RE: CPE page 3

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credoquaabsurdum:
And now, for my last humongous post!
The Michigan Examination for the Certificate of Proficiency in English (ECPE) is put out by the University of Michigan English Language Institute (UM-ELI), the oldest and most respectable organization of its kind in the States. You may be interested to know that the original purpose of the UM-ELI was to research ways to quickly teach adult students spoken English, =E1 la the G.I method, or later, the Audio-Visual Method. Its primary funding came from the United States Department of Defense. This language teaching method was most commonly associated with complicated language labs and the strenuous oral drills I talked about when I discussed Cambridge CPE Key Word Transformations.

Let's look at the actual structure of the Michigan Proficiency:

Writing: 1 composition, 30 minutes.
Listening: 20 short conversations, 15 Questions and Responses, 5, 5, 5
3 radio programs (monologues or dialogues), everything heard once,about 35-40 minutes.
GCVR 40 grammar questions, 1 multiple-choice cloze passage with 20 questions, 40 vocabulary questions and 4 reading passage with 5 multiple choice questions each. 75 minutes.
Speaking: 1-1 interview.
Unlike Cambridge, the ECPE is more or less only recognized in the country in which it is administered. If you want to go and study in the United States, I am sure that you will be told that many American colleges and universities accept converted ECPE-Michigan English Language Aptitude Battery (MELAB) results as proof of language proficiency, but in the real world we live in, Raf, you're still going to have to take the TOEFL or IELTS. In other countries, if you want to work, you will either need to take a test like the TOEIC, one of the tests in the Cambridge Main Suite, or some home-grown variety of language test. From what I understand, you can get a job with the ECPE in Brazil or Greece, but practically nowhere else.

How good are you at memorizing single-word vocabulary? If you aren't the type that can sit down and work through vocabulary exercises all day long, the ECPE is not for you. On the other hand, if you are, you've already mastered the key element of doing well on that test.

How good are you at tricky multiple-choice reading questions, for the four readings? The difficulty of these questions lie somewhere between the CPE's Part 2 and Part 4 questions (in, of course, my opinion). They are usually tricky and often poorly-written with an eye toward statistical normalization and not good language teaching practice.

Can you deal with hearing the Listening script only once? Adult students occasionally find this difficult, but traditional language school students who have done a lot of tape-work in class usually find ECPE listening simple, for a simple reason. You may have noticed that your worst teachers absolutely LOVE doing listening work. That's because all they have to do, really, is punch "Play" on the machine and zone out, and no one can accuse them of being the waste of skin they are. So, paradoxically, if you had a lot of bad teachers for many boring hours of language school, you'll probably do just fine on Listening but fail everything else.
That's the funny thing about the ECPE. It isn't like Cambridge, with its impossibly arcane system of figuring out the TRUE distribution of marks, a system so arcane that the actual mathematical details haven't been published in a generation. Teachers today are simply told "your students need approximately 60% of the marks available." The UM-ELI, demands that you pass every section of the test. You are supposed to need to get 65% of the questions right in order to pass, but on a closed test battery like this one, where no past papers are ever revealed until years after the administration of the test, and no computerized breakdown of scoring is accessible, well, you just have to take the ELI's word for it.
This year, for the first time, I have it from reputable sources that students failed the Writing test, the first time that this has happened in my experience. Granted, I'd seen this in statistics I received by means of some of my more reliable snitches, but I'd never actually MET students who failed the Writing test.
I have had adult, non-traditional students fail Listening, but pretty much everyone feels it's a joke. Grammar-Cloze-Vocabulary-Reading (GCVR) is the section to fear in this test, with the big V, Vocabulary, being the Terminator of Language Tests.
I have it on good authority that the Speaking test is a sham, and I have sent students into that test whose spoken English was utterly barbarous, so I can confidently say that there is a very good chance that the rumor about Speaking that I once heard is true, that the ELI doesn't trust the local speaking examiners to do the job they're paid to do and changes the mark for speaking if the student passes all the other sections. Perversely, Cambridge does not have this problem, and also pays their examiners far, far less. Here in Greece, a CPE examiner gets =8016.45 and hour and a Hellenic-American Union (HAU) Michigan examiner gets =8030.00 an hour. Cambridge also adamantly insists on their examiners having actual language teaching qualifications.
According to what I've told you here, the test looks, on the surface of it, easier than the Cambridge CPE. There are a number of "buts," however.
As previously mentioned, we have seen no real past papers since the nineties. The format of the test has changed a number of times since then, and there is no guarantee that the past papers accurately reflect the level and difficulty of the real ECPE. When you prepare for the ECPE, you will not have access to materials that will accurately predict how well you will do on the actual test or give you a reliable picture of what the real test is like.
In Greece, candidates have the Preliminary test, which is a shorter version of GCVR that students must pass before they're allowed to go on and take the real test. The past papers for these ARE published. A careful examination of the tests shows that the focus of the questions has changed significantly. What's going on in the ECPE Final Test? There's no knowing.
In the past three years, the director of the ELI has changed, the director of the ECPE program has changed, and the ELI has published little or nothing that honestly deals with the changes that these individuals have instituted. Once again, a careful examination of the Preliminaries show that there has been a significant change in focus, but the differences are so technical that if I started going on about them here, this post would become worthless for anyone other than a language test-prep specialist. Simple put however, the Vocabulary section on the Preliminaries has become easier, and the Grammar section has become trickier.
The real upshot of this, what should really concern you, is that there is not a single first-rate book out there anymore than can be used to successfully prepare students. The best stuff was Diane Flanel Piniaris's series, published by New Editions, but it's moving toward obsolescence very quickly. New Editions used to send me around to do seminars on these books, so I have some idea what I'm talking about.An excellent example to show you what I mean is how Piniaris's books treat the Listening section. Teachers, writers, and publishers were not told until just before the 2003 ECPE that the last listening sections could be dialogues, and not just the monologues that they had been since the 1950s. The fact was only mentioned in passing in one small section of the HAU's newsletter, in any case, and to the best of my knowledge, I was the only language teacher in Greece that picked up on it.

