Introduction AEB (1)

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Introduction

The Multiple-Choice exercises for testing vocabulary and grammar skills published in this book are not new. They go back to the 1980s and 90s. They were conceived to accompany (a) the Fundamental Arabic Textbook, first published in 1982, and (b) partly, the Dialogues Textbook I: Words of Everyday Use, published in 1984.

I used them extensively with hundreds of students for nearly two decades, for homework as well as for exams, throughout my teaching years at the United Nations in Geneva (1976-1999). I obtained immediate and direct feedback and results.

At present, I put them, free of charge, among other different exercises and various applications, on my website for use by the thousands of Arabic learners - among other users of various pages on different subjects - from 174 countries, who have consulted my site up to now (September 2015). It is impressive to realize that so many people from all over the world are interested in studying the Arabic language.

Thanks to their success and widespread use, I have been encouraged to publish them in a book to make them available for everyone, independently of Internet access.

What is the origin of multiple-choice tests?

“Although E. L. Thorndike developed an early multiple choice test, Frederick J. Kelly was the first to use such items as part of a large scale assessment. While Director of the Training School at Kansas State Normal School (now Emporia State University) in 1915, he developed and administered the Kansas Silent Reading Test.  Multiple choice testing is particularly popular in the United States.”1

I admit that his multiple-choice method of testing is excellent for both the tester to obtain a fast evaluation, and for the tested to spare him time and energy by doing tests without exerting much effort.  It is also used for all sorts of assessment. However, for serious evaluation - because of the risk of it being taken perhaps as a mere guessing game - this method is not reliable, though it is widely used.

I sure appreciate it and do use it myself, but not exclusively, as in the case of this book. The learner is strongly advised not to simply check the appropriate word for filling the blank, but to rewrite the whole sentence and vowel it wholly. This is to make sure that the student knows and is mindful of what he/she is doing, as it would take only one single vowel to change the meaning of a word or a sentence, to make it mean something else or render it meaningless. Afterwards, the learner refers to the corrections. An example is provided in the section How to Use the Exercises. In this manner, the learner can study and do the exercises at will, independently, without the help of a teacher.

Why is voweling so important? If you ask a person to read aloud a text in English, you cannot tell whether the person understands the text or not. Whereas in Arabic, if a person reads the text right, and pronounces the ending of each word, this means he does understand the text, and knows grammar well.  Otherwise, he cannot read the text correctly. You do not have to ask him, as he has to assign the right vowel to each consonant of the non-voweled words, according to the context. Thus, you can test his/her vocabulary and grammar skills. A non-voweled word written the same way could have different meanings with different vowels. Take, for example the word QDR (as is written in Arabic with only consonants, i.e., without vowels). Les us investigate its different meanings with different vowels:

1. QaDaRa: to decide, to possess strength;
2.
QaD(D)aRa (with a double D, but written only with one D): to determine, to  estimate;
3. QaDR: extent, quantity;
4. QaDaR: fate, destiny;
5. QiDR: cooking pot, kettle.

When students do not do well in the test, they feel frustrated and complain about a subject they find difficult and complicated. I purposefully make them revise another subject we studied in the past. In the process of revising it, they say, "That is very easy and simple." I remind them that in the past they found it difficult and complicated. Therefore what they consider difficult and complicated in the present they will find easy and simple in the future. They agree and apply this finding to the study of other languages as well as to any action they undertake.

Some students take the tests to heart. They get upset when they make mistakes and encounter difficulties in doing the tests, no matter how much I reassure them that it is quite all right to make mistakes, as one learns from trial and error. They do not find my reassurance convincing. Yet, they may feel relieved for not being depreciated by the teacher. When I give back the corrected test, many a student says, regretfully, "I certainly must have made many mistakes, haven't I?” To counter the statement, I reply positively, "You may have made a few insignificant mistakes, but that is not important, in any case.  In fact, I focused on what you did right, not on what you did wrong."

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