Monday, November 12, 2012

Naar mijn toets

I’ve been laying into the Dutch lessons over the past week.  There’s not really any expectation that I can pass the NT2-I test, but I’m going to give it my best effort. 

In some ways, it reminds me taking the driving test when I was 16.  I aced the written part, but the road test was pretty grim first time out.  I signaled wrong, hit the curb parking, generally got flustered and defensive in traffic.  The second time was almost perfect, ‘third was the charm.

We are allowed three tries at the Dutch Proficiency exam each year, so there’s similar stakes here.  Pass what I can, get acquainted with the routine, be properly ready the next time around.   So, Day 1 (schriven, spreken) rolled in today.  And, as with the driver’s test, it was mostly good, only partly disastrous.

The test is administered at an exam center across from the Eindhoven rail station.  Check-in was gratifyingly straightforward: join the right line and get a locker for your computer and mobile phone, then wait to be called.  There were lots of trashy pulp magazines in Dutch to read.   There were also a lot of students, mostly for the inburgering exam, overwhelmingly female, middle-aged, scarved, and optimistic.  I suspect that most prepared more single-mindedly than I did.

Again, I regretted that I was among the four taking the NTT2-I exam and not the A2 as I should have. 

Next time…the right test.

We got called in at 10 to begin the writing test.  There were two sub-tests, each an hour long with a 10 minute break between. I was surprised that both a Dutch and Dutch/English dictionary were allowed.  The proctor spoke flawlessly clear Dutch – I understood every word.  Confidence was building

The first test was short answer, most of the 13 questions were relentlessly focused on finding and holding a job.  Write an email to a colleague, explain an absence, send advice to the director, ask a neighbor to *please* give her cat to the vet next time she goes on vacation.

The second test was essay: only three questions.  Sort out a vacation schedule where everyone gets three weeks off in summer but there must be two people I the store at all times (I was still marveling that there was a mandatory three weeks) .  Write an article for the newspaper about your work as an animal keeper (using all of the pictures), telling what you find best, worst, and most interesting about your job.  Explain to the director why you are too busy to finish your work (using the pictures) and propose a solution.

The nice thing about the writing test was that I was actually pretty close to being able to do it.

Not so the 1-hour speaking test an hour later.

I expected that we’d be asked to parrot sentences: instead we were given 13 short and 10 long scenarios.  Each had a question followed by 20-40 seconds to respond.  I understood the scenario and the question without a problem, but framing and composing an answer was completely beyond me in 20 seconds.

Helplessly, question after question streamed by.  I was acutely aware of the woman behind me speaking and the proctors listening.  I was failing big-time. 

So, as it ended I took off the headphones and said “I quit”, and got up to leave.  The proctor struggled, in Dutch, to tell me to stay and put the headphones back on.  I struggled, in English, to say I’d had enough and was out of here.

I had thought that the lady behind the desk with headphones was getting ready to have conversations.  It turned out that they were only asking me to check that my name had been properly recorded.

I was completely freaked and only wanted *out*.  Nu.

In the end, we sorted it (in Dutch), but I was upset with myself and with the whole process.   It’s clear where my future study has to focus: korte vragen en antwoorden.

Two more tests tomorrow: lezen en luisteren.  Those should be fine, fingers crossed that I don’t do something foolish.


I have to reflect that, as Americans, we have absolutely no idea of what it means to be an immigrant.  And that’s ironic for a nation that was founded on the idea.

And it’s damn hard sometimes.

At least I have my 2013 IND process complete, and (during the lunch break) got my new residence card in hand.


Jules: said...

Wanted to leave you with a few hints for the writing and speaking sections: Just go down the list of points they say you must address. Don't try to embellish, don't write anything more than what's absolutely necessary to answer the question. A gramatically-correct writing section that sounds like a 2-year-old wrote will earn you more points than a scholarly dissertation with "er" in the wrong place. Ditto for the speaking section. When I did the writing section, I did it twice--writing down the first thing that came to my head on the scrap paper they provided, and then again on the answer sheet, correcting for grammar if needed, and this was even for the long essay.

Good luck with your exams!

David Hampton said...

Thanks, Jules, the Reading was pretty easy this morning, now just Listening is left (in an hour).

I absolutely agree (in hindsight) that this comes down to strategy, not proficiency. I had little idea of what I was in for with Speaking, so was wholly blindsided / panicked. I was, indeed, trying to think like an adult when, as you say, playing it simple and safe was needed. Using the scratch paper is also a good idea, I was having to cross out errors in conjugation and word selection on the fly.

I'm actually feeling closer than I expected to something I don't actually need, and that creates a new dilemma.

My temptation is to go for the NT-1, prove to myself that I can do it and get proficient. That is arguably stupid if all I have to do, the safe and necessary choice is to simply pass the Korte Vrijstellingstoets.

Thanks! I'll keep you posted.