If you want to take a test to prove your level or check your progress, look no further than the Vietnamese Language Proficiency Test run by the Vietnamese Department of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City.
Before I took the level A test (Chứng Chỉ A) in February 2013, I searched the internet for information but didn’t find anything. Now I’ve taken the test, here is my lowdown.
Background: Though I started learning Vietnamese elsewhere, I studied all of the second elementary book, VSL2, at the University. I did not take the school’s Test Preparation class.
Let’s start with the facts. There are 5 sections: Listening, Grammar & Vocabulary, Reading, Writing and Speaking – in that order. Each is worth 20 marks so the whole test is out of 100. Each section has a different exam paper and will be collected in at the end of that time period (eg. they take all the question and answer papers for Listening before they distribute the Grammar & Vocab papers).
There are 20 questions divided up into three sections.
The first section has 10 questions. There is a pause between each question.
The second and third sections have 5 questions each. They have a single dialogue which contains all the answers.
On the exam paper you only have the options: a-d. There are no questions on the exam paper. Instead the recording is played once, then the questions are read out. The recording and question are then played a second time.
Grammar & Vocabulary
There are 60 questions to answer in 30 minutes.
The questions have a sentence with a missing word and you have to choose the correct word from options a-d.
If you have studied at the university, this question format will be familiar from the end of course tests.
There are 4 short texts, each with 5 questions.
The questions range from choosing the best title, testing comprehension of the text and testing understanding of particular words or phrases. (Again there are some similarities with the Department’s end of course tests.) Again it’s multiple choice with options a-d.
The texts were varied in topic: from something about mangoes in Vietnam to a piece on learning English.
After this there was a 5 minute break. Then it was time for…
The writing paper consisted of two sections, each worth 10 marks.
The first section had three parts: 5 questions where you had to write a sentence using a particular grammar structure. 5 questions where you’re given the start of a sentence and you have to finish it. 5 questions where you are given the answer and you have to write the question to go with that answer.
The second section was free writing. You choose one of two topics and aim to write
about 150 200 words (as of October 2014).
Everyone then left the examination room and the invigilators called people in 4 at a time.
When your group gets called in you choose a slip of paper with a question on it. You then are given a short time to prepare, then one candidate is called to sit in front of the examiners and speak about their question and topic while the other students wait. You can leave after you’ve finished, you don’t need to wait for the rest of the group.
When you choose the paper with a question, you are allowed to change it – but only once! (Edit October 2014: This no longer seems to be the case.)
When you are called up, you read out your question then answer it. The examiners will have follow up questions on the same topic (eg. if you were asked to describe your job, the following questions will be related to work).
That’s it! Finally the test is over.
My personal thoughts on the test
Though I did well in the Elementary level courses I took at the University and would say I knew the content of those courses fairly well, I found this test a little difficult. Another learner I spoke to after the test said the same.
Listening is usually one of my best skills but not being provided the questions until after you’ve listened to the material was bizarre. How do can we know whether to choose a, b, c or d when we don’t know what the question is??
I felt time pressure in the Grammar & Vocabulary section. For the questions I wasn’t sure about, I didn’t have time to dwell on them and either quickly guessed an answer or, when I thought I might remember something useful later, made a note on my paper to come back to them if I had time later.
I had to wait a long time to be called in for the speaking test – be prepared to hang around for up to an hour.
Aside from the strange format of the listening section, this seemed like a fairly thorough test. When doing the test, I could feel the morning dragging on and I struggled to concentrate towards the end (it’s been a long time since I’ve done a 3-hour-long exam). I’m not sure if I’ll do another test there again.
For more info…
- You can read the times, registration requirements and other basic details on VNU’s Vietnamese department website.
- Some exercises at the ‘A’ level can be found here, though they are not necessarily the same style as the exam.
Over to you: Have you taken a language proficiency test? Got any tips to share? Are you studying for one now? Tell us in the comments!