There are teachers who believe that Words in Progress for VWO is too difficult for their VWO (pre-university) students.
Admittedly, Words in Progress is not an easy vocabulary builder, but do we actually need an easy vocabulary builder? The following may explain why not.
The maximum score for the VWO national exam English reading comprehension of 2017 was 48. Students who scored 48 points got a 10 (starred A). By the way, few and far between. A score of 22 is (still) a pass. This means that a (very weak) student with this grade (5,6 on a scale of 1-10) can be happy with the result, even if fewer than half the questions have been correctly answered. The average national score for a 6 was probably 26. This is much too low. One may very well wonder how much students with this score understood of what they had read.
What can explain this low score? Are the VWO exams too difficult, or are there other reasons why students make so many mistakes?
Without a hammer, nails, a saw, etc. a carpenter cannot be expected to put together a bookcase successfully. Students also need tools to do well in a reading comprehension exam. In my opinion the tools they need are a vocabulary that is in line with what they can expect at their final exams and sentences on a level similar to sentences in exam work.
The following quotes from exam work may, hopefully, convince you:
From VWO 2017, 1st period:
- One of the worst cases of human subject abuse was perpetrated by American scientists who, between 1931 and 1972, misled hundreds of black people with syphilis in Tuskegee, Alabama, by deliberately leaving them untreated to enable researchers to study the progression of the disease.
- For the scientist grade you will have a PhD or have a minimum of three years postgraduate research experience and experience with publishing research in scientific journals.
From VWO 2013, 2nd period:
- The assumption that depression is a disease has been reinforced and perpetuated by biologists, psychiatrists and pharmaceutical companies, all of whom have a vested interest – consciously or unconsciously – in the clinical perspective.
- One cognitive symptom of depression might be the loss of self-enhancing biases that normally protect healthy people against assaults to confidence in their abilities.
I would like to make two observations here:
- The above sentences are more difficult than most of the sentences you will find in Words in Progress.
- The words in bold type belong to the 3,000 words that students can put in blanks in Words in Progress.
In 2016 I was invited to teach four exam classes (2x HAVO and 2x VWO, so GCSE level and pre-university level) in my old school as a supply teacher. During four months prior to their final exams we worked intensively with the rough draft of Words in Progress. For HAVO I used a simpler version. On a scale of 1-10 the average grade for the reading comprehension exam for my VWO students was 7 and my HAVO students even scored an average of 7,5. Three of my VWO students, who had started out with very bad grades (4 and lower), scored passes at the exam.
Isn’t it high time we prepared our students for their exams properly and gave them the tools they need? After all, we don’t expect our carpenters to hammer in nails with their bare hands, either.
A challenge: yes; too difficult: definitely not!