Criticism of English test 'mistakes' brushed aside

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 September, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 September, 2000, 12:00am

The Examinations Authority yesterday brushed aside accusations that its mock benchmark test for English-language teachers was riddled with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes.

The authority admitted to a number of 'slips' but rejected claims in a newspaper advertisement taken out by Maria College private school that the papers contained more than 60 mistakes.

The two-page advertisement pointed out that, among other things, the mock test asked teachers to correct the errors in each of the numbered 'phrases'. It said the word should have been 'clauses'. In another instance, 'even though' was spelt 'even through'.

The exam papers were distributed to schools to help prepare teachers for the new Language Benchmark Assessment.

The authority said that while there were several slips, most of the accusations were inaccurate and based on grammatical interpretation.

Professor Gregory James, director of the language centre at the HK University of Science and Technology, said: 'There are different standards of writing and speaking; the American, the British and so on. It's a mistake to say it's faulty to follow the American standard rather the British.'

Professor James, who was not involved in producing the mock papers, argued that grammar changed and that there should be a balance between 'grammaticality' and 'acceptability'.

'Grammar books should not be followed slavishly, otherwise you will have no creativity in your writing,' he said. 'There are technical terms emerging very fast. Now we've e-mail, e-commerce and they've broken the rules of grammar, if you like.' He said the English used in the papers was 'consistent standard British English'.

Authority secretary Choi Chee-cheong said: 'We admit that there are spelling errors and typos in the papers but they are only careless mistakes which unfortunately weren't spotted during proof-reading. But I can assure you, when it comes to the real test, it will be a proper one.'

The school's advert also criticised excessive use of the passive voice, giving rise to problems of clarity, burying subjects and causing wordiness. Professor James said 25 per cent of adjectives were in the passive voice.

The authority promised to correct all the mistakes before sending them out to schools again.

Teachers' unions have described the benchmark test for more than 18,000 English-language and Putonghua teachers

as an insult to professional standards.

The launch, originally set for next month, is expected to be deferred by the Education and Manpower Bureau.