ECPE Changes Expected May 2013

At its heart a research university, over the course of its five decades in operation the University of Michigan’s English Language Institute has continually tried to improve its Examination for the Certificate of Proficiency in English (or ECPE exam). While its last major revision took place in 2009, its collaboration with Cambridge ESOL has led to further refinement of the exam’s structure, format, and assessment. Scheduled to be released for the 2013 exam cycle, the newly revised ECPE will still be calibrated to certify a C2 (Mastery) level of the Common European Framework of Reference with its “Can Do” statements. It will feature changes to a number of the existing sections and their components, prominent among these are the following:

  • Listening section, which will now offer a test booklet that will provide a written transcription of some questions that were previously asked only orally;
  • Writing section, which will remain unchanged in content but will be evaluated using a new 5-point writing scale;
  • Speaking section, which will feature an entirely new format to be released later,
  • Reading section, whose existing cloze passage of 1 section with 20 questions will be changed to two sections of shorter, independent, cloze passages of 10 questions each.

Moreover, the current option to take a pretest (ECPE Preliminary Exam) immediately prior to the ECPE Final exam will be discontinued. The last ECPE Preliminary Test will be issued in April 2012, to be replaced with the ECPE practice materials packet. The first practice materials packet will be made available for purchase in March 2013 but given the extent of these changes, updated sample versions of the ECPE test format will be made available online to teachers and test takers as early as January 2012.

Private Credential Evaluation Agency: Personal Account

When I was applying to schools in the USA, I was totally confused about how I could get my degrees and classes evaluated from my home country of India. I had a Bachelors degree from India and many universities in the United States (including NYU – which has it’s own international credential evaluation department) told me I had a minimum of 2 years worth of credits to complete before my Bachelors degree could even be considered as an equivalent of the American degree.

Like many countries east of the USA, my Bachelors degree was a 3 years program (as opposed to a US Bachelor’s degree which is typically a 4 year program) and I could make my peace with one additional year of credits, but 2 years seemed a little unfair (I kept going back into painful flashbacks of heavy, back breaking journals and long drawn out brain wracking lectures and to the victorious day of receiving my degree – which all seemed a tad bit worthless at this point). Luckily for me, a few other Universities directed me to Private Credential Evaluation Agencies who told me that one year is all I would need, if at all (now, this was my personal experience and may not apply to everyone.)

This sparked my interest and I tried to research into it further. Many Indian degrees are evaluated and eventually recognized as an American equivalent, especially Engineering degrees and I.T. degrees. While this will depend on your course load, it was good to know that some 3-year degree programs are also considered as an equivalent to the 4 year programs in the United States. Of course, a lot depends on the accreditation given to the particular foreign university you might have studied in –  the majority of these universities have an ‘A+’ or ‘A’ accreditation by the education board. I had the luck of my college being recognized in the list of ‘Autonomous Colleges’ that most Credential Evaluation Companies accept (this list may vary from company to company but most websites do display their list publically).

Changes to the UK Student Visa

New student visa restrictions may affect the student visa process used by international students studying in the UK. This April, the United Kingdom made changes to the UK student visa by eliminated its Tier I Post Study Work (PSW) visa. The new regulations came into effect on July 4th 2011 with more changes expected to be enacted in April 2012. Already the results are expected to be considerable and the UK Border Agency itself confirmed that changes in the student visa rules will likely result in fewer visa applications. This is because the Post Study Work visa, which currently allows non-EU foreign students to continue to live in the UK whether they were able to find work or not for up to two years after their graduation from a UK university, was enormously popular among job-seeking international students. The new announcement says, the post-study work route will close in April 2012 and the affects could be drastic. In fact, one source estimates that the new restrictions could see the number of international students studying to the UK (currently numbering 250,000 annually) drop by more than 50%.

Supporters of the changes to the UK Student Visa argue that the elimination of the Post Work Study visa was prompted by increasing levels of misuse of the system by private education providers in the UK. To further bolster these measures and clamp down on these abuses, a further measure passed in April mandated that the accreditation requirements used to evaluate public education providers be extended to private institutions, thereby ensuring that all eligible student visa sponsors meet the necessary level of excellence.

Other changes to the UK student visa will affect the process in other ways as well. Changes will soon be announced involving higher English language proficiency requirements for certain visa types and more restrictions on when and where students and their dependents can work while living in the UK.

TOEIC Bridge

Although the TOEIC is aimed primarily at working professionals with a high English proficiency, the Education Testing Service also administers a simpler version of its TOEIC exam which it refers to the TOEIC Bridge. The TOEIC Bridge is meant to measure the basic listening and reading English-language skills used in everyday situations by beginner- and intermediate-level speakers.

Although a relatively recent addition to the TOEIC portfolio, the TOEIC Bridge test is currently used by language schools, universities, and other institutions as a way to guide their placement decisions and also as a means to evaluate their English-language programs. Its influence continues to grow and in 2010, Chile used the exam as an official part of its nationwide SIMCE English test. According to the Ministry of Education, it used the TOEIC Bridge because the test is aligned with international standards for students learning English as a second language and allowed it to assess the level of knowledge of the nation’s students using an objective, reliable and internationally accepted tool.

In Chile or elsewhere, the structure of the exam is similar to the TOEIC Listening and Reading test and likewise uses a paper-and-pencil, multiple-choice test format. The test is divided into two sections, 1) Listening Skills and 2) Reading Comprehension.

1)      The Listening Skills section evaluates the listening comprehension abilities of non-native English speakers using 50 spoken questions delivered via audio cassette or CD over the course of 25 minutes.

2)      The Reading Comprehension section evaluates reading comprehension in English through the use of 50 written questions on a variety of topic over the course of 35 minutes.

The test is usually administered onsite by the schools and institutions who proctor the exam but occasionally official TOEIC testing centers may be used. Private individuals can  still sit for the exam by contacting their closest testing center.