This morning was the final speaking exam for my first-year students. Most were pretty nervous, which is understandable and I can identify with them because of it. However, this whole concept of a speaking exam to me is rather foreign, even though I’ve been doing them for a year now. How should I grade speaking skills? Pronunciation? Vocabulary? Grammar? Ideas? I tell myself that it’s a combination of about 5 different skills, but listening for all of them within 3 or 5 minutes is nearly impossible. Perfect objectivity in grading is impossible, no matter what the subject or exam format, but I feel that it’s particularly more difficult with these speaking exams.

Speaking of exams, the whole concept of testing in Vietnam is very unusual for me. Usually my students ask me to give them the possible topics for the speaking exams; however, I never do this because they’ll just memorize all the possibilities and then just speak by rote during the exam. This concept of memorization here… it’s very strange to me, and I’m sure to all foreigners brought up with differing educational systems. So during this time of the year, this is a common sight near the guesthouse:

Student in the shade

Students just sitting around in the shade with a notebook memorizing their lecture notes from a particular class. If you walk by you can usually hear them muttering softly; going over the notes line by line to get them all implanted in their brain for the exam, where they will be expected to write them again, exactly as they learned during the lecture.

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