Volume 14, Number 13
December 25, 2007

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This Week

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Observations From the Edge

onur çelikThe One Exam to Rule Them All

I just found out a couple of days ago that I don't know English. After all these years of formal and informal language education, I assumed that I had at least got the basics down and would be considered able, if not a maestro. Turns out I'm wrong. I am expected to prove myself yet again and accept the higher will of the most proficient of all proficiency exams - TOEFL. The unofficial long form for it, suggested by credible sources such as the Urban Dictionary, is “The Optimum Elimination of Foreign Learners.” It's the ultimate exam, handmade and weaved to perfection by the best team of dedicated linguists on Planet Earth. A non-profit corporation organizes it, as reflected in the budget, which is only a few billion dollars. The exam is so integrated within the lives of non-native learners that there is most definitely a subculture/industry formed around it. There are preparatory courses, study material, fan sites, magazines and even gift shops featuring it as their theme. I bet World TOEFL Day is not far off into the future.

Don't get me wrong, I'm eternally grateful to ETS for providing us foreigners with an opportunity to prove our worth to the English speaking world. I feel a sense of identity within the community of millions who have experienced the epiphany and found the light thanks to it. I hold it as a privilege to be packed like a sardine into a room that is barely air-conditioned. It is such a beautiful sentiment to be submerged in that cool, calm feeling of having to listen and answer questions in an environment where one can't even hear his own thoughts. The exam has won many awards by highly recognized institutions and has been named the most fun exam within academically acceptable limits. It is not only more fun than the most kick-ass Disneyland roller coaster, but it also costs slightly less, and is much more educational as it teaches you how to use a computer. I completely fail to understand why on earth people would object to such a marvel of pedagogical science? Some claim that the nature of the exam makes it possible for a person with a GPA of 5 out of 4, and a CV longer and more literary than the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy to get a lower score than a rabid gorilla. I heartily disagree.

Seriously y'all, stop for a second and consider the alternative. What would happen in a world without a centralized proficiency exam? It would be utter and eternal chaos, I tell ya! How would institutions know that the applicant who got all those awesome grades and wrote that so skillfully crafted application essay didn't just make their success story up? There would no longer be a basis for assessment, and anyone with decent language skills could attend prestigious universities! Thousands of people who prepare and grade both the exams and the people taking it would be left unemployed! The world economy would crumble and collapse without the donations ETS gathers from the applicants. Riots would follow! Reality would become hollow!

Sorry folks, but because my score is no longer valid (In two years, I have forgotten all the English I once knew), it looks like Bilkent News may have to replace me with a TOEFL (all caps for no reason) certificated monkey from Madagascar. Let's hope they'll have more faith in a literature student than the infinite monkey theorem.

Onur Çelik (AMER/II)
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