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Filed UnderEnglish tests

The only English test you should care about

October 15, 2022 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

By now you know how much I hate the English testing industry — IELTS, TOEIC and all the rest of them.

They’re largely bullshit and a waste of time unless you need the piece of paper.

But there is one test you should pay attention to.

I call it the “So what?” test.

It’s very, very easy and you can–and totally should–administer this test yourself, at any time. Every time you say or write something, simply ask yourself: “So what?”. If you can’t answer that question easily, you’ve failed the test.

Here’s a great example.

I got this “feedback” comment from someone angrily unsubscribing from my daily emails:

“you failed to respond to my sincere comments only had your auto-reply answer”

And no, I didn’t reply to his email (one that I got just two days before the negative feedback) because it was a big fat pile of “so what?”.

(Not sure what the “auto-reply” answer is supposed to mean, since I don’t have one…

Here it was in its complete pointless glory:

Hi Julian,

Am interested to see what you’ve written.

I’m a yank in Japan since the 1970’s, taught in-flight service English

for Japan Airlines to hundreds of CA’s – Cabin Attendants, a highly stressful gig 🙂 also taught at Gov’t offices, a few Pharmas and to top brass execs.

As a social worker in SE Asia Cambodia Vietnam Laos Thailand I taught

English and basic Japanese to anyone who was interested and had a great time.

Across Asia salaries for ESL teachers are approx USD $1,500 – $3,500 per month or occasionally higher if one can land a job at a Univ or as a corporate instructor.

more later

Now, while they may have been “sincere” comments they’re still totally meaningless and have no point or relevance to me or to the email he replied.

Why are you telling me any of this, exactly?

First of all, this was in reply to an email about practising English more effectively — but the guy is American, and just happened to do a bit of English teaching. That’s it.

Why should I care that he taught cabin attendants?

Or what salaries for ESL teachers are in Asia?

I mean, I already know all this because I lived there for half my life in Japan, but still, the information was neither requested nor relevant to, well, anything at all.

Why would I want to hear more?

I didn’t care about any of the information in the first place!

So no, I didn’t reply.

Because what exactly am I supposed to say in response?

“Wow! That’s so cool!”

Any response could only ever be something empty and insincere because I neither care about anything said nor understand why it’s being said. As far as replies go, my mind is totally blank.

All this raises an important point:

When you’re speaking English, it’s less about making mistakes, your accent or anything like that… and more about are you saying something interesting and relevant to the conversation.

Because it doesn’t matter how perfect your English is.

If you fail the “so what?” test, you fail.

Luckily for you, there’s an approach we can take to improving English that builds right into your everyday life and ensures your head is also full of the information, knowledge and interesting things to talk about that you need.

And that’s the approach I teach.

To get started with my English improvement methods, sign up for the free training here:


Dr Julian Northbrook

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