Example 26

Purpose of the material and target learners

The website Reading in English: get ready for the National Testing is meant to help high-school students in Belarus who will take the test of English for applying at higher education establishments. The learners generally have an intermediate level of English and are 16-17 year-old high school students. The before-mentioned test includes 60 questions, 15 of which are concerned with candidates’ reading comprehension: that is a quarter of the test which is a significant part of the final mark. Hence, the purpose of the website is to improve students’ reading comprehension and help students acquire necessary skills for succeeding in the test.

From the experience as a test-taker in the past, I must say that reading comprehension texts and questions represented the biggest difficulty to me when I took the test in 2006. Unfortunately, secondary school curriculum of EFL in Belarus does not aim at the comprehension on higher level which I observed when analysing practice test materials presented in preparation literature (Centralised testing. The English language: collection of tests 2013). Whilst school programme of reading comprehension focuses on students’ ability to identify the topic and the main idea and find specific information explicitly stated in the text, the questions of the test aim at students’ ability to deduce author’s opinion on the topic, identify the main idea of each paragraph, define meanings of unknown words from the context and find specific information not explicitly stated in text. It is clear that reading comprehension practice that students receive at school is unsufficient for the types of questions presented in the test. School programme does not develop higher levels of thinking required for successful completion of this examination: whilst the school provides practice of the memory, and sometimes translation, categories of thinking, the test tasks require thinking at the interpretation level (Adams Smith, 1981). Adams Smith (1981) defines memory and translation questions as lower-level questions, where students need to recognise the information in the text or remember what they read, whilst interpretation questions involve defining relationships among facts within a text, generalise upon what is said, create definitions and identify values given to the presented information.

Another difficulty lies in the type of the texts used for the test tasks: if at school students mainly work with descriptive and narrative texts based on factual information, where the author's presence is minimal or absent, the test consists of texts based on personal experiences of the author. They are often presented in form of essay and include arguments, judgement and evaluation on author’s behalf.

The necessity of creating a resource that will help students get ready for the test in its reading comprehension part is evident, as no such training is available at schools, students might not be aware of the skills necessary for answering the questions and might not have any preparation tools apart from doing practice tests. The website will help students develop these skills autonomously and work at their own pace.