No retest despite complaints about N-level listening comprehension audio quality: SEAB

Nearly 1,400 people have signed a petition on petition platform website change.org calling for the examination to be repeated.
Nearly 1,400 people have signed a petition on petition platform website change.org calling for the examination to be repeated.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - N-level students who took the English listening comprehension examination on Monday (Sept 13) will not get to re-sit the exam despite negative public feedback on the audio quality.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) said on Saturday (Sept 18) that it was aware of feedback relating to the audibility of the national examination and the accents of those reading the GCE Normal (Academic) Level English Language Listening Comprehension examination.

More than 1,400 people have signed a petition on the Change.org petition website calling for the examination to be repeated for reasons including a muffled soundtrack and strong accents.

N-level exam results determine whether a Secondary 4 student can take the O levels, enter polytechnic or enrol in the Institute of Technical Education.

Among the students who sat the exam was Bryan, 16, from St Patrick's School, who declined to give his last name.

The Secondary 4 student told ST that he had been sitting in front of the speaker but struggled to answer the questions because the recording was "glitchy", making the sentences sound incomplete.

He said: "After the first audio (clip), the whole class asked (the teachers) to increase the volume but all they said was that it was already (at) the highest (volume) setting... I don't know why SEAB wants us to understand another accent as if we are going overseas to study."

He added that the teacher was also unwilling to replay the recording.

SEAB told ST that candidates could request for the audio volume to be increased and audio tracks to be replayed, where necessary.

It noted that the audibility of the broadcast audio could have been affected by "environmental factors such as rain, roadworks and turning fans" because schools were advised to keep the classroom windows open and fans switched on as part of safe management measures.

Regarding the concerns raised about the speakers' accents, SEAB said the text readers in this year's examination are Singaporeans who speak internationally acceptable English and who have featured in national examinations in the past few years.

Said the statutory board: "Varying voice qualities such as pace, volume and intonation will also be used to ensure that the audio texts are delivered authentically.

"In addition, the words used in the respective national listening comprehension examinations' audio texts are accessible to candidates of their intended level."

It added that this year's examination was recorded "based on established technical standards, and the tracks have undergone a series of checks by a panel of experienced specialists from the SEAB and the Ministry of Education" to ensure alignment with syllabus objectives.

The board assured candidates that "there are processes in place to ensure that they are fairly assessed".

Upon hearing that there will be no retest, Bryan said: "It's fine if they don't but they should at least consider (our concerns about audio problems) while marking."

Responding to queries on how SEAB intends to ensure that students are fairly assessed, it said: "Candidates affected by issues during the listening comprehension examinations can apply for special consideration through their schools."

The procedure awards "projected grades" to candidates who have sat for a paper under unforeseen circumstances .

This is determined using a student's performance in other papers for the affected subject in national and school-based examinations as well as the school cohort's performance in those exams.

"All special consideration applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis and subjected to a rigorous review process," said SEAB.