No shortcuts in mastering TOEIC
This is the first installment of a series of interviews with experts in English education aimed at offering tips, trends and information related to English learning and teaching in Korea. – Ed.
By Yang Sung-jin
Published on The Korea Herald: April 30, 2009
In 1995, Kim Dae-kyun began teaching English reading classes in Shillim-dong in southern Seoul to earn money for studying abroad.
His decision to temporarily dabble in English education, however, changed his life, and he is now regarded as one of the top TOEIC instructors in Korea.
“Since the introduction in 2006 of New TOEIC, questions have become more difficult, so students should arm themselves with real competence to get a high score,” Kim said.
Korea is the biggest TOEIC market in the world. Thousands of private English education institutes offer a variety of TOEIC courses, and publishers are churning out all sorts of reference titles each year.
The popularity of TOEIC, or the Test of English for International Communication, is a result of most Korean companies putting a high emphasis on TOEIC scores when hiring employees.
Kim, who earned a master’s degree at Korea University, said there is no alternative yet for TOEIC when it comes to the standardized English proficiency test for general purposes.
Although the Korean government is currently preparing to launch a new national English test system, existing tests such as TOEIC are expected to maintain a significant share in the local market.
Kim said college students, who have to deal with TOEIC to get a job, should think constructively about the test.
“Instead of focusing on scores, students should make efforts to find ways to use the expressions they learn from TOEIC,” Kim said.
TOEIC is largely composed of two sections: listening and reading. When preparing for the exam, Kim said students should bear in mind that what they encounter in listening can be used for speaking in real situations, and the same can be said about the reading section in relation to writing.
“Those who have not secured a solid foundation cannot get a satisfactory result even when they go abroad to learn English,” Kim said. “Even when students go abroad for language courses, they should work hard to strengthen their competence in Korea.”
Kim, who is teaching at the YBM e4u Language Institute in Jongno, downtown Seoul, said that test takers should start with one TOEIC reference book and a vocabulary practice title tailored for TOEIC.
“I recommend going through the basic reference book several times and taking the actual exam whenever possible,” Kim said, adding that those in the beginner’s level have to get a feel for the test before advancing to a higher level.
Students whose scores are in the intermediate level are advised to form a study group.
“These days, a lot of students organize study groups to share information and encourage each other to study harder. And a growing number of private English institutes are helping students get study partners,” Kim said.
Dictation is also effective for improving listening skills for TOEIC and other purposes, Kim said. Since dictating a long passage is time-consuming, he recommended students dictate short sample sentences in TOEIC Part I and II for about 10 minutes a day.
Kim also encouraged students at an advanced level, or those who get more than 900 out of 990, to use an English-English dictionary.
“There are questions asking for subtle nuances of usage, which can be very confusing. Many students are baffled about the difference between ‘for’ and ‘during’ or between ‘assure’ and ‘ensure.’
“To learn how these words are used in a real context, students should refer to English-English dictionaries,” Kim said.
In addition to English-English dictionaries, Kim said Korean students should strike a balance by reviewing reference titles related to grammar and usage, such as “Grammar in Use” and “Practical English Usage.”
Kim, who is hosting a daily TOEIC program on EBS radio and teaching nine hours a day, still squeezes the TOEC test into his schedule each month to offer up-to-date information about the test.
“Memorizing questions from the past TOEIC tests is now ineffective because the test organizers changed their format in favor of totally new questions. Therefore, it’s important for students to analyze why they have missed particular questions, while trying to improve their overall English competence,” Kim said.