|mydreamnhung08||Date: Friday, 2011-10-14, 8:08 PM | Message # 1|
|The Writing component |
Writing is the other component in the new TOEFL iBT that has been significantly modified to measure test-takers ability to use writing to communicate in an academic environment. There are two writing tasks in the new test format: an integrated task, requiring the examinees to read a short passage, listen to a brief lecture and then answer a question in writing based on what they have read and heard; and another task (very similar to the writing tasks in the Test of Written English [TWE] and TOEFL CBT writing component) asking the test-takers to respond in writing to a question based on their own knowledge and experience. Students will be allowed to take notes during the reading and listening prompts and the time allotted to each task differs depending on the nature of the task that is, 20 minutes response time for the integrated task and 30 minutes for the essay. Thus, by using a reading and listening text as content input to the integrated writing prompt, the new writing task is aiming at supporting test-takers in their response construction by providing them in the prompts not only with some information for their writing, but also with some vocabulary to lean upon and some genre conventions to model their response upon. With the argumentative essay, the challenge is to keep the breadth of the task balanced because some research (e.g. Hamp-Lyons & Mathias, 1994) suggests that when the task is very narrow, there is less room for a test-taker to reveal his or her unique qualities as a writer and more room to fail to write within the acceptable boundaries of academic writing.
On the other hand, research evidence also shows that the more freedom there is in a writing task, the more a writer is thrown onto his/her own resources, and the more seriously he/she can be disadvantaged if those resources are limited (Hamp-Lyons & Kroll, 1997). As far as the quality of the writing responses is concerned, both tasks will be judged not so much on their length but on the completeness and accuracy of content, the development of ideas, the organization of the compositions, and the quality and accuracy of the language used to express meaningfully connected ideas. Hence, in this format, the writing component of the new TOEFL iBT exam significantly differs from its predecessors (TWE or the writing component of the TOEFL CBT), which is definitely a step forward in testing writing competence. The modifications also chime well with the fact that most of the academic practices in the colleges and universities of English-speaking countries require the production of written texts within an integrated-skill framework, in which a student should show competence both in the subject matter and the writing genre. In most colleges, a great deal of writing is expected of college students in a wide range of contexts from the formal and analytic (e.g. writing research papers, theses, analytic responses to texts etc.) to the less formal and critical contexts (e.g. lab reports, creative writing etc.). Other types of writing also play an important role in students academic life. For example, note-taking in lectures and from text materials, summarizing, keeping learning logs and journals etc. all place heavy demands on students' written competence, while at the same time critically contributing to their understanding of the ideas they encounter (Hamp-Lyons & Kroll, 1997).
In a nutshell, it has been frequently noted in the EAP literature that while good listening and reading skills are essential to students' reception of the knowledge the academy has to offer, speaking and writing are essential to students' knowledge integration and production. There have been numerous attempts to shed light on what writing skills students from a wide cross-section of academic disciplines need to successfully accomplish different academic writing tasks. In this regard, among other skills, Leki and Carson (1994) highlight the importance of students ability to synthesise ideas from multiple sources as an input to writing, to constructing well-organized and coherent texts, and select with sufficient speed the most concise form of expression to use.
Thus, by acknowledging that learning purposes calling for writing rarely exist completely separated from the purposes involving wider language functions, the new format of the writing component also acknowledges the need for integrating testing of writing with the other language skills. From this perspective, researchers and test designers unanimously agree that in the new TOEFLiBT exam, it is imperative to ensure that the kinds of writing tested reflect as closely as possible the academic communicative demands of English-speaking colleges and universities across disciplines and levels of education. Finally, many arguments about possible positive washback effects in writing practices have been advanced in favor of modifying the writing section in the new TOEFL iBT exam. Accordingly, the expectations are that writing will receive the attention it deserves in the ESL/EFL programs not only as a test preparation component but as a life-long skill that shapes a well-rounded language user.
Allowing note-taking across all sections of the new TOEFL-iBT exam is a major improvement of the test format, which takes it closer to reproducing authentic academic tasks college students perform on a regular basis. In the new TOEFL, note-taking is perceived as an important complement to all tasks but, probably, most useful in the integrated tasks where multiple sources of information need to be combined.
