Vina Ballgobin

Education – CPE

Assessment of candidates’ work in English Language — from 1994 to 2010

Vocabulary items

Strengths: 70% of the pupils performed well in items testing personal and possessive pronouns.

Weaknesses: Most candidates did not understand the meaning of words found in the given list in the official document, Learning competencies for All (MES et al.1992). Common phrasal verbs such as give up were unknown. Vocabulary remained constantly weak and candidates were confused by distractors that increased the difficulty level of some items (MES NDa: 5). Candidates made many spelling mistakes too (MES NDb: 4). They did not understand simple sentences such as Help yourself; How I wish, What would you like? Do you mind waiting? (MES NDa: 4). Most often, candidates could not differentiate between the uses of the definite article the and the indefinite articles a/an (MES NDb: 2; 2009: 8), the adverb there and the possessive determiner their; the indefinite determiners other and another; any and the negative determiner no and finally the conjunctions although, unless and the preposition despite (MES 2006:3; 2011: 3). They failed to distinguish between lexically close words such as ask, speak, tell, say, inform (MES NDa: 4; 2000: 3; 2005: 1); quantifiers few, enough, little, nobody, anyone, anybody (MES NDc: 2; NDd: 4) and many, much, a lot of (MES 2005: 1); conjunctions – whenever, wherever, whatever, whichever (MES 2006:3), adjectives infected and affected; verbs bring and take. Interferences with other languages, namely French and Mauritian Creole, led to errors in the understanding of familiar words such as hotel and restaurant (MES 2000: 6) and use of translations such as *goes at the market (aller au marché) instead of goes to (MES 2011: 3).

Grammar items

Strengths: The easiest items had a Facility Index of above 75% (MES 2003: 3). A few prepositions, conjunctions, modifiers, pronouns – personal-subject/object, possessive, reflexive (MES 2002: 1), comparison of adjectives, possessive adjectives, adverbs, question tags, phrasal verbs and word formation were used correctly by 61.3% of the candidates (MES 2003: 2) although they remained most difficult for the majority (MES 2009: 2). The most brilliant candidates succeeded in identifying and using gerund and past continuous forms (MES 1995).

Weaknesses: Candidates were ignorant about basic rules of English (MES 2006: 2) and they could not identify which tense to use in a specific context (MES 2006: 4; 2007: 3, 5). They did not master the use of the majority of basic ELC verb tenses, namely simple present, simple past & simple future with high frequency verbs such as tell, read, want, be and rise (MES 2003: 1); past perfect, present perfect (MES NDd: 6); present continuous, past continuous and verb-subject agreement (MES 2002: 2). Mistakes were revealed through the permanent use of the past tense with the polite form would or should be (MES NDd: 6; 2003b: 2). They faced difficulties to differentiate between adjectives and participle forms – interesting, interested; enjoying, enjoyed; bored, boring (MES 2007: 5). Conditional tense was difficult for brilliant candidates (MES NDa: 5). Usually, the choice of appropriate prepositions that follow a verb such as in fly to the moon (MES NDb: 2), at University (MES 2006:5) and common phrasal verbs such as look up, look after, look in and keep off (MES 2003: 3; 2007: 5) were done correctly by around 27% of candidates. Word context was neglected as they learned mechanically and used only a few familiar prepositions.

Items pertaining to reading comprehension

· Section A items

Strengths: Candidates tackled successfully easier and more familiar items such as multiple-choice items on a narrative passage. Basic strategies such as on the line reading, location of keywords in sentences, identification of explicitly stated facts, sorting out main ideas and relevant details and construction of overall meaning of the text by locating main ideas were present for more than 50% in 2002 (MES 2003: 1) and 2003 (MES 2003:4). Basic retrieval of information was generally successful in 2009 (MES 2010: 3).

Weaknesses: Facility Index for most difficult items was less than 70% (MES 2003: 5). Candidates did not read carefully and attentively and could not give precise answers (MES NDb: 2). For example, in the question “in what two other ways”, they skipped the word “other” and wrongly repeated the same answers (MES NDb: 2). Most candidates looked for similarity in words and neglected meaning. For example, they did not make a difference between knowing nothing and there is nothing he does not know (MES 2002: 4). More than 70% of the candidates struggled to answer open questions and questions starting with the interrogative adverbs how and why (MES NDc: 3, 2003: 1, 5). Furthermore, some candidates managed to give the right answer but they were unable to express themselves clearly and correctly while others made unsuccessful attempts to express their thoughts even in very simple English (MES 2005: 2). Usually they did not spend time to think carefully or to go beyond the text as they were trained to work in a hurry. Moreover, candidates failed to arrange jumbled sentences in order (MES NDd: 2). Such difficulties in organizing ideas in a logical and coherent manner confirmed that candidates suffered from several weaknesses that hampered the development of reading strategies at ELC level.

· Reading with understanding

Strengths: Excellent candidates fully understood the passage in Section B when its content and language was to their level. They could locate information and relevant details fairly easily (MES NDc: 4; NDb: 3; 2005: 3). Some candidates succeeded only in items when they met familiar expressions although they did not always understand the subject of the whole passage.

