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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

New MUET 2021 Writing Paper 25% Personal Commentary

(DISCLAIMER: I do not represent MPM, all opinions are my personal commentary and are not influenced by any person specifically, I have included documents from MPM's official new test specs and official sample questions available from their own website (links given below) and have taken screenshots/pics and uploaded here because most teachers from rural areas have approached me and told me that they find it hard to download or access info online due to various existing issues including lack of accessibility to highspeed data. All my thoughts and notes here are meant to help both teachers and students so they may face the MUET examination  both current and future to their best potential. Kindly save me a good word, or none at all if you have nothing sweet to offer. Have a pleasant day!)

Ah... and now we have reached the core of my distress. Ok, I'm just being overly melodramatic. Right, so I am actually in favour with the change as I have come to detest the report question over the years as honestly, it has morphed into some kind of monstrosity that was crippling both the weak ones as well as the good ones. Basically, over the years, to make marking more standardised and streamlined for every marker, rigid marking schemes were introduced which shaped the format of the report. The concept of successful and attempted analysis or synthesis became extra technical and even the most proficient B6 student would not achieve B6 if he or she was unaware of the format outlined by the team of examiners every test. Right... so out it goes and rightfully so. However, I was initially aghast with the introduction of such an elementary question compared to the current one in the form of answering a letter or an email, WITH notes on how to answer on the right hand side, which was indeed a nosedive in terms of quality and 'academic-ness' if there is such a term. I now accept that the Cambridge committee was right in throwing it out because it was pitched too high (C1) when actually the first task should be at an entrance level which would allow the lower bands to be able to respond appropriately rather then scare them off at first glance. I still feel that the content in the sample was overly simplistic and does not suit the content of entering tertiary education (English Camp? Living in a tent? Hmmmm.. questionable!)

FYI: Documents can be downloaded here.

The New Test Specs : http://portal.mpm.edu.my/documents/10156/3fd4da51-7768-4be2-ace5-5021ed73d9ad

The Sample Questions: http://portal.mpm.edu.my/documents/10156/8fbcb4bc-8f7a-4670-8b3a-f47781839974


Overall the paper has been reduced to 25% and time reduced to 75 minutes.

Task 1: Guided Writing
The task it itself looks rather easy and what makes it a little different from your conventional essay is that there are notes to be followed on the side which will determine how you should respond to the info. The language in the question itself must not exceed the B1 level. The presenter said that the task is pitched at a specific level but the response of the candidate to the task will determine the proficiency level of the student. I do agree that if the task is pitched too high, it will not be able to gauge the level of the lower bands accurately because they would not be able to respond to the question not because they don't know the language, but because they don't understand the question (as in the case of the current mutated Report Question with the rigid secret format/answering formula). Apparently in the new test, there will be no exact and specific format because the focus is more on the writing content as opposed to a rigid adherence to specific formats. Students are just required to respond to what is required, and do avoid prescribing templates so do be very careful of this. The running advice is to teach them informal writing where apt or switch to a more formal piece, conversational if necessary, definitely descriptive writing including the use of adjectives and a sound command of grammar with a flair for fluency. Easier said than done.

One of the issues already highlighted is that the instructions on the right hand side is not entirely consistent as some notes are the language required itself (Great! Yes,../No,..) but some were language functions (Describe./ Tell him/her!) Apparently, MPM has taken note of this and will further tweak future questions to be more consistent. It should be at least 100 words, and as mentioned, there will be no penalty for writing more if we are to take this phrase at face value. No news on marking scheme, so we will have to wait n see what will be revealed about marking in future.


Task 2: Extended Writing
2nd task is at least 250 words long and revolves around a commentary based on the featured statement. Safe to highlight that conventional academic essays with thesis statements, topic sentences, elaboration, exemplification and effective conclusions will help the students score better. I am going to assume that writing more is not an issue so some of my worksheets for this can still be salvaged, I presume but don't take my word on this.
The question is set at B2, so that it is not pitched too high but again the students' response can surpass this and easily go into the C1 or C2 range.
At this point, we are still unclear about the marking scheme, so we do not know how the marking criteria will be developed. If you are familiar with the PT3 writing marking scheme, we can sort of expect the same but again, I am not at liberty to draw far-fetched conclusions for fear of misleading readers. Anyway, we shall sit pretty and play the waiting game with utmost patience.