When the test came out, 2 of the 3 passages were dialogues, not monologues. Most of the candidates who walked into the test centers that day were absolutely stunned. I remember the faces on my sixteen-year-old candidates, who walked out of the room with a curious, shell-shocked expression on their faces. It is now 2005, and I have yet to see an ECPE prep book that incorporates the monologue-dialogue change.
Now, you could live with these changes and the fact that the ECPE is, in general, a tricky test, but on the whole, my experience with the UMI-ELI is that they are a shifty, secretive bunch with a whole lot of dirty underwear that they don't want to wash in public.

While this statement may seem harsh, I have had a LOT of experience with the ELI, and can probably confidently boast that I am the number one thorn in their side in Greece (identifying me to anyone from there reading this board, but what the hey). The ELI cannot simply dismiss me, because I once turned down a full PhD fellowship to do my doctorate in the University of Michigan's English Language and Literature program. You don't offer to pay someone upwards of 100,000 dollars to study at your university and later call him a crank.
The ELI lies, tells half-truths, publishes misleading statements, and basically needs its ass kicked from here to eternity before they do anything else about test corruption and cheating other than cover it up and insincerely hope it will go away. They nurture cronies and long relationships with shady binational centers run by unscrupulous people who would sell their own mothers for a worn dime. They threaten legal action whenever possible. And never, never, never will the ELI admit that it is wrong, barring proof on the order of taped phone conversations and surreptitiously-taped seminars that show that supposedly secure test data is being put up on a projector for hundred of test-preppers to view and comment on (all to further a former Michigan MA graduate's and longtime HAU employee's international publishing business).

"Duck and cover, lie and prevaricate, deny, deny, deny!" seems to be the ELI's motto.If you try to motivate yourself to work hard to prepare for the Michigan Proficiency, you simply won't be able to do it as well as you would if you prepared solely for Cambridge. That very important consideration is often overlooked by amateurs in this business or students trying to prepare on their own. It isn't really how difficult one language test is in comparison to another supposedly pitched at the same level, but HOW WELL you can prepare your students or yourself that really matters in the long run.

The ECPE is not at all a good standardized language proficiency test precisely because of this fact. The preparation work you will do will be incredibly boring, and you'll never really know how near the level you are during the course of your work, which will load you up with stress and have a terrible effect on your motivation to put in the hours of study necessary (you think) to guarantee that you pass.
Of course, since we both have it on good authority that the ECPE is indeed easier than the CPE, you from the grapevine and me from at least a hundred testimonials by former candidates of both exams, take BOTH tests, the Michigan ECPE and the Cambridge CPE. It costs a good deal of money, but I think it's worth it if you can spare the dough and the time to prep. There are other reasons as well to take both exams, but they are secondary in importance to the issue of having two chances in one year.Make sure you pay particular attention to your ECPE vocabulary learning work, as difficult as you will find it. Make sure you know how to write a quick "Old Generation" TOEFL essay (lots of self-study materials out there), because the ECPE's essay is almost the same thing (in fact the TOEFL's Test of Written English (TWE), as well as the entire TOEFL test, was originally developed from the UMI-ELI's guidelines for tests that were the precursors of the MELAB and by extension the ECPE).

If you're weak at listening, do American English transcript work, which means listening, and then checking your answers by listening again and reading the printed text at the same time. Buy the outdated Oxford University Press prep book, the teacher's handbook, and the cassette (80 euros right there)...it's better than nothing. Work on your grammar, but be more careful about colloquial expressions and real-world grammar (how people actually speak and write, as gleamed from extensive reading and listening) rather than what's in intermediate/advanced grammar books.
In addition to the OUP book ( The University of Michigan Examination for the Certificate of Proficiency in English: Official Past Papers , ISBN 0-19-453362-X (for self-study work, you will also have to get the Answer Book (0-19-453361-1) and the cassette (0-19-453363-8))).

