be a better MATE, we need the effort to change the recognition. The deputy manager of the bank of Korea, No Chung-sik said that changing the interior enterprises to authorize the Korean English test could stop the tending only to TOEFL or TOEIC.
1 Kim Kyung won「, The trend of English, Speaking than TOEIC」, Money Today, 2009.9.30
2 American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages
3 Center for Applied Linguistics
4 Park Byungpyo「, MATE is in the spotlight as the essential estimation」, Hankyung, 2010.03.04
5 Item Response Theory
6 Lee Jung hyuk「, Criticism to MATE’s public trust」, University News Network, 2009.11.09
7 Kim Kyung won「, The trend of English, Speaking than TOEIC」, Money Today, 2009.09.30
8 Choi Minyoung「, The verification of the Korean TOEIC」, The Kyunghyang Shinmun, 2009.05.28
9 Lim Jong Youn, Lee Hoyul the chairman of TOSEL「 Need to make a Korean English test」, edaily, 2009.03.18