In future, I will endeavour to write sample responses to the writing tasks as we have been advised that the samples shown to us by MPM should not be reproduced and distributed. (Read: which is a shame because the whole idea is to share the knowledge and cascade it down to all teachers who are the frontliners so that at the end of the day the stakeholders stand to benefit in one way or another).


Bah, happy teaching!




Tuesday, October 1, 2019

New MUET 2021 Speaking Paper 25% Personal Commentary

(DISCLAIMER: I do not represent MPM, all opinions are my personal commentary and are not influenced by any person specifically, I have included documents from MPM's official new test specs and official sample questions available from their own website (links given below) and have taken screenshots/pics and uploaded here because most teachers from rural areas have approached me and told me that they find it hard to download or access info online due to various existing issues including lack of accessibility to highspeed data. All my thoughts and notes here are meant to help both teachers and students so they may face the MUET examination  both current and future to their best potential. Kindly save me a good word, or none at all if you have nothing sweet to offer. Have a pleasant day!)

Updates for Speaking:
Overall, they have kept mostly to the current one with some improvement in the 2nd part as the scope is wider and reduces incidences of repetitious content carried over from Task A.

In general:
Task A & Task B have been replaced with Part 1 & Part 2.
Not many changes but it will help students do better in Part 2 as it has a longer presentation time (between 8 to 12 minutes) and the two parts are thematically linked but allows for new ideas and interpretations.

Also another main difference is the Examiners' Guidebook which has the script for the rubrics so it is more standardised.

FYI: Documents can be downloaded here.

The New Test Specs : http://portal.mpm.edu.my/documents/10156/3fd4da51-7768-4be2-ace5-5021ed73d9ad

The Sample Questions: http://portal.mpm.edu.my/documents/10156/8fbcb4bc-8f7a-4670-8b3a-f47781839974


1. Subject/Topic Knowledge - context based info
2. Background/Cultural Knowledge - draw on their knowledge or understanding of real world settings. (Familiar to abstract - not just what and who but how and why)
3. Linguistic Knowledge - language based

Here is an excerpt from MPM's handbook:
3. GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF THE SPEAKING TEST
The primary purpose of the MUET Speaking test is to assess the ability of test takers to give an
oral presentation of ideas individually, and to interact in small groups in both more formal and
less formal academic contexts.
Subject/topic knowledge: The test progresses from familiar topics within the test takers’ personal
experience to more abstract topics in a range of fields and interest areas that may be encountered
in late secondary/early tertiary education contexts. Possible areas include but are not limited to
people and culture, financial awareness and consumerism, science and technology, health and
environment, and education. In the case of the more abstract topics, the test is limited to covering
familiar and unfamiliar topics in different academic areas that a non-specialist would be able to
talk about.
Background/cultural knowledge: The test tasks are intended to be accessible to test takers, so that
they will be able to draw on their knowledge or understanding of real world settings to respond to
them.
Linguistic knowledge:
This refers to language as a system which includes the following:
• Accuracy: Using grammatically correct language; using correct pronunciation, stress and
intonation
• Range: Using varied sentence structures
• Fluency: Speaking with confidence and without unnecessary/undue hesitation
It also includes the pragmatic and sociolinguistic aspects of language use. The former refers to the
functional use of language and knowledge of discourse, cohesion and coherence, and text types.
The latter is concerned with the knowledge of sociocultural rules of language use which includes
using language appropriate for the intended purpose and audience, using varied vocabulary and
expressions, and observing conventions appropriate to a specific situation.


Part 1 has not deviated much from the current format. 
Part 2 is less rigid, has more options and allows students to have at least 5 ideas in a slightly different situation so that there is no repetition of ideas from Part 1. 

