Review - Alexis, the Encomium TOEIC¨ Test Preparation System
ESL Magazine, Volume 3, No. 1, January/February 2000, Reviews, P.25
The Educational Testing Service (ETS) has been moving inexorably towards computerized testing (see ESL Magazine March/April 1998 on the TOEFL). Because of the benefits of individualized testing, flexible test dates, and faster score reporting, perhaps within another few years there will no longer be paper-based standardized exams.
Predictably, publishers are rushing to prepare practice CDs to give students a chance to work in this new testing medium. Encomium has created Alexis, a Web-based CD with practice exercises to prepare for the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), an ETS product oriented toward the business and workplace environment, as opposed to the more academic orientation of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
Although the TOEIC is still paper-based, Alexis takes advantage of the Web's audio streaming technology to give students a hands-on feel for the tape recorded listening questions. The same general types of questioning strategies prevail, with some additional multimedia advantages. Seven sections grouped under Listening Comprehension and Reading offer students lots of practice in hearing, reading, and responding.
In the Listening sections, students see photographs and hear audio prompts, or they listen to short conversations or monologues with audio prompts alone. They receive written feedback for both correct and incorrect answers and have the option of seeing the written scripts.
On the Reading side, students are asked to choose the best word to fill in the blanks in sentences, recognize parts of a sentence with an error in grammar or form, and to read short passages followed by multiple choice inferential questions.
Perhaps the nicest feature of Alexis is the Picture section, which represents photographic stimuli as well as audio. The photos look beautiful on the Web and give an aura of realism to the audio prompts that require inferential listening skills. The streaming feature works well, although on a feeble little 28.8 connection, I found it was faster to click to download the audio files first and then play them again once they were safely cached away. Another nice feature is the Short Conversations, which were mildly amusing and had an instructional side as well as they offered advice about comportment at work, relations with the boss, and other job-related situations. I would judge these to be challenging for the intermediate level student.
The Incomplete Sentences and Error Recognition sections suffer from the defects of the ETS approach: I have always felt that filling in the blanks and error-finding are not a particularly good way to approach the teaching or testing of grammar, and possibly these parts of the Reading section would be better named Grammar. Also, I felt the feedback in these sections was not as good as in the Listening sections. To mention one example, telling the student, So doesn't work at all here, is not terribly explanatory. In other parts, the language of the explanations seemed more difficult than that of the prompts.
One of the more innovative parts of Alexis is the Reading Comprehension section, which makes use of the browser to go to a Web page. The student reads the prompt and answer choices, and then scans the Web page for information in order to select the best answer. This seems to me to be a realistic reading task.
For all the debate over whether one can teach to the test or not, the reality is that students want practice that looks and feels like the ETS environment. Alexis offers exam-oriented practice but also a good deal more in the sheer quantity of its audio and written input. Students will get lots of practice related to the workplace and will also feel satisfied that they are studying to the test.
Encomium's Web address is www.encomium.com. It is an excellent site with links to all the major ESL Web sites.
Library Journal, Volume 125, No. 7, April 15, 2000, DATABASE & DISC REVIEWS
Click here by -- Ed Tallent, Reference, O'Neill Lib., Boston Coll.