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English language matriculation exam proves tricky for native speakers

Teachers and students have criticised the advanced English test in the 2018 Upper Secondary school matriculation exams because they say it's too difficult.

Sähköiset ylioppilas kirjoitukset
The spring matriculation exams are under way. The last exam is scheduled for 28.03.2018. Image: Markus Heikkilä / Yle

The matriculation examination board has received plentiful feedback from both students and teachers on the advanced level English language exam that students sat on Friday 16 March.

”The feedback has been both positive and negative. Some find the difficulty level good, whilst others have focused on particularly difficult aspects of the exam,” said Tiina Tähkä, Secretary General of the matriculation examination board.

The exam has been discussed on Yle’s exam revision service Abitreeni where over half of 6,000 respondents to a questionnaire felt the exam was ’far too difficult’.

English speaking native found the exam to be exceptionally tricky

Long-time Finnish resident and US national Tracy Lipp, who works with languages, became familiar with the exam online.

He found it to be particularly difficult.

”Yes there were easy parts in the test, but other parts were simply impossible," said Lipp. "For example the word fey. It is usually used in relation to an individual in fantasy literature who can see into the future. That however was not the case in the exam,” said Lipp.

Story continues after photograph

Englanninkielinen Tracy Lipp kauhistelee englannin kokeen vaikeutta.
English native speaker Tracy Lipp is shocked by the difficulty level of the English language exam. Image: Tracy Lipp

Lipp thought there were other sections too, such as the multiple choice parts, which had irregularities.

”I got the feeling that the creator of the exam was not entirely familiar with the English language," added Lipp. "Students were expected to pick an option in which none of the answers were exactly correct.”

Some schools reported technical difficulties during the matriculation exams. The difficulty level combined with technical hiccups did not impress Lipp as he thought it created an unfair atmosphere for students.

”If my kids had been in this exam I would demand my money back!”

Teachers find more headaches in examination technology

The English language examinations were held in digital format for the first time this year, which may have brought additional challenges into the already stressful exam situation. Other organisational issues can affect exam performance.

”When the listening and written comprehension tests are held at the same time, the amount of time allotted for the written part of the test is shorter,” said Eija Venäläinen, chair of the Association of Teachers of English in Finland.

Story continues after photograph

Sähköiset ylioppilaskirjoitukset
Some schools have experienced technical difficulties in the digital examinations. Image: Markus Heikkilä / Yle

In Venäläinen’s school in Kuopio the exam proceeded without major hiccups. Venäläinen had not familiarized herself with the English language exam yet with the exception of a few points.

”The inclusion of the word ’fey’ has been publicly talked about somewhat. I have to admit I had to look that up in a dictionary,” confessed Venäläinen.

Venäläinen was among those who deemed the word too difficult for the exam. In most cases the content of the word can be gleaned from the context of the text, but according to Venäläinen that was not the case here.

With exceptional English skills comes a raised bar

The actual difficulty of the English language exam will become apparent by 22 May when the results are announced. The amount of points needed per grade could be changed slightly according to the national grading framework.

Story continues after photograph

Sähköiset ylioppilaskirjoitukset.
20,700 students signed up for the advanced level English language exams. Image: Ronnie Holmberg / Yle

”Finnish youngsters speak English exceptionally well and the skill level demanded in the curriculum is quite high,” said Tähkä.

Approximately 20,700 students signed up for advanced level English language examinations this spring. The sign-up numbers for other advanced level language tests are rather scarce, for example only 400 students signed up for advanced level German tests. Other language options are Spanish, French and Russian.

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