MPM's Sample Questions: 
Part 1

Part 2:

You can view MPM's sample Speaking video here


In essence, I do like the new and improved version of the MUET Speaking test. Hopefully it will help all students up their game and present teachers with many opportunities to polish their speaking skills. 

New MUET 2021 Reading Paper 25% Personal Commentary

(DISCLAIMER: I do not represent MPM, all opinions are my personal commentary and are not influenced by any person specifically, I have included documents from MPM's official new test specs and official sample questions available from their own website (links given below) and have taken screenshots/pics and uploaded here because most teachers from rural areas have approached me and told me that they find it hard to download or access info online due to various existing issues including lack of accessibility to highspeed data. All my thoughts and notes here are meant to help both teachers and students so they may face the MUET examination  both current and future to their best potential. Kindly save me a good word, or none at all if you have nothing sweet to offer. Have a pleasant day!)

Here are my personal comments on the new Reading paper. Again I have to say that I am in complete agreement with the alignment of CEFR because it is a more systematic approach and a more effective and reliable gauge of a student's proficiency. Of course I am still irked with the fact that the texts start at a much too low level but do see the need for it now (read: begrudgingly LOL)

FYI: Documents can be downloaded here.

The New Test Specs : http://portal.mpm.edu.my/documents/10156/3fd4da51-7768-4be2-ace5-5021ed73d9ad

The Sample Questions: http://portal.mpm.edu.my/documents/10156/8fbcb4bc-8f7a-4670-8b3a-f47781839974


Part 1: Multiple Matching  (A2 level text)
For starters, the T/F/Not Stated questions have been ditched much to the pleasure of most teachers and students in Malaysia. This is a good move because it reduces ambiguity but at the same time I find that the new text that replaces it is not academic enough. You must be thinking that I'm such a stickler to high academic level English which is not exactly the case. I supposed it stems from my assumption that I expect the MUET exam to cater for B1 to C1 level but I now realise that what the presenter said rings true. He stated that the lower level text serves 2 purposes which are
1. the variety helps sustain the interest of students
2. it focuses on the testing of the language skills in a systematic graded manner from familiar to complex, basic to proficient.
He stressed that a test is not meant to confuse students, it is guided and the level increases in difficulty in order to discern the high bands from the higher bands. This is true, as how else would we differentiate Band 4.5 from Band 5+. (In case you didn't know, the new MUET has 9 bands similar to IELTS which I have blogged about previously, do check my archive).

Part 2 & 3: Multiple Choice
Quite straight forward. B1 level text.

Part 4: Multiple Choice
Two thematically linked texts, the first text has 2 questions, 2nd text has 2 questions and the final two questions requires the students to compare and contrast the two texts and select the best answer. Quite challenging, but again, I do not exactly agree on the text type as previously blogged. A review of movies is hardly academic on the surface, but I do see now that it has its merit. And university students do not necessarily pursue courses with dry content, it could easily be theater-based, or anthropology-based, sociology etc... you get the picture. Note that I do not agree with MPM's answer for No.15.

Part 5: Gapped Text
Basically, 6 sentences have been removed from a text of 500-600 words. There is one extra sentence added as a distractor.
This is new to MUET but has already been used as a test type in the new CEFR aligned PT3 English. This is a HOTS item as it requires students to analyse the structure of the text and try to analyse thesis statements, topic sentences, elaboration, exemplification, concluding and so on. It is good that by the time students from the current 2019 PT3 attempt the MUET exam, they will be well versed with this test type. Even in teaching PT3, this reading comprehension questioning type is the most challenging as it requires HOTS and ability to analyse the structure of the text.
Basically, the speakers mentioned that to teach this section, you need to teach students the flow of the writing, aiming on cohesion. Coherence is important, some clues from cohesive devices in some cases. But I would surely advise teaching them anaphoric and cataphoric referencing. This is especially evident in Sample question 21: the link between 'shouldn't be used' in G with the next sentence (cataphoric ref) 'The reason why not is..'

Part 6 & 7: Similar to current MUET format.
No major changes.

