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English test over phone draws criticism in Shanghai
( 2003-11-07 10:10) (english.peopledaily.com.cn)

A new English-language testing service has teamed up with Shanghai's most authoritative examination center to make taking an oral English exam as easy as making a phone call.

Critics, however, question how useful the test is and suggest it would be easy for students to fool by having fluent friends take the exam for them.

The system is very easy to use and much quicker to score than current English tests.

Students simply dial a phone number and talk into the phone in English according to instructions that ask them to repeat a sentence or answer a question.

Minutes later they can look up their score on an associated website.

Advocates of the test say it is a highly efficient and accurate testing method, saving energy for both test takers and givers.

Using the Phone Pass SET system, it takes about 10 minutes to complete the examination. Voices are recorded through the telephone, digitized and passed to the test center's terminal database. After the data was evaluated by both computer programs and human experts, the system will score the answer in terms of pronunciation, fluency, vocabulary and sentence mastery.

According to Lionel Xu, general manager of the United Education, the test's developer, phone exams have been widely adopted abroad, especially for large-scale examinations.

He said the system worked efficiently for selecting volunteers for the 2002 World Cup and hopes it can be adopted for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 World Expo.

Shanghai Foreign Language Testing Service, the most authoritative exam service in the city, is also glad to make the system available to test takers.

The service expects to sign a deal with United Education in a few months to use the test for university graduates in the city, replacing the old CET exam. It could also be used in the future as part of the national university entrance exam.

When the service center, which is associated with Shanghai International Studies University, gives about 100,000 students oral English tests as part of the entrance exam, the university has to suspend classes for two days and recruit all of its English teachers to evaluate test takers.

"If we adopt the phone test system, the school's operation won't be interfered with," test service director Cai Mingjiong said.

However, the credibility of the test has been challenged.

"Since it is impossible to testify the examinees' identity from their voice, what if examinees employ a substitute to take the test for them?" asked Judy Wang, a local human resource manager.

Also, as the system is so new some students worry it might not be accepted by local human resource managers.

"It will be of little help in finding a job," said Aire Hu, a local university student.

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