Dear Moms and Dads …


Here is my reply to a TOEFL test taker’s feedback shortly after she finished the test. She said the writing topic was about “a teacher’s methods when students get bored”. It sounded a bit strange because TOEFL writing prompts would hardly bring up “students’ boredom”. Despite this oddity, I told her that her response would be more likely to hit the spot because she tended to be more familiar with school things than sophisticated issues like governmental strategies or corporate ethics. Yet today, her mother interpreted my reply as praise, going nuts on seeing her daughter score only 22/30 in the writing section. Eh, what’s wrong?

Did it sound like I was giving praise? Could I estimate that she would score 28/30 judging from her test feedback without reading a single word from her test response? Did I say that she performed so well in everyday writing assignments that she would be bound for 29/30? Did you read my reviews after the two classes and comments on her writings?

Review #2 (after the second as well as the last class, right before her test)

1. unnatural collocations, illogical phrasing, and informal / non-academic language (which can be corrected on your own on second thoughts — so you’re advised to THINK TWICE before couching your words and ensure the logic and form are elegant and perfect);

2. a possible lack of familiarity with some sophisticated topics and a consequent lack of strong vocabulary related to the topic;

3. grammatical mistakes (conjunctions vs adverbs, correct connection of two sentences, transition devices, etc.);

4. organization of information for the integrated writing;

5. digression from the topic due to inconsistent development or due to a lack of insight into the topic (when running out of ideas you tend to write about other loosely related ideas);

6. weak awareness of grammatical mistakes, wording problems, and digression — you’re advised to be skeptical and grow wise to potential deficiencies in your writing.

Review #1 (after the first class)

1. unnatural collocations;

2. lack of familiarity with some sophisticated topics;

3. grammatical mistakes;

4. colloquial fragments, less formal diction;

5. topic sentences without a highlighted, compact point;

6. weak or light transition between sentences and between paragraphs;

7. organization of information for the integrated writing

So where did you get the message that I was ALWAYS fully satisfied with her writing?

She’s very young. She’s exerting herself under pressure. She’s too inexperienced to manage sophisticated topics well (She needs time to grow, so it’s not her fault). So I tried my best to get patient with her, to impose as little pressure as possible, and to simplify things that might baffle her. She made serious mistakes, and I helped correct them. She took it for granted that writing would improve only with the use of my instructions, omitting the fact that a good writing is not based on instructions per se but outstanding language skills and a good understanding of the topic as well as real-life instances. Over time, though in line with the instructions, her writings grew breezy and superficial. Later on, her writings couldn’t even reflect her learning, like she had never taken the two 2-hour sessions. She did quite well once her flaws were pointed out. So I decided to convey my instructions after class, at the expense of my spare time, so that she would save more time and costs. Nearly all the problems are mentioned directly or indirectly in my detailed reviews of her assignments. But did either of them carefully read what I’d written and follow it up? Is my being amiable and considerate to blame?!

Recently I’ve realized I’m spending more time and energy than ever handling issues irrelevant to academic studies. My role as an educator has been reduced to aftercare provision: a Steve Jobs working part-time as an Apple Genius and putting off the iPhone era longer than twenty years. So dear moms and dads, would you please read my reviews carefully before coming up with constructive questions? I’d appreaciate your cooperation.

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