The Grade 6 Exam
Just a quick note on the reader submission about the Grade 6 exam, while I am sure the reader is frustrated I would hardly describe the Grade 6 exam as useless. While he claims otherwise, it seems to be his frustration in failing the exam that caused
him to write to you complaining about how useless it is.
In 1998, I sat and passed the Grade 6. I spent the month of August studying to improve my Thai skills, primarily my writing and reading skills. Up until this point I had lived in Thailand for around 18 months and spent most of my time outside of Bangkok. My speaking/listening skills were reasonably good, but I knew unless I improved my reading and writing skills my Thai would never really progress. While the school was pushing me to study for the Grade 6 exam, I wasn't that keen on it and just wanted to improve my reading and writing skills. Nevertheless, the book I was studying from was aimed at people studying for the Grade 6 exam, but I found this useful anyway as each day there was a different topic about Thailand (Thai culture, Thai family etc). I found this helped my overall writing and reading as well as gaining a better insight into the culture generally. I also picked up a lot of vocab along the way. In the last week of study, I decided that while I was at it, it wouldn't do any harm to practice writing a few letters and to study specifically for the exam. Then, I put the books aside until the night before the exam – I am not saying this to boast, but I am a clear example that you can pass the test if your general Thai language skills are good and that it is not simply a memorisation / rote learning test.
I often hear people complain that it doesn't test your ability to communicate in Thai, but that is not the purpose of the test. The test is the Grade 6 exam and it is meant to be the same test that Thai Grade 6 students take. This is all clearly laid out in advance when you go to register for the test. Nevertheless, your speaking / pronunciation and listening skills are also tested, so it is not completely one-dimensional. A test of spoken Thai would be difficult to administer as it would necessarily have to be limited to selected topics. From having studied languages at high school and university, for reasons of fairness to all students any kind of spoken test would have to be limited to role-playing and, talking about whatever you wanted or as having studied a language at university, I think you will find spoken tests are also partly about memorising stock phrases as well.
People also complain that it is all about rote learning, I can't see how this is possible as I didn't study that much for the test, it was my general Thai language skills which got me through. I don't see how you could memorise the dictation test, the multiple-choice part, and the pronunciation part. While the letter writing part is really just rote memorisation, it is writing a letter, how hard can it be? You practice a few times and that is about it.
Writing an essay in 40 minutes is also a test of your Thai skills and your ability to think quickly in Thai. I talked with some Japanese students while waiting for the pronunciation part of the test and could clearly see the students who were going to struggle. They could barely string sentences together and did abysmally in the pronunciation part, I can't see how they could possibly have passed the essay question as if they could not think in Thai quickly, how could they possibly write a decent essay (I am going from memory, but I swear when I did the test we didn't know the essay topics in advance so I don't really see how rote memorisation is possible). They would be lucky to end up with half a page. Other Japanese students could also speak reasonably well and while even their answers to simple questions sounded like a robot, I had no problems in communicating with them.
I wouldn't describe the test as being completely useless. I listed it on my CV and all 3 employers I worked for were impressed by it and saw it as evidence of my ability to read and understand Thai. I remember at one job interviewing Thais for a high-level position as my employer wanted me to test the candidate's spoken English. All of the candidates had listed they spoke English fluently or had excellent English skills, but their English skills varied from the completely abysmal to excellent. If you pass the Grade 6 exam, it would signify that you have attained a certain level of Thai – for reading, writing, and listening. I think testing speaking is difficult and extremely subjective so I am not surprised that there is little emphasis.
We don't hear so much about the test these days…which I guess means only small numbers of people are doing it.