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Face Five Ready

November 10, 2011

This grade 10 English as a First Additional Language test is disturbing and I feel like I need to say it because no one else will.

This test was administered in just about every secondary school in the Limpopo province a week or two ago. The above photo is what appears to be a magazine or a newspaper ad for some skincare product marketed to the Grade 10 demographic. I had considered editing out the product’s name in this photo so I don’t do it the favor of giving it extra publicity, but I decided taking the shot from a distance of three feet or so works just as well. “What is the name of the product?” is, in fact, a question on the test, and it really isn’t easy to tell, because the name is printed so dark that it’s really hard to read in black ink on blue paper. (I’ll give you a hint: it’s not “skin fix”.)

I can only speculate how such obvious product placement made it into an end-of-the-year test, something that can mean the difference between passing and repeating the grade for all these learners who take it. Maybe the department’s test writer was up against the deadline, so he just copied an ad from a newspaper and tried to pass it off as test material. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that he owns stock in this company and/or they gave him fifty head of cattle just as a personal gift. Like I said, I’m just speculating. But I do know for sure that this department is the same department that was two months late in supplying furniture for PCVs to live with, and that hasn’t paid our host families a single bent Rand for hosting us despite their contract to pay them every month.

I’m not saying it’s criminal for an ad to be the subject of an English test. Analyzing advertisements and distinguishing hype from facts is a valuable skill. But this is just all hype. For instance, one of the questions is to explain the repeated use of the word “new” in the ad. Suggested answers: Your skin will become new, or if you’ve tried it before, try it again because it’s new. Answer I would have given/would accept/am accepting as I grade this test: They’re trying to sell you something.

How about this one: “What is the expected answer to the line ‘Have any skin care questions?’” How people respond to rhetorical questions posed in newspaper ads may be an interesting topic in a psychology or philosophy class, but it’s inappropriate to suggest that this question has a definite yes or no answer in an English as a Second Language class. According to the memorandum, the answer is yes, and you address those questions by ignoring the contact info provided directly under the question and instead just buying the product. The correct answer as far as I’m concerned is no, because this is a South African school and learners will never answer such a vacuous yes or no question with yes because they’re taught not to ask questions and to just go along with everything.

If I’m right and someone paid something for this ad to run in the test, I don’t know what they hope to accomplish beyond brand recognition. It’s a final exam! No one will go over the correct answers with the learners!

The thing that really takes the cake is the question asking you to explain the slogan “GET FACE FIVE READY.” Well, I’m a native English speaker so I believe I can speak from a position of authority on this. It means absolutely nothing! It’s just a hollow alliteration, the kind of thing companies will say when they can’t think of a substantial slogan. The answer provided is that you should buy five products. On what planet does that make sense? There are ten products in the ad! It’s cruel to inflict this on these learners and their grades.

I wound up grading this test because the teacher was ill, and I’ve been giving learners full credit for questions that are totally bogus. I imagine if someone else had graded this, they would have just followed the memorandum. When I was given this to grade, I had to ask for a copy of the test because I wanted to see where the answers were coming from. Now I know.

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From → Observations

2 Comments
  1. I would give them full credit, too, because I wouldn’t know what else to do.

  2. Katherine Crosby permalink

    Ridiculous. I’m sure the standards are different there, allowing for some palm greasing along the way. But even disregarding the blatant sales agenda going on here, as an exam it’s useless. I think your critique is spot on, and as a teacher and native English speaker, you should share it with the source of that mess.

    But of course I’m a rabble rouser..

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