Weaknesses: In 1999, 2000 and 2001, the Cloze test was the most difficult question for most candidates with a mean of 2.55 (MES 2002: 6). Reading strategies were poor for most candidates. Some of them could not read continuous prose at all and scored almost nil (MES 1994: 4; 2000: 4). Some of them lacked the proper reading strategies to read with understanding and they were successful in few items only (MES NDc: 4). They could not predict word sequencing in a sentence from the context or use grammatical elements to make out meaning. Most often, they did not read the whole text to grasp the subject before attempting items. Some candidates did not read instructions properly and/or overlooked key words. In 1994, 1995 and 1996, either little attention was given to or candidates were unable to interpret instructions and guidelines. Moreover, most candidates did not have the adequate tools to tackle items that needed some thought and interpretation. They were unable to read between and beyond the lines and could not tackle inferential items (1994: 4, 5). Many pupils seemed to have reasoning problems when they endeavored to work out items such as age comparisons and relationships (NDb: 3), chronology, cause and effect relationships, association of two facts, relationship between persons/events/actions, explanation about processes, analysis of statements of facts and opinions, drawing personal conclusions, inferring and synthesizing (MES 2003: 5; 2006: iii). They could not link two parts of a question in a logical manner (MES 2000: 4).

Items pertaining to writing skills

· Section A items

Strengths: About 78% of the average and good candidates did not face any difficulties in functional writing such as filling an application form (MES NDc: 3).

Weaknesses: Scripts contained numerous mistakes and/or errors (MES NDb: 3). Candidates associated words such as please with may mechanically, without taking the context into account and verifying whether the sentence structure was correct. They could not write simple sentences and came up with semantically dubious formulations such as a lady accompanied by a hand bag (MES 2002: 7; 2003: 5). Sentence expansion and transformation were not mastered (MES NDd: 5). Errors in syntax, subject-verb agreement (*The girl are watching television) and noun-adjective agreement were recurrent (MES 2007: iii, 8).

· Continuous writing

Strengths: While only 23% of the candidates worked satisfactorily, a greater number of candidates attempted composition writing based on verbal cues when the subject was familiar to them (MES NDc: 4; NDd: 3-4). This may also be linked to better teaching/learning techniques used in class to train all pupils. Progress was noted in 1997 and 1998 (MES 2000: 7). Candidates wrote naturally and simply (MES 2004: 7).

Weaknesses: Candidates did not have the appropriate vocabulary to write correctly, fluently and precisely about the topic even if it was familiar to them (road accidents, cyclones). Mean mark was 5.2 out of 20 marks and 54.8% scored less than 5 marks (MES 2003: 8) Marks were as follows in 2002 — 0: 30.2%; 1-5: 24.6%; 6-10: 25.2%; 10-15: 17.8%; and 16-20: 2.2%.

Words proposed in the composition outline were not used correctly: sharp turn was used as a verb in *the lorry sharpturned; huge rock was used as *huge of rock (MES NDb: 5). Other difficulties included wrong linking words, grammatical mistakes (verb tenses, spelling, punctuation), incorrect use of the most common prepositions and linkers, French/Creole interference – dis que tu es sorry (MES 2005: 1; 2009: 5), absence of complex sentences (MES 2008: 7), inappropriate combination of sentences (MES 2010: 9), poor sequencing of ideas and lack of proper balance coupled with insufficient vocabulary to express oneself and lack of creativity, (MES 2004: 7).

Furthermore, candidates were not trained to introduce the subject of a given composition in a creative manner. Usually they wrote stereotypical introductions such as It was a nice summer morning during the Easter holidays. Introductions were overly lengthy and consisted of irrelevant elements. The subject was not properly circumscribed and important facts or details were left out. Sometimes, candidates made unexpected word misinterpretations for familiar words such as behind and their composition lacked logic (MES NDb: 5).

Many candidates either copied the question or wrote a few lines or made poor attempts in the form of a short disconnected paragraph. Some wrote incoherent sentences (MES 2005: 3) or incomprehensible answers (MES 2006: 5) while others did not even attempt the item (MES NDa: 6; NDd: 2; 2005: 3; 2006: 2). Some candidates tried to write a complete sentence by using words from other known languages when they did not know the English equivalent – *The girl is lire the journal. Some sentence structures were modelled on the French structure – *A man is doing fishing (MES 2008: 4), or Creole structure – The electricity is cut when there is a cyclone (MES 2011: 7). Memorized expressions were used profusely: *When I saw the purse, I was as happy as a king. I ran to it as quickly as a deer and picked it up as quickly as lightning (MES 2008: 7):

50% of the scripts in the sample of 630 were between 0 and 5 marks. Of these 33% scored 0. This is an alarming situation which cannot be explained only by the new format. The inadequacies in the development of the writing skills throughout the primary cycle do have to take a great share of responsibility. As usual there were brilliant attempts which prove to be less stereotyped. The outline enabled the bright candidates to display both imagination and competence in the use of English. This should be encouraged. (MES NDa: 6)

Sources:

Mauritius Examinations Syndicate & al. 1992. Learning competencies for all. Mauritius Printing Specialists Private Ltd.

MES. NDa. Report on 1994 CPE Examination. MES.

MES. NDb. Report on 1995 CPE Examination. MES.

MES. NDc. Report on 1996 CPE Examination. MES

MES. NDd. Report on CPE Examination 1998. MES

MES. 1998. Report on CPE Examination 1997. MES

MES. 2000. Report on CPE Examination 1999. MES.

MES. 2001. Report on CPE Examination 2000. Core Subjects. MES

MES. 2002. Report on CPE Examination 2001. Core Subjects. MES

MES. 2003. Report on CPE Examination 2002. Core Subjects. MES

MES. 2004. Report on CPE Examination 2003. Core Subjects. MES

MES. 2005. CPE Examination 2004. Report on Core Subjects. MES

MES. 2006. CPE Examination 2005. Report on Core Subjects. MES

MES. 2007. CPE Examination 2006. Report on Core Subjects. MES

MES. 2008. CPE Examination 2007. Report on Core Subjects. MES

MES. 2009. CPE Examination 2008. Report on Core Subjects. MES

MES. 2010. CPE Examination 2009. Subject Reports. MES

MES. 2011. CPE Examination 2010. Subject Reports. MES

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