Anyway, once you have done the 90 min reading sample test, you can check your answers here.

Right, so this is the new format and it is overall a good paper. The present one is too tedious and maybe monotonous with only an occasional narrative so we should welcome new changes for this Reading paper. Hopefully, all will be well by the time 2021 March rolls around.

New MUET 2021 Listening Paper 25% Personal Commentary

(DISCLAIMER: I do not represent MPM, all opinions are my personal commentary and are not influenced by any person specifically, I have included documents from MPM's official new test specs and official sample questions available from their own website (links given below) and have taken screenshots/pics and uploaded here because most teachers from rural areas have approached me and told me that they find it hard to download or access info online due to various existing issues including lack of accessibility to highspeed data. All my thoughts and notes here are meant to help both teachers and students so they may face the MUET examination  both current and future to their best potential. Kindly save me a good word, or none at all if you have nothing sweet to offer. Have a pleasant day!)

Hi all,

I'm writing here to update you and myself on the new CEFR aligned MUET Listening paper for 2021 (March will be the first ever live exam for this format). This blog post will be dedicated to Listening only, and I will try to do similar for the other three papers. Am currently attending the cascading at zone level and it has been eye-opening. Have to say that the new Listening paper is overall a thumbs up compared to current format, with of course minor suggestions for improvement, of which I will of course mention and MPM may improve on in the future, who knows.

FYI: Documents can be downloaded here:

The New Test Specs : http://portal.mpm.edu.my/documents/10156/3fd4da51-7768-4be2-ace5-5021ed73d9ad

The Sample Questions: http://portal.mpm.edu.my/documents/10156/8fbcb4bc-8f7a-4670-8b3a-f47781839974


I have uploaded the listening tape scripts for teachers and students who would like to try out the listening sample. You can click here for the listening tracks. The listening answers for the MPM sample are here.




Anyway, here is the screenshot from the official document which you can access from MPM's website.



So the new listening has 5 parts instead of 3, and the best news is that it is fully objective. Most of the questions are multiple choice questions (MCQs) with one set that is still an objective type item, but provides 5 possible answers with 2 distractors which is a version of the current Part 2 (Q8 & 9). This is by far better than the current one which we have complained for many years since its inception that it was overlapping with the testing of writing, and students had to divide their attention between listening and writing with correct grammar, punctuation, capitalisation, syntax and lexicon. In the end, students lost out which will not be the case in the new format so I am very happy with the changes. Kudos to the team who drew up this new paper.

It was good of the presenter to point out that the new listening is more organised and has a clearer progression from easy to hard with a vocab range of A2 - C1. (In case u didn't know, A1 is the lowest while C2 is the highest band, and MUET aims to discern students within the A2 - C1 range). To touch on the vocab aspect, it is good that there is a concerted effort to ensure that the texts used fit the vocab range that is to be tested and as mentioned, it goes from familiar contexts and high frequency words in Part 1 to more complex contexts with more low frequency words in Part 5. Also in the context of vocab, I do find the fact that Cambridge provides a free wordlist that is accessible to anyone with internet connection a good tool for teacher to refer to. You can access the wordlist by clicking on this link: CAMBRIDGE WORDLIST or typing www.englishprofile.org/wordlists.


If you look at the sidebar, there are 2 important functions that are very cool. EVP Online lets you check individual English Vocab Profile at word level (Tq Ms Chong who taught us this in our previous MUET CEFR Cascading in 2016) and the coolest function the presenter introduced yesterday was the 'Text Inspector' which lets you copy and paste texts of 500 and below and it will analyse the content of the text and tell you the word types and tokens frequency counts. A word type is for example the word 'the' (counted as one type) while a token is how many times 'the' appears in the text. I think this is what he meant, will edit later if I got it wrong.

Anyway, I can foresee many teachers starting to think of interventions for vocab, and one of them is to drill kids with low frequency B2 and C1 words... haha.. no harm drilling but make sure it is authentic and purposeful, best done in a situational context. For example, don't make them memorise lists, but get them to use the vocab in the correct context. I think going by themes is a good way: Environment -> Pollution -> Words linked to describing pollution, etc. (Will blog about this in a future post)

Screenshot of the Text Inspector:



My 2 main grouses are: 1. length, 2. level for formality (more informal content).

