Sunday, May 5, 2013

Two weeks away

My test date is fast approaching.  I am honestly not sure how I feel about the test.  I am incredibly ready to be done with German class, but I am not sure whether or not I will actually pass.  Although most of my foreign service readership already knows what the test is all about, this is for those who have no idea.

My position is designated at 3/3 - which means I need to reach the '3' level in both speaking and reading.  The 3 level is generally called the 'professional working proficiency' level, and requires that I be able to speak proficiently within my field and generally, but not necessarily in someone else's field (say medicine).  For more information on the rating scales, see Wikipedia.  In addition to the 5 basic levels, FSI may also issue pluses, such as a 2+ or 3+.  What this means, generally, is that the person reaches the next highest level some of the time, but not all of the time.  To get a 3 score, I need to be at the 3 level almost the entire time with very few or no dips below that level.  THIS is what I worry  about.  I know that I am capable of speaking and reading at the 3, but I don't know if I can consistently maintain it for the whole test.

So what is the test like?  During the test, there are two testers, at least one of whom is a native German speaker.  The native speaker will only communicate with you in German, while the other tester will only communicate with you in English.  The English speaker will provide all instructions and most of the speaking will be with the native speaker.

The test is broken into two main parts - speaking and reading - and each of those parts is subsequently broken into smaller sub-parts.  The speaking portion of the test is generally first and begins with small talk.  The testers are generally feeling out the speakers language skills during this session so that they can tailor the testing levels to the student's skill level.  This is especially important for student's who have not learned the language at FSI.

After the small talk is over, the examiners provide up to five prompts for the 'Speaking-at-length' portion of the exam.  The student has a minute to decide on which subject they speak about.  Generally these subjects require the student to explain something about their country or culture.  Subjects could include the school system, family life, environmental policy, gun rights, the immigration debate, or that old FSI favorite - nuclear non-proliferation (Nichtverbreitung von Atomwaffen auf Deutsch).  The student then has five minutes to prepare a 5-7 minute presentation on the subject.  The presentation should be structured and have an intro, body, conclusion, etc.  The hardest part is often just figuring out something intelligent to say, especially for someone like me who wants to make a convincing strong argument in any language.  But as one teacher stated, it is better to sound like a fluent idiot than a stumbling and bumbling savant.

The final sub-part of the speaking test is the interview.  During this section, the student will pick a topic from up to five options and then interview the native speaker about that subject.  Every so often, the student should report back to the other examiner (in English) what has been said.  I find this part of the exam to be extremely difficult because I struggle to interrupt the native speaker.  They are encouraged to just keep talking and talking until we make them stop, so it can be very hard.  They will also absolutely, unequivocally state something that you don't understand.  Our job is to clarify with them what they said before reporting back.

The reading test is a bit different.  First, they will give you one page with six very small snippets of text on them.  These texts vary greatly in their difficulty.  Some will be easily read and others may be excerpts from Faust or some poem.  My understanding of these texts will help the testers determine what level texts I will be offered for the longer reading.  Again this is very important for students who did not learn the language at FSI.  In my case, they will likely give a '3' level text regardless of how I do on the first part.  The longer reading is typically about a page or two and is often a newspaper article.  For the first reading, they will give me five options and I will select one of the five.  They will then pick one of the remaining four for my second reading.  I have seven minutes to read the text and then will explain to them, in English, what it says.

After all that, I get my score.  If I manage to earn my 3/3, then I packout the next week and leave for Germany on June 5.  If I fail, then I will have at least four more weeks of German before I can test again.  I really don't want to fail.

Scheduled myself to run a 10k race before I leave for Germany.  Having races and goals is key to my running and weight loss goals.  As I am about done with my time in DC, how have I done with my goals.

Original statistics - Current Statistics
Weight - 285 lbs - 233 lbs (52 lbs down)
Pant size - 42x30 (which are a bit tight) - 38x29 (but these are now loose on me, so would likely buy 36x29 if I were to buy more new pants)
Longest run without stopping: 90 seconds - 4.8 miles in about 55 minutes

  1. Complete the Couch to 5k app by October 1, 2012 - done
  2. Run a 5k race (fall 2012) - done
  3. Join some intramural sports league of some sort (fall 2012) - did not do
  4. Complete a 10k race (Spring 2013) - ran 8k and 10 mile races, 10k scheduled
  5. Lose 30 lbs before Katie's Wedding (November 24, 2012).  Note - if I have not met this goal on my own, I will begin using weight watchers.  Met this goal late, having lost 30 lbs by New Year's Eve
  6. Lose 60 lbs before I go to Germany (May 2013) - currently 8 lbs away, but will likely not meet this goal (unless I fail my test)
  7. Lose two pant sizes (38x30) before I go to Germany - exceeded
  8. Complete a marathon in Europe - I have been looking at this possibility.  I think I want to do a half marathon this year and then prep for a full marathon in 2014, but I may change my mind and try to do it this year depending on the training requirements and my free time in Germany.  
  9. Do 100 sit-ups in 10 minutes - Never even started this
  10. Weigh less than 200 lbs.  (This really doesn't seem like a possibility for me.  I have weighed at least 200 lbs. since I was in junior high.  Even when I lost all that weight in Italy, I barely made it to 220 lbs.    But the upper range of a healthy weight for my range is 179 lbs.) - This is still my goal, but it will take a while.
  11. Ask at least one girl out per month (not really a weight loss goal, but still important.  Also, can be the same girl more than one month if I have a girlfriend).  Sadly, I haven't asked any girls out since October, but that's because one girl keeps foolishly seeing me.  =)

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