All you should know about the G.B.C. test

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I have been teaching consultants for the G.B.C. test since 2011. I have learned a few things about it that I would like to share with you to help you better prepare for the test.

Note None of this is official information. The English Farm has no official connection to the G.B.C. test. This is information I have gathered from research and talking to more than 130 different people who have taken the G.B.C. test.

The test is mysterious

Basically, no-one knows about this test. English teachers don't know about it, neither do English students. There is very little information available on the internet. I didn't know anything about it in 2011 when my student said it was being used to evaluate his English skills for work.

"What test?" I asked.

I did some research.

What I have learned

These are the key points about the test I have picked up over the last 5 years.

  1. The test is administered by Berlitz in Japan.
  2. It used to be called "F.S.I."
  3. It is an interview test.
  4. It takes about 20 minutes.
  5. You are asked some questions by an interviewer, and the interview is recorded.
  6. The recording is listened to and then you are graded out of 5. It takes 2 to 3 weeks to get your score.
  7. They start with simple questions and the questions get harder and harder.
  8. You get a score sheet, which gives you a lot of feedback on every aspect of your spoken English.
  9. The average scores don't make sense, so they are probably some kind of weighted average (you'll see if you look at your test results).
  10. It's very fair—in the sense that you cannot fake it. Your score is a good assessment of your true English level.
  11. It's very subjective—it's a speaking test, so some days you'll do well, others you will do badly.
  12. It is used by a lot of companies in Japan in the banking and consulting industries that have foreign connections and very high standards.
  13. It is very tough, and the scoring is very strict. Most people going to English school in Japan can expect to get between 1.5 and 2.5.
  14. Almost all people who get more than 2.5 have spent time studying or living overseas.
  15. Some of the questions are really tough. I suspect that they are designed to be too difficult, so you are under pressure and the tester can see how you perform in that situation.
  16. It is based on a scoring system used by the American government for people working in foreign service and the C.I.A., F.B.I. and N.S.A. etc. (Basically, are your language skills good enough for you to be a spy?)
  17. If you are working full-time and studying as hard as you can, the fastest you can hope to improve your score is by 0.1 every six months.
  18. There is one exception to the above. People who know nothing about the test tend to do very badly the first time they take it, because it is not like Eiken or TOEFL etc. They do badly and their score is not a good representation of their true level. The next time, their scores can jump more than 0.1, but then they go back to this maximum pace of 0.1 every 6 months.
  19. Don't expect your improvement to be constant. It will speed up and slow down.
  20. You'll never improve your score by much if you only practice for the test. The only sure way to improve your score is to get better at English.
  21. Japanese people who have never lived overseas almost never get more than 1.8 for pronunciation.
  22. Most people approach the test wrongly, and their scores suffer because of it (they should take our strategies course!).

Change your expectations

Most people try this test for the first time thinking, "I have 900 in TOEIC. I'll be fine!" Or "I lived in Canada for 3 months. This will be easy!" Something like that. They think that they can do some practice, and then they will get a good score. This is very wrong. Unless you lived in the States for a few years and did a university degree there, you will probably get a shock. You need to change your expectations for this test.

Let's take a look at a real-world example of G.B.C. progress. Below is the G.B.C. progress of one of the Japanese students I have taught since 2012.

This guy works full-time in a very intensive, stressful business. Actually, he works more than full time. He works crazy hours. I mean, he works from morning until midnight every day and then on the weekend. However, he still finds time to study a minimum of two lessons a week, and he always does his homework and he always prepares. My point is that he is working, but he is a good student too, and he spends a lot of time on English.

You can see some of the points I made above in the simple chart below of the progression in his G.B.C. score over three years (which I think is representative of a good student):

  1. He clearly didn't understand how to do the test the first time, and so his first score was very low.
  2. The next time his score jumped by 2 points because he did some preparation with me and we worked on strategy and technique.
  3. He is considered by his colleagues in Japan to be good at English.
  4. His average improvement is 0.06 every 6 months.
  5. His rate of improvement is not consistent, because the test is subjective.

For this guy (a good student) to reach 3.0, it is going to take him about 2 and a half or 3 more years of hard study:

Your goals

If you are reading this, it is because your company uses this test, or you want to get a job at a company that uses this test. If that is the case, I can guess that the job is something very high level and difficult. That means you are highly competent and will have a successful career. Later in your career, you will be an executive or the C.E.O. of an organisation.

But here's the thing: if your company uses this test, they will give you a target, and that target is probably far too low.

Check the score you are aiming for. Think about your company's target.  (If you don't know how the scores work in G.B.C., read this post about G.B.C. scores.)

Let's say that your company says you have to have a score of 2.X to talk to a foreign client. Now imagine that I have that level in Japanese. Would you allow me to talk to your Japanese clients? No way!

I know people who have had a shock with this. They got their target score and thought, "Great. My English is good enough to do business internationally!" Then found that their skills were still much too low to work professionally in an English-speaking environment.

You can work if you have a score less than 3.0, but there are risks. You might not understand and therefore frustrate your colleagues and customers. You'll be slow and inefficient. You might say something bad and make a bad impression. You could even be rude.

If your long-term career goals are to work internationally, then you should be aiming for a minimum of 3.0. If your score is 2.0, and you work hard, then you can do that in 5 years.

It's not that long, and once you reach that level, you will be an unstoppable international business machine!