Academic journal article Education

Defensive Learning and the TOEFL Barrier: A Case Study

Academic journal article Education

Defensive Learning and the TOEFL Barrier: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Introduction

It was decided by the Council for Higher Education in Jordan in January 2010 that graduate students cannot be admitted to graduate programs at Jordanian Universities unless they score 400 out of 677 on the TOEFL/ITP exam in the specializations of social studies and humanities, 500 for scientific, technological, and medical specializations, and 550 for English Literature and Linguistics. (Resolution #2, 6/1/2010)

According to the Educational Testing Service (ETS) that has been preparing and disseminating the TOEFL exam, the purpose of the test is "to evaluate the English proficiency of people whose native language is not English." (Examinee Handbook, 2006, p.3). The test, which consists of 140 multiple-choice questions, falls in three main sections: Section One is the Listening Comprehension; section two is the Structure and Written Expression; section three is the Reading Comprehension.

Whether or not a multiple-choice test is a reliable, valid predictor of a student's proficiency in a foreign language is questionable. (Dulay et al., 1982; Graham, 1987). Nevertheless, the TOEFL has been considered the best reliable tool for screening purposes apart from its weakness in measuring performance on speaking and writing skills. There are many educational, psychological and social factors that affect the performance and the competence of a foreign language learner. Mukattash (1980), for instance, studied the educational socio-economic variables which affected Jordanian students' performance of English. Sex, for example, has become a significant factor in achieving high scores on the Jordanian General Secondary Exam, and in university admissions where 80% of the students admitted to the University of Jordan, for instance, in 2009, were females (Ayesh, 2010).

This paper does not study TOEFL as a measurement tool, nor does it study the multiple variables that affect learning and performance, but it attempts to address the issue of anxiety that seemed to affect the student's learning and consequently their performance on the TOEFL.

Regardless of the importance of English as the major international language for communication, technology, medicine, study and research, graduate students in Jordan are mainly concerned about passing the TOEFL with the required score in order for them to complete their graduate studies. To satisfy the students' need and to achieve the goal of passing the TOEFL, the Language Center at the University of Jordan started to offer a series of special TOEFL preparation courses, the first of which was given in May 2010 by the researcher.

Method

Participants and Instruments

The participants consisted of 15 graduate students who wanted to pursue their graduate studies in different specializations at Jordanian universities. The 70-hour-course in which the students met for three hours daily lasted for 5 weeks. On the first day, the researcher met with students, and gave them a Pre-TOEFL test to know their proficiency level in English, and a questionnaire in Arabic to obtain some information about their academic and professional backgrounds. During the breaks between classes, the students' talks and concerns gave the researcher some psychological hints which formed an incentive for a mutual goal of getting over the TOEFL barrier.

The Pre-TOEFL test revealed that the lowest score achieved was 330, the highest 483 and the mean score was 405 (See Appendix A). None of the participants scored 500, even an English major student whose score was 473. The results revealed a too poor background to pursue any academic study especially in the case of the English Literature student. A medicine student, who was not Jordanian and did not study medicine in Jordan, scored 425 which proved to be an extremely low score for a student whose language of instruction was English for more than 6 years at university level. Worse results were obtained by the architecture students despite the fact they were also instructed in English. …

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