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Take A New Test Aimed At The World's English-Language Learners

English-language students in China practice their blackboard skills. China Photos/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption China Photos/Getty Images

English-language students in China practice their blackboard skills.

China Photos/Getty Images

It's tuff to master English. It's even tough for people born in America, who (or whom?) are often confused by too/to/two many konfusing things.

So you can only imagine how tough it is for non-English speakers trying to learn the tongue.

As these nonnative speakers struggle, they want to know how they're doing. And now there's a new way to find out. EF Education First, a Swiss education company, noticed that its students wanted an inexpensive, standardized way to test their knowledge before paying for official language tests for university admissions. In response, the company has released its own free, online standardized test.

According to the above paragraph, what demands does the test meet?

A) There's no cost for taking the test.

B) It is available on the Internet.

C) It is standardized.

D) All of the above

The answer is D) All of the above. (Isn't it always?)

There are an estimated 1.5 billion English-language learners in the world, and that number is expected to exceed 2 billion by the end of the decade. The EF Standard English Test, or EFSET, hopes to provide this group with a self-assessment tool.

Gary Cook, the research director at WIDA, which creates official tests for English as a Second Language programs, thinks a free English proficiency test will be welcome, especially in low-income countries.

"Other tests can cost almost what someone makes a year in some countries," says Cook. The range is $150 to $600.

All that's needed is a smartphone to take the test, Cook notes. "And if you can provide proof of your language skills, that opens doors for graduate schools and employment."

This test isn't yet ready to be used for such official purposes, though it is scored according to international language standards. An online, self-administered test leaves a lot of room for cheating, so for now the company advertises it mainly as a self-assessment tool.

Wondering how your English skills stack up? You can take the hourlong test online. Or try this excerpt, which is ranked as "medium" difficulty. Be forewarned: A spokeswoman for the company says that even a fluent English speaker might not get all the answers right.

Passage A

The writer Roald Dahl was born in 1916, in Wales to Norwegian parents. When he was growing up, he used to love to listen to his mother's stories from her home country. As a young man, he served in the British Royal Air Force during World War II. He became an expert pilot but suffered terrible injuries in a crash. However, he managed to make a full recovery and, amazingly, return to the skies. After the war, Dahl became famous by writing books for both children and adults; he became one of the world's best-selling and most influential authors. His short stories are known for their unexpected endings, and his children's books for their unsentimental, often very dark humor. Many of his stories have also been made into films, although with varying degrees of success. By the time of his death, in 1990, his talent had brought him international recognition and great wealth.

Passage B

One of my favorite authors has always been Roald Dahl, who was born in Wales almost 100 years ago. When I was a child I loved his stories for many reasons, though mainly because they could be quite frightening while also making me laugh. I think he must have enjoyed scaring children! In fact, he wrote lots of terrifying stories for adults too. As an author myself, it is always interesting to see where great writers find some of their inspiration. According to Dahl, his Norwegian mother had an amazing memory and was a great story-teller; although Dahl himself was born and brought up in the UK, he loved nothing better than listening to his mother's stories from her homeland. Apparently, she inspired the character of the grandmother in his famous book, The Witches, which was also adapted into a successful movie. Although he died over 20 years ago, his distinctive style is still imitated in children's literature written today.

Choose which passage supports the following sentences.

1. The author thinks that Roald Dahl was a brave man

a. Passage A

b. Passage B

c. Both Passages

d. Neither Passage

2. The author states that Roald Dahl's work is funny.

a. Passage A

b. Passage B

c. Both Passages

d. Neither Passage

3. The author states that Roald Dahl used stories from Norway in his books for children.

a. Passage A

b. Passage B

c. Both Passages

d. Neither Passage

4. The author thinks Roald Dahl's books are better than their movie adaptations.

a. Passage A

b. Passage B

c. Both Passages

d. Neither Passage

5. The author focuses on Roald Dahl's life.

a. Passage A

b. Passage B

c. Both Passages

d. Neither Passage

6. The author focuses on Roald Dahl's writing.

a. Passage A

b. Passage B

c. Both Passages

d. Neither Passage

The answers (No cheating!)

1=A, 2=C, 3=D, 4=A, 5=A, 6=B

P.S. If you don't agree with the answers, don't blame us. Debate amongst yourselves in the comments!

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