Sunday October 30, 2011
PMR English is too easy
STUDENTS across the country sat for the Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) English examination recently, and I have been reading and analysing both components – Paper 1 and Paper 2.
Paper 1, which focuses on reading, consists of 40 questions which every student has to answer in an hour.
The first 10 questions consist of 10 passages of around 200 words each. Challenging words students may encounter include “chaos”, “authentic”, and “bedazzled”.
From questions 11 to 18, students have to read a passage where they are supposed to fill in the missing links in the passage which tests their grasp of grammar. It consists of approximately 180 words.
The next five questions test students’ understanding of idiomatic phrases, and some of the difficult phrases are “pull their weight” and “abide by”.
There is an advertisement consisting of around 120 words which students have to answer from questions 25 to 28. Sophisticated words they encounter are “zenith” and “community.”
Students then have to read a “long” passage of 225 words and answer the questions from 29 to 34. Sophisticated words they might come across are: “complex”, “numerous”, “peers”, “ethnic”, “influence”, “hence”, “maturity”, “discriminate”, “genuine” and “exclusive”.
After that, students have to read the poem The Dead Crow, consisting of roughly 90 words, written by national laureate A. Samad Said. There is one difficult word “dignity” and one interesting phrase “gasping for air” in the poem.
The final passage they have to read is an extract from the short story How Dalat Got Its Name which consists of approximately 150 words and answer from question 38 to question 40. Sophisticated words they may encounter are “carved”, “memorial” and “mourned”.
All in all, students have to read about 1,200 words or six 200-page-long pages.
Then I compared our 2011 PMR English Paper 1 to the 2011 International Competitions and Assessments for Schools (ICAS) English Reading Paper, which tests students’ English proficiency in private and international schools.
It consists of 45 questions in which students have to answer in 45 minutes. It has eight passages in total, ranging from a 53-word passage to a 471-word passage. Students have to read about 2,000 words, the equivalent of ten 200-word-long pages.
More sophisticated words and phrases are encountered, such as “memento”, “shivered”, “eerie”, “efficient”, “reckless”, “ripping yarn”, “mortal combat” and “no-holds-barred style”. There are about 70 challenging words in total.
One question that tests students’ vocabulary in the PMR paper asks students the meaning of the word “develop” and they have to choose from the words “build”, “allow”, “support” and “consider.”
By comparison, a vocabulary question in the ICAS paper asks students the meaning of the word “adversity” and they have to choose from four options: “conquest”, “hardship”, “enemies” and “confusion.”
Dear readers, which English paper do you think will enrich our students’ minds more and prepare them to be competitive in this rapidly borderless world?
I have not even been comparing apple to apple. While the PMR English paper was taken by 15-year-olds, the ICAS English Reading Paper I was sat by Year Four Malaysian pupils and Year Three Singaporean pupils in private and international schools respectively.
How can we expect our local students to compete with students from other countries if the standard of English of our PMR exam is even lower than standard of English required for Year Four pupils in private and international schools?
The Education Ministry should upgrade the level of English taught and tested in Malaysian government schools. At least then the English standard of our Form Three students can be on par with Year Four and Year Three pupils in private and international schools.