Research shows that students intuitively view note-taking as the primary means of creating a record of information of the academic activities they are involved in. In a study of college students perception of the primary purposes of note-taking, Van Meter, Yokoi and Pressley (1994), for instance, found that students assign a number of goals to it relating to attention (e.g. focus of attention to an information source), understanding (e.g. facilitation of comprehension and memory of material), organization (e.g. aid to a better connection of ideas), structure (e.g. holistic representation of information content), study and homework aid, and others. In investigating the perceived effect of note-taking on TOEFL listening comprehension tasks, other researchers (e.g. Carrell, Dunkel & Mollaun, 2002) enriched the list by adding several other advantages students attribute to note-taking. For instance, students have reported that under test conditions their level of comfort and ease with the listening tasks has significantly increased as a result of being allowed to take notes; that note-taking has aided their performance in answering questions about the lectures, and that their recall of information has been positively influenced by their notes. In addition, researchers believe that being allowed to take notes seems to aid students processing of information, though test-takers generally admit that they have difficulty using their notes under time constraints. Nonetheless, the interesting question whether or not there is a match between students feelings about the benefit of note-taking and the actual effect of note-taking on their test performance remains still unanswered and is yet to be researched.
Most of the L2 research on note-taking has focused primarily on examining its relationship to listening comprehension (in particular to lecture comprehension) or overall learning outcomes. Yet, findings about its effects on these two variables are far from being conclusive, which further underscores the importance of looking at comprehension and learning as relatively independent outcomes. Studies investigating the link between note-taking and academic lecture comprehension (e.g. Olsen & Huckin, 1990) emphasize that effective lecture listening comprehension involves not just an understanding of the macro-markers but also detecting the overall schemata that the speaker is representing. As far as research regarding the relationship between note-taking and learning outcomes goes, inquiries into whether note-taking is facilitative, debilitative, or of no particular usefulness to information recall, are, to say the least, inconclusive.
Some researchers (e.g. Gibbs, 1981) cite sources showing that taking notes is not necessarily associated with better learning outcomes than not taking notes; other researchers (e.g. Hartley & Davies, 1978) argue that there is conflicting evidence regarding the facilitative effects of note-taking on information recall. In any event, there is evidence suggesting that test achievement may not be so much related to the quantity but rather to the quality of note-taking. Dunkel (1988), for instance, investigated lecture note-taking among undergraduate L1 and L2 speakers of English, who took notes while viewing a video-taped lecture and then were given a test. Interestingly, the analysis of students� notes and their relationship to the test results indicated that test achievement was more closely linked to terseness and inclusion of main points in the process of note-taking than to the quantity of notes. Overall, the analysis revealed that effective L1 and L2 note-takers were those who compacted large amounts of spoken discourse into propositional-type information units, transcribed content words (e.g. names, dates, or statistics) using abbreviations, symbols and a few structure words. The L2 note-takers who did not perform well on the test wrote down numerous structure words (e.g. articles and prepositions) so that their notes contained fewer information units overall but a larger quantity of words or notations.
These findings seem to suggest that good note-takers are essentially good summarisers, which highlights the importance of the skill of abstracting and reformulating the gist of information as a vital and widely applicable academic skill. Yet, I should hasten to add here that researchers frequently note that there is no single, unitary note-taking method which is effective for all groups of students, at all levels of education (Dunkel, 1988; Waters, 1996). However, what needs to be more seriously researched is the role of students� conceptualisation of the process of note-taking and how it can be reconstructed, if needed, to better serve their academic needs.
In sum, test-takers consistently report that note-taking enhances their level of comfort with the TOEFL tasks. This self-perceived comfort of being able to jot down notes throughout all test tasks may also allow examinees to demonstrate a higher level of performance since they will not have to rely so heavily on their memories to store all the information from the prompts while constructing their responses. Instead, they would be able to reference their notes to check information asked in the test questions. Furthermore, the face validity of the test will substantially improve because, in reality, academic life strongly encourages students to take notes and use them in their academic preparation. In the context of the new generation TOEFL test, the intuitive belief held by test designers is that allowing note-taking under exam conditions will encourage TOEFL examinees to place greater value on their ability to take notes across a wide variety of tasks and use them meaningfully in their performance