TEM4-teacher advice

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Questions and Advice for Foreign Writing Teachers (in China)

related to the TEM-4 Exam

Posted here for writing teachers, by Michael Krigline, MA (2009); www.krigline.com.cn


(click "Writing Notes" to see my comments concerning the "notes" section of the TEM-4 test; click "Writing Essays" to see my comments concerning the "essay" section of the test) Click here to see sample TEM-4 essays

Click here for an exercise I created to help students practice writing topic-sentences and conclusions.


Upon discovering my web-page about the TEM4, several foreign colleagues have written with questions about the TEM-4 writing test. To help other writing teachers who are working to prepare students for this exam, I have decided to post some of my responses on line. –Michael (March 2009)


Questions: From the perspective of a native English-speaking teacher, it appears that the way my students write (which I wouldn’t call “academic writing”) will hurt their chances of passing the TEM-4 writing portion. My students over-use strange grammatical constructions and worn-out or clumsy phrases, claiming that this is the way they have been taught to write in English. I understand their dilemma: in order to pass the test, should they follow the advice of their Chinese English teachers, or try to write an essay the way native speakers expect English academic essays to be written? Who marks the papers, and what do you know about the grading process? How can I increase my students’ chances of success on this important test, without adding needless confusion?




            Many foreign English teachers struggle over these issues because there are no easy answers. However, I am convinced that if your students write an academic essay the way that native-speakers expect--that is, in the style shown on my website and in my writing textbook--it will improve their chances on the TEM-4.

            To support this conviction, I would point out that the biggest publisher of English textbooks in China (FLTRP) published Successful Writing because they felt it would help Chinese students. Secondly, they told me that the style I present is what is expected on standardized tests.

            It is true that some of our Chinese colleagues present other ideas and writing models to their students. For example, some teachers encourage students to memorize a basic essay “pattern.” They may do this to “help” weaker students, hoping that they can at least “pass” by reproducing a memorized set of vague sentences, and inserting the topic and related ideas here and there. Many Chinese colleagues also teach the students to use clichés (“every coin has two sides” and “a bright future”). Some teachers claim that those who grade standardized tests (like the TEM4 and CET6) look for those things, especially on the regional level. If this is true, then it is OK for students to include such things in their essays.

            I think that my Chinese colleagues should have a better understanding than I do about how the tests are marked. I’ve been told that the TEM-4 is not graded locally--it is marked by graders who don't do anything but grade those tests. Teachers have also told me that graders give only a few seconds to each essay, and therefore the key to success is a GOOD thesis statement, a good topic sentence for each paragraph, and an excellent concluding paragraph. In other words, it isn't the presence of "every coin has two sides" that will really help students to pass the TEM-4, it is good organization and grammatically correct English.

            But let me add a word of caution about basic writing skills. My experience shows that many Chinese students have never learned how to do fundamental things like writing a thesis statement, topic sentence or conclusion. Foreign teachers who are native-English-users have done this since we were in grade school, so it seems easy to write a topic sentence or conclusion, but this is FAR from easy for the English-learner who has never learned how. So, don’t underestimate the challenge involved! (Click here to go to an exercise I use to help students with some of these skills.)

           Students sometimes ask me how they should write essays, especially when taking a standardized test. They are torn between what they think former teachers have said and the “academic English” style that I present. Here is my advice to answer their concerns:

            "In my writing classes, I’ve presented the organizational style for a standard academic English essay. If you ever take the TOEFL or IELTS, you won't pass the writing section if you don't write this way. When you take a Chinese standardized test, well, the grader will be Chinese, so you should do what a Chinese grader expects. I encourage you to listen to your Chinese English teachers, and do what they say on these Chinese tests. But editors at FLTRP and my Chinese friends/colleagues at top Chinese universities tell me that the style I present [in my book and website], if combined with grammatically correct English, will get the best scores. If you don't learn to write a clear topic sentence and conclusion, then you are taking a big risk."

            Finally, when I taught sophomore writing at Northwestern Polytechnical University (西北工业大学) back in 2005, my students earned an average of 18.48 points (out of 25) on the TEM-4 writing section. The national average was only 15.41 points. The school was satisfied with these results. And while I know that some of my students were afraid to employ “my” style on the test, I feel confident that the students with the highest scores followed my advice and had learned to write good topic sentences and conclusions.

            If you are teaching academic writing in China, then you have your work cut out for you! But with the right tools and examples, your students can develop proficiency in using the standard academic English essay format.


Michael Krigline

Kunming Medical University




TEM-4 (or TEM4): Test for English Majors, level 4

CET-6 (or CET6): College English Test, level 6

--As I understand it, non-English majors must pass the CET-4 to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree; English majors must pass the TEM-4. Graduate students must pass the CET-6.


This resource was created for teachers under my understanding of "fair use" for educational resources.  

© 2009 Michael Krigline, all rights reserved. As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to print/copy it for personal or classroom use.

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