The Ultimate Test: Less Challenging than Anticipated!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Last Wednesday we had a guest speaker… Exceptionally Seema, James and Dave attended class together that day. I took advantage of this rare opportunity for asking Elmadi to stop by and gave us his impressions regarding his oral test.

Elmadi had just returned from one year full time FSL training after having obtained the required levels (reading, written expression and oral expression) of his position. I was interested in having his testimonial because I had no clue regarding the new oral test implemented June 16, 2008. Of course I had read a document providing an exhaustive description of this new test, but I had never actually spoken with someone who had taken it. After I heard that Elmadi was back to work, I asked Dave to invite him to pay us a visit so we all could learn from his experience.

I was not sure whether he would accept or not… actually it was quite intimidating: I was asking him to do a presentation in French in front of his colleagues and, even worse, in front of their teacher who could judge the quality of his second language. I do not know many civil servants who would be willing to put themselves in such a situation… it is like being tested again! Yet Elmadi (a real gentleman by the way) accepted with grace… Of course I could have had met with him on my own, but I thought it would be very useful for my students (who will soon have to be tested) to hear the scoop from a colleague who had gone through the same painful process: months of training, ups and downs, frustrations, worries, anxiety, etc.

He finally knocked on our door some time around 11 o’clock that morning… I was kind of surprised to see he was totally at ease with me… Obviously, as a rookie, he had not heard about me yet! Without necessarily looking for it, I have the reputation of being a dragon and I doubt there is anyone left in this building who is not a bit scared of me! Rumors as well as reputation travel rather quickly in a workplace… In a way I am glad he was introduced to me before he will be told how “mean” the French teacher is!… Actually I am not mean, I am only tough! But viewed from the outside, my unique personal way of dealing with problems in the classroom may be misinterpreted…

Apparently learning French was difficult for Elmadi… yet is there anyone out there for whom it is not difficult? Even the ones who seem to learn with easiness encounter walls sooner or later! How delightful it was to hear his first words “Ne vous inquiétez pas, l’examen oral est facile… très facile!”… Since I had never heard someone say something like this about the oral test, I must admit I was a bit skeptical! Either the Public Service Commission lowered its evaluation standards or Elmadi was on some really good drugs that day! The test description I had read a couple of months ago had not left me under the impression it was easy and even less “very” easy… But I had no reasons for doubting Elmadi’s word! His statement was undeniably sincere…

I was very surprised when he said in the first part of the exam he was asked only two or three questions (the description said six)… I wanted to know if it were accidental, but he confirmed it was the usual trend. Great! According to him, those questions are more or less a mise-en-train“Où travaillez-vous? Où votre bureau est-il situé? Quelles sont vos principales tâches?”… A real bonus indeed!

In the second part, he had to listen to four recordings… “Mais très simples… de courts messages téléphoniques de 10 à 30 secondes chacun max!” Incroyable mais vrai!!! I asked him to provide us with some samples. The two first recordings sounded like this: “Bonjour, je vous rappelle que la réunion du conseil d’administration aura lieu demain matin à 9h”, “Bonjour, veuillez prendre note que la réunion du 2 septembre a été reportée au 4, à 14h”, “Bonjour, je vous ai envoyé les documents que vous m’avez demandés. Vous devriez les recevoir demain au plus tard.” The two last ones involved two people having a very short phone conversation. Then, the assessor asked him to summarize those messages and conversations… since they were very short, all he had to do was to basically repeat the whole thing. On top of it, he was allowed to take down notes on paper… Gee! L’enfance de l’art quoi!

I expected him to tell me that the third part of the test was much more difficult… On the contrary he said it was quite easy. Of course, this testimonial is based upon Elmadi’s opinion… some other people might think differently. Any oral test will always remains subjective… no one will ever convince me that it is possible to evaluate oral proficiency objectively! The Commission’s panel of experts can spend years and years on modifying the tests yet they will never be purged of personal opinions and subjective assessments. Anyways… je retourne à mes moutons!

So… in this third part of the exam, the assessor proposed him three topics and he had to choose one he would like to talk about. He was given 1.5 minute to prepare his 2 minute monologue : sort out his thoughts, organize them in a coherent manner, etc. He said those two minutes, when he talked, went by very fast…

Finally, there was the fourth part which is usually reserved for people being assessed for a C level. Elmadi had probably done quite well in the previous parts because the assessor made the decision to try and push further. Most of the time, it is the best way to determine if a candidate who displayed good skills is actually a B or may possibly be a C. Obviously Elmadi was a good B and not a C… I was kind of relieved to hear him say this last part was very difficult because, at that point, I was concerned about the Commission’s standards regarding bilinguism!

Once again, he had to listen to a tape… but this time, the recording was much longer and the topic was abstract (well… someone with a C level is expected to speak about abstract notions and concepts!)… afterwards he was asked a series of questions ” Êtes-vous d’accord sur la façon dont le gestionnaire a répondu à son employé?”, ” Si vous aviez été à la place de cet employé, auriez-vous tenté de trouver une autre solution?” … et ainsi de suite… He actually did answer, but he was not able to elaborate on the topic. Consequently, he received a B… and it is what he was tested for. He now meets the requirements of his position in reading, written expression and oral expression… Elmadi will be able to relax until he will be re-tested in five years. My recommendation is that he tries and maintains his French level (by using it!!!) so he will not have to go on training again…

À la lumière de cet exposé, if my trainees show confidence, keep focused on answering questions in a simple manner and avoid analyzing everything… chances are Dave, James, Susan and Jessica will get their B level easily (and Seema later on… she still has a long way to go before her testing). I am a little less confident about Alice’s performance… not because she is not close to a C, only because my gut feeling tells me the oral test standards for the B were considerably lowered and I am afraid the standards for the C were raised… By 2010, most positions that are currently BBB will be turned into CBC… therefore I do think a B will become what an A is now: nothing! No candidates are actually tested for the obtaining of an A… the minimum requirement being a B, someone getting a lower level is considered unilingual. It looks like competencies’ inflation to me!… People might need more and more skills to prove their competence in their second language…

Elmadi’s presention was good… he was at ease and quite confident… yet if he had been tested with the older version of the oral test, he would have failed his B… My assessment is based upon the Commission’s criterias before June 16, 2008… it has nothing to do with Elmadi’s communication competencies in French… His message was conveyed in a way we all understood. And I want to thank him personally for his time and insight… I do believe he managed to reassure those who will pass the oral test very soon. The more we know, the more we will be ready to face the music…

This blog moved here, if you are ever interested to get more information on those issues…

“Il n’y a pas de problème; il n’y a que des solutions. L’esprit de l’homme invente ensuite le problème.”

André Gide



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