I would still use Piniaris's revised Final book and cassettes to prepare. ISBNs are: student's book: 960-403-216-X, teacher's book (there's no answer key, tapescripts, and sample compositions in the student's book) 960-403-216-X, cassettes (pakage of 4)960-403-218-6. The whole package will run you at least the equivalent of 120 euros, plus around 80 euros for the OUP package, which means, in Brazilian money according to today's exchange rate, we're talking about 589.731 Brazilian Reais.
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Raf:
Very, very useful...
A doubt concerning CPE, how does Cambridge make up our score? It's not clear to me how they evaluate our knowledge, I don't know exactly when I get one or more than mark.
I think you should wright a book... It'd sell a lot...
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Raf:
"... I get one or more than one mark..."
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Einde O'Callaghan:
[nq:1]Very, very useful... A doubt concerning CPE, how does Cambridge make up our score? It's not clear to me how they evaluate our knowledge, I don't know exactly when I get one or more than mark.[/nq]
I understand the final grades are worked out after a statistical manipulation of the marks you are given by the examiners.

Papers 1 and 4 (where there is only one correct answer) are marked by compouterised readers. Paper 2 is graded according to a scheme given to the examiners by Cambridge - they have grading copnferences to make sure that examiners are using the same criteria and a selection of the papers marked by each examiner are graded by chief examiners to make certain that the standards are comparable. This statistical manipulation is quite complex as the purpose is to make certain that the average grades for each exam are comparable for each exam. On paper 3 some questions are computerised and some have to be graded by examiners, e.g. the questions where you have to write something instead of blacking out a little box (called a lozenge, by the way).
After the marks have been given they are subject to a statistical manipulation to make sure that the average standard for each grade is comparable from year to year. The results you get are based on this grade.

I hope that answers your question.
Regards, Einde O'Callaghan
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Raf:
It just confirmed my thoughts that it's really difficult to figure out what grade I would get in a mock exam.
Don't you know a simpler way to grade a mock? It doesn't need to be 100% accurate, if it's close to the real one it's enough to me...

Thanks.
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credoquaabsurdum:
The sad fact is, Einde gave you an exactly right answer.

I have read that answer just TWICE in the last five years of preparing students for Cambridge ESOL examinations, and I have asked dozens of people in that time. Cambridge doesn't much like publishing that information: in point of fact, the last time they did it in full was in the 1987 General Handbook, according to my most exhaustive research, and even then they skimped on the real details of Peason correlation indices and norming procedures to standardize speaking and writing scores between individual markers. The test has been fully revised TWICE since 1987, of course, but Einde confirmed what I had always suspected, that the underlying system has changed very little these past eighteen years.
Generally speaking, Cambridge ESOL guidelines state that you need to get approximately sixty percent of the marks in all of the test. Now, you can't really assess how well you would do in Speaking or Writing: you need someone trained in the Cambridge system to do that with a high degree of accuracy (the way that Speaking is formally marked is supposed to be completely confidential, by the way).
However, if you have a copy of the Cambridge Specifications for the CPE (you can download it at www.cambridgeesol.co.uk) or a self-study book of Cambridge Past Papers, the way the objective marks are given out for Reading, Use of English, and Listening is clearly laid out and explained in detail. Granted, you will not be able to make qualitative decisions on Part 5 of Use of English (Comprehension and Summary), but as you put it, you can get an idea if you are, for instance, completely unready to take the test.

I usually tell students like you that they should be getting at least 60% of the marks consistently before they register to sit for the test, but I'm well-known to be a daredevil: other teachers will not register a student for the test if they aren't getting seventy percent of the objective marks in real past papers two months before the actual CPE administration.
That's my view, at least. Einde may have something better: that last bit of information he laid out came as an utter (but happy) surprise.

ANY "CLOSE ENOUGH" APPROACH COULD MEAN THAT YOU'RE THROWING YOUR TIME AND MONEY AWAY. If I were you, I would definitely find a reasonably-qualified private teacher to help me out here.
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Einde O'Callaghan:
[nq:1]Generally speaking, Cambridge ESOL guidelines state that you need to get approximately sixty percent of the marks in all of ... high degree of accuracy (the way that Speaking is formally marked is supposed to be completely confidential, by the way).[/nq]
I don't think I'm revesaling anything confidential about the oral exam when I say that the description of what is necessary given in the "Assessment" section of the document at
is an accurate description of the minimum requirements. You have to have effective contorol of your English under all the 6 criteria listed, grammar, vocabulary, discourse management (how you construct your utterances), pronunciation, interaction and global achievement (solution of the tasks set). The level of the tasks can be seen from the transcripts.

Regards, Einde O'Calaghan
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