Caveat: Test-Driven Curriculum

I'd like to talk a little bit about the infamous TOEFL.  This test is an international standard "test of English as a second language," created and administered by the same people who bring us the SAT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT and many others:  the Educational Testing Service of beautiful New Jersey, USA.  Despite its generic-sounding name, this is a for-profit corporation that essentially holds a global monopoly on certain sectors of the placement examination market. 

The test that is all the rage here in Korea, even for students as young as middle-schools, is what is called the iBT – a clever little acronym that stands for internet-based TOEFL (see? it's one of those acronyms that embeds another acronym; and further, it plays unnecessary games with case – i.e. capital vs lower case letters). 

This internet-based exam includes a speaking section, where the test-takers have to speak into a microphone, and the recording of what they say is uploaded to the test's website and farmed out to some presumably (hopefully?) competent evaluator of spoken English.  I imagine some poorly-paid sod in India or the Philippines, sitting in a cubicle and listening to a minute-long speech every two minutes, and entering a score of 0-4 (that's it, that's the basis) for each one. 

Each iBT speaking test requires 6 speeches, each about a minute long.  Each of the 6 speeches is in response to a slightly different type of question.  So, in my speaking class for my medium-advanced 7th and 8th graders (TP cohorts), we've abandoned the "Debate Program" (which, despite its shortcomings, I enjoyed teaching and at least some of the students seemed to get something out of), we have now adopted a textbook very specifically focused on nothing more than preparing students for the iBT speaking section. 

I'll withhold my already rather extensive list of complaints about the text.  What I really wanted to talk about was "artificiality and spontaneous speech acts."  These iBT speeches are not "natural" or spontaneous speech acts.  But… I nevertheless think they are a huge improvement over what there was before this test came along (e.g. the traditional TOEFL) – since at least it tries to test actual speaking competence.

Above and beyond the annoying textbook, each class period I try to have each student respond to a randomly selected iBT-style question – I've put 49 questions of the "personal preference" type (the name of the first question "type" of the 6 on each iBT test) onto little folded-up pieces of paper, and placed them into a paper dixie cup for the students to draw one out and respond to.  In this way I simulate the feel of the actual exam, where you get a question, have at most 15-20 seconds to prepare a response (really only enough time to take a few breaths and fully read the question), and then have to talk for 45-60 seconds into the microphone. 

Of course, finding real iBT "personal preference" questions online is unlikely.  And, there's the matter of the fact that my students ability level really isn't close to what's required for a successful assay of the real iBT.  So I've created a list of my own questions that have the same feel and style as the personal preference questions on the iBT, but maybe a little bit easier.  Because of the difficulty I had finding good sample questions online, I decided to post these questions I made – maybe someone will discover them thru google find them useful.  Here is the list:

1.Describe your best friend and tell why he or she is your best friend.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
2.Describe your favorite holiday spot and why it is your favorite.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
3.Describe your favorite hobby and why it is your favorite.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
4.What is an organization that you think benefits humanity and how does it do so?  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
5.Describe your favorite school subject and why it is your favorite.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
6.What do you prefer to do between study time, to take a break or to relax?
7.Describe your favorite teacher and why he or she is your favorite.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
8.Describe the household chore that you dislike the most and explain why you dislike it.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
9.Describe your favorite animal or pet, and why it is your favorite.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
10.Describe your favorite icon or famous person, and why he or she is your favorite.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
11.What is your favorite type of movie and why?  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
12.Describe your favorite sport and why it is your favorite.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
13.Describe an event in the last ten years that you think changed the world in an important way, and explain how you think it changed the world.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
14.Describe your favorite food and why it is your favorite.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
15.Describe the kind of person you think would be an ideal neighbor and explain why you think so.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
16.Describe your favorite movie and why it is your favorite.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
17.What do you think will be the most important issue facing humanity in the next 20 years?  Why do you think so?  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
18.Describe your favorite television program and why it is your favorite.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
19.Given one-month time to do whatever you like to do, what would you like to do?
20.What was your most cherished moment at school?  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
21.Which of your parents do you think you most resemble?  Why?  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
22.Which country/city would you like to visit?  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
23.What was the toughest challenge you have faced?  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
24.Describe your favorite season of the year and explain why it is your favorite.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
25.If you could know your future, what would you like to know?  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
26.If you could have one wish, what would you wish for and why?  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
27.What would you send to an international exhibition? Your object should represent your country.
28.What has been your strangest dream.  Describe the details and why you think it was strange, and what you think it might mean.
29.What do you miss when you are away from your home?  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
30.Some people prefer to wake up early in the morning, while others prefer to sleep late.  Which do you prefer and why?  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
31.Describe one thing you regret not doing in your life and explain why you regret not doing it. Please include specific details and examples in your response.
32.Describe a major health problem that affects humans globally and explain why the disease or illness is so problematic.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
33.Describe a goal you have for your future and explain why this goal is important to you.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
34.Describe the person you usually go to when asking for advice and explain why you go to that person.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
35.Describe a learning experience which you feel was particularly valuable and explain why you found it valuable.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
36.Some students prefer university in the home region while others prefer studying abroad. What would you prefer?
37.Some only go to the movies if they know about the film, whereas others like to go to get surprised and watch movies they know nothing about. What do you prefer and why?
38.What are important considerations in choosing a job/career in your opinion?  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
39.Describe a favorite spot to visit in your neighborhood (a park, shopping mall, museum, etc.), and explain why it is your favorite.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
40.Describe the most interesting place you have visited and explain why you found it interesting. Please include specific details and examples in your response.
41.Describe your family and the differences and similarities between the people in it.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
42.Some prefer traveling independently, whereas others prefer traveling in a pre-arranged package tour. Which do you prefer and why?
43.Which mode of transport (car, bus, train, boat, airplane, hiking, bicycle, etc.) do you prefer when traveling, and why?
44.Describe a particularly memorable or unusual experience you have had while traveling, and why it was memorable or unusual.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
45.Who is your role model?  Describe this person and why he or she is your role model.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
46.Describe your ideal job and explain why you like it.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
47.Describe your favorite item of clothing and why it is your favorite.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
48.Describe your most difficult subject in school and explain why you think it is your most difficult.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.
49.Describe your favorite novel or story and explain why it is your favorite.  Please include specific details and examples in your response.