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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Stages of Competence

A student wrote the following email to me concerning his March 2 TOEFL speaking score:
I've just received TOEFL score. I got 23 in speaking section, which is the highest ever. I can't understand this good result because I totally lost the first reason of SP3 due to listening problem. In addition, I'm not good at speaking in detail of SP6.
I think what is happening is that this guy is progressing through the Stages of Competence.

Stage 1: Unconscious incompetence.
When you start to do something, you are bad at it, but you don't even realize how bad you are. This is when someone says, "My first TOEFL score last month was 45, so I'll study every weekend this month, and get 110 next month." That's not realistic.

Stage 2: Conscious incompetence.
Then you get feedback on your strengths and weaknesses, and you become conscious of your incompetence. You become aware of what you need to do to get a better result.

Stage 3: Conscious competence.
The student above who wrote the above email to me has worked hard on his English, is strategically sound, has clear pronunciation, and has become pretty fluent (few hesitations). He has to focus when speaking English, but it sounds pretty good. He is aware of what he missed on task 3 and 6, and that's why he probably underestimated his performance.

It's a pattern I see every year. Whenever students say the TOEFL test (especially the listening section) was EASY, I don't believe them. It's never easy, they just weren't aware of their incompetence. But conversely, when people say the TOEFL test was DIFFICULT, scores often go up, and I believe that this is a sign that people are developing competence.

Please use English well!