1. 50 mins is way too long to strain the students' attention span. Haha. 3 parts would have been enough to gauge the level, but I suppose they wanted equal weighting in terms of marks and time (25% overall compared to the previous 15%, so time increased from 30 mins to 50 mins). I worry that the students doing the exam in poor listening conditions will be affected. Also since it is usually the last paper, in some places in Sabah, it clashes with the prayer time and will affect the quality of the sound, and cause unnecessary stress if the mosque loudspeaker is in direct competition with the exam speakers (rare cases but it does happen esp in Sabah!)

2. I still cannot get my head around the fact that the new format has included many informal texts/contexts when we have been championing MUET as a Uni entrance exam and therefore more formal. However, I do concur that they will need to be able to function linguistically in both formal and informal contexts in Uni, so I have to say that I will simply have to accept that it will be a more proficiency based exam rather than an academic one from 2021 onwards.

Again, these are just my observations. Congrats again MPM for aligning with CEFR. A good move. I hope that this alignment will lead to more systematic teaching and testing with the aim of benefiting all students and raising the standard of English across our nation. Bah, stay tuned for the other 3 papers.

Anyway, once you have done the 50 min listening sample test, you can check your answers here

Friday, September 6, 2019

Wow.. Apparently there is a 2017 MUET Teachers' Handbook

Haiyaaaaa.. Now I feel like Katak Di Bawah Tempurung.. Apparently there is a MUET TEACHERS' HANDBOOK published in 2017... And only today have we been exposed to the document. Bah.. There are teaching notes and lesson plans and sample handouts.. So do download n use the resource. It would hv been more helpful if we discovered it 2 years ago... Now, there will be a new format, so just hope that they will come up with a similar handbook for the CEFR aligned format for 2020 batch.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zD1088mdNmOMvrPYm_qmC1S4cwuoog4b/view?usp=drivesdk

Click the link above to download the handbook.


I did a few screenshots






Waaaaaa... I'm still in shock. Somehow, we have lost out because we have had no knowledge of this handbook in Sabah since its publication in 2017. Sad. Bah, hope to have good news in the future for the new format. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

New MUET Test Specifications effective 2021

Hi all, so the much awaited changes are now out and I have perused the changes with multiple ooohs and aaahs. Some in pleasant agreement and some in shock as my heart stopped for a moment but I hope you will forgive me for I am merely human and entitled to my own opinions.

To begin with, most of the changes are well justified and that MPM has done a good job in listening to our rants in the past and taken action to rectify the shortcomings of the current testing format especially for the Listening 800/1 paper that tested writing more than listening. For this I commend them.

However, as mentioned that I am just a simple teacher with a personal opinion, I would like to state my sadness that the new format has lost its 'academic English' focus and has instead morphed into a regular language proficiency test. Quite a number of the academic English elements have been removed and replaced with testing the more informal aspects of the language such as responding to letters and emails. This is not to say it is a bad thing, just that the original MUET test was intended to prep students for the rigours of University level English for specific purposes, rather than just a basic assessment of a person's competency of the target language. Anyway, who am I to go against the tide of change? We shall put aside the sighs and droopy shoulders and learn to embrace the changes, come what may. The change is coming and by 2020 we will be training the new F6 intake for the 2021 1st MUET exam following the CEFR aligned specifications.

Before you begin, you may want to peruse the super long blueprint.. but I really respect the people involved in drawing it up. At least we have a roadmap to success in terms of upgrading the standard of English in Malaysia on par with the European framework. https://rm.coe.int/cefr-companion-volume-with-new-descriptors-2018/1680787989

For those who have access to internet and data, the new specs and sample questions can be found in this link put up by MPM -----> HERE

The page looks like this:


The New Test Specs : http://portal.mpm.edu.my/documents/10156/3fd4da51-7768-4be2-ace5-5021ed73d9ad

The Sample Questions: http://portal.mpm.edu.my/documents/10156/8fbcb4bc-8f7a-4670-8b3a-f47781839974


Below is my personal commentary, please do not hold it against me. All of the screenshots are from the official document, I am just uploading here in case some people have trouble downloading directly from the site.


