[Chris Kerr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. pp. xi + 65. ¥1,470. ISBN: 978-0-521-74133-0; 978-0-521-74135-4.]
Cambridge University Press recently added Interchange Companion to the TOEIC to its Interchange product line. The textbook’s goal seems to be simply acquainting students with the format of the TOEIC. It consists of mini-TOEIC practice tests that are 20% the length of the TOEIC Listening and Reading test.Thereis not much practice either; level one and two each contain eight, 24-minute, practice tests, which can be given in the classroom or for independent study. Each practice test corresponds to two units from the third edition of Interchange. A few additional online materials, consisting of mp3 files of the student CD, vocabulary word lists, and lists of typical TOEIC question patterns, are available at <www.cambridge.org/elt/ic3/tcom>.
If teachers are only interested in acquainting their students with the TOEIC’s format and question types by having them take practice tests, then this textbook will suffice. However, having students take practice tests is an inefficient way to help them get a better TOEIC score and focusing on practice tests has been criticized by researchers (Falout, 2004). Saegusa (1985) reported that learners require about 100-200 hours of instruction, depending on their starting level, before they will achieve any meaningful improvement. The approximately three hours worth of material that make up the eight practice tests contained in the textbook obviously falls short of meeting that goal. Teachers and students must therefore be aware that completing this book will almost certainly not improve learner test scores in any statistically meaningful way. Furthermore, Trew (2006, pp. 7-8) points out, progress on the TOEIC requires a focus on linguistic skills especially: “familiarity with the different native speaking accents”, “natural English speech”, “conversational English”, and “vocabulary and grammatical understanding.”
Interchange Companion to the TOEIC Testdevelops almost none of these linguistic skills. It is unlikely the 75 minutes worth of practice listening questions contained on the accompanying student CD will really help students become familiar with the different accents spoken on the TOEIC. Nor is there any attempt to specifically teach students the ways that sounds change in naturally spoken English. Since the textbook uses the same topics as Interchange, it may help students in terms of conversational English. Finally, while some of the vocabulary and grammar tested in the textbook may overlap with the TOEIC, the author was limited by being forced to recycle the vocabulary and grammar covered in the practice tests from Interchange.
In addition to language competence, many researchers emphasize the need to teach test-taking skills (Falout, 2004; Trew, 2006). A unit that teaches tips and strategies is listed on the back cover of Interchange Companion to the TOEIC Test as one of its key features. This short introduction to test-taking strategies leaves much to be desired. When I first told my freshman university students to turn to the strategy unit, I saw a look of dread appear in their eyes. No wonder; the unit consists of two pages of dense, single-spaced text that will intimidate most low-level and intermediate learners. Also problematic is the fact that both levels one and two list the same 35 tips. There is no attempt to teach more advanced students the more complex test-taking strategies. The strategies themselves tend to be either obvious: “Before the conversation or talk begins, scan the questions so that you know what to listen for.”; or easy in theory but difficult in practice: “Don’t panic if there are words you do not understand. You can usually guess from the context” (p. xi). Apart from this list of tips and hints, the textbook contains nothing in the way of actually training learners to guess from context or other strategies like using time effectively or distinguishing distracters from correct answers.
If you are already using Interchange in your classroom and, for whatever reason, must also introduce your students to the basic format of the TOEIC then Interchange Companion to the TOEIC Test will probably suffice. Unfortunately, I feel that this textbook will do little to help learners improve their TOEIC scores as it fails to provide any systematic development of learner linguistic or test-taking skills. Teachers who are serious about helping students improve their TOEIC scores would do better to select a textbook designed to develop these essential skills.
Falout, J. (2004). Focused tasks to proceduralize TOEIC® learning strategies. Paper presented atThe Interface Between Interlanguage, Pragmatics and Assessment: Proceedings of the 3rd Annual JALT Pan-SIG Conference. May 22-23, 2004. Tokyo, Japan. [Online] Available: jalt.org/pansig/2004/HTML/Falout.htm
Saegusa, Y. (1985). Prediction of English proficiency progress. Musashino English and American Literature, 18, 165-185.
Trew, G. (2006). A teacher’s guide to TOEICListening and Reading Test:
Preparing your students for success. Tokyo: Oxford University Press. [Online] Available: http://www.oupjapan.co.jp/teachers/media/tebiki_06en_toeicguide.pdf