It is interesting to note that all papers hv equal weighting now.. with 25% for each. Listening is longer now while writing has been shortened. I am a little confused as to why we need such a complicated banding system when we have been expecting the 6 bands to reflect C2, C1, B2, B1, A2 and A1. Now with 9 bands ranging from 1.0 to 5+ is quite similar to IELTS 9 bands. I would assume that this was done intentionally to streamline with international testing standards as MUET was just launched in Indonesia recently. It is not a big problem, it has been broken down very clearly and all we have to do is follow the aggregate scores as in the table above. I think is it really good to be able to tell exactly what level of proficiency the student is after taking this test, but I do question how the new test specification differs from a regular proficiency test rather than one supposedly targeting entry into Malaysian Universities.


The structure of the Listening test above is very agreeable. I like that the duration is longer an it is purely objective questions. The content, well you will have to see the sample questions for yourself and develop your own opinion.


As for the reading paper, I am quite aghast at the loss of the True/False/Not State type of questions as I consider those quite challenging and unique to MUET. I do know many teachers and students are happy to see it thrown out. I'm not sure I like the fact that the sample tests includes 2 different movie reviews of La La Land as to me this does not seem academic enough. I do understand their rationale that the uni students will need to be able to function in formal and informal situations and hence the variety, but it will take me a little more time to get my head around this type of questions for MUET level. My two cents ok, don't shoot me.

I am glad the speaking test remains about the same, but the instructions are clearer and less wordy, and Task B is less rigid in terms of more time to prep (3 mins) and they can speak between 8 and 12 mins. No complaints here.


Right, for writing, I am torn between happy to see report go because it was seriously causing high proficiency students to be shortchanged simply because they are either unaware or not used to the extremely rigid report writing format and marking scheme. Many students have failed to get high bands just because they did not know such a format existed which did not reflect their true proficiency level. Conversely, I am quite upset to see the level of questioning for Q1 which is now a 100 word response to a letter or an email. Oh what a downgrade. The plus factor is that the weaker students will at least be able to respond to this question and get some marks, so I do believe that all is not lost. It still causes me heartache because all the materials and worksheets I have made this last 11 years I can now burn in mid 2020. What makes me sadder is that the quality of this MUET examination has been compromised from that of a uni prep exam to that of a basic proficiency test for all and sundry. Ok, maybe I am reading too much into this and being too melodramatic. We will lift our chins up and trudge forward, come what may.

And a final comment is that the academic essay is only 250 words. Having taught students to write academic essays of 350 words... this is surely going to be a challenge. 1 hour 15 mins for this paper. 25%. I guess the weighting is well thought out. Again, my overall feeling is that I am quite defeated and deflated. I will just have to pump myself up and man up to the challenges ahead.


On a final note, tq to MPM and all writers/contributors to the new test specs. I know you are moving us towards CEFR and it is no easy feat. Let us hope we can continue to raise the standard of English is our beloved Malaysia. Together we are stronger.





Monday, July 8, 2019

Grammar Masterclass with Mdm Audrey Koh-Wiles

Ok.. so the fundamental building blocks of English language learning is grammar but our education system in Malaysia has practically ignored the need for explicit teaching and learning of grammar.

Enter Mdm. Audrey and her crazily easy Grammar Formulas that make the teaching and learning, ie the theory and practical application of them as easy as ABC. I have played around with recording audio for PowerPoint and am now polishing my skill using a screen recorder to do future videos.

Anyway, if you want to keep updated, pls revisit this blogpost and I will keep updating the links for my 3 minute Grammar Tips videos for your self-study.

Season 1 Episode 1 :  Table of Tenses
Season 1 Episode 2 :  Present Tense Formula

Watch out for Season 1 Episode 3!!!!