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How to respond to a difficult TOEFL academic discussion question

Today, I'm going to teach you how to respond to a difficult TOEFL academic discussion question. 

Junior employees mentoring senior employees

Let’s examine this rather difficult TOEFL academic discussion question:

Professor: Is it a good idea for senior employees to be mentored by junior employees?

Kelly: It’s a good idea since younger people are far more savvy on technology and so they can teach senior members

Andrew: It’s a bad idea since younger people don’t have the experience to mentor. Instead, junior employees should be mentored by senior members with an accomplished expertise.

REVERSE MENTORING: Senior employees to be mentored by junior employee

It is difficult to answer the question of whether or not senior employees should be mentored by junior employees, as there is limited research on reverse mentoring.

Both Kelly and Andrew have persuasive arguments for their positions. Andrew's position, that junior employees should be mentored by senior employees, may seem easier to defend. However, he has already provided sufficient reasons for his position, and there does not seem to be much more to say on the matter. The only potential contribution to Andrew’s argument that I can think of is the power imbalance between senior and junior employees, which could make senior employees less open to feedback and suggestions from junior employees, rendering reverse mentoring ineffective. This is a status quo position that reflects current mentoring practices.

Therefore, let's take a more interesting position and argue for reverse mentoring. You might be thinking, "Why would reverse mentoring be a good idea?" People change things up because old methods don't work any more and new methods are needed. If reverse mentoring is a new method, it must be because it is necessary to succeed in the new business landscape. To consider this perspective, instead of thinking about reverse mentoring in abstract terms, think about the benefits of young people teaching old people in the setting of  the modern business environment.

  • To be successful, modern businesses need to be ahead of the curve in technology and embrace new societal and cultural values.

  • Younger people are often more up-to-date on the latest technologies and have better digital literacy and are more progressive in their thinking than older generations.

Therefore, when reverse mentoring happens, young people can teach senior employees new skills and values.

Now, think of examples where companies have insisted on old business practices without implementing new technologies and values, which resulted in business failures. Conversely, think of examples where companies have embraced new technologies and values, which resulted in business successes.

These are the three responses that argue for reverse mentoring: 

response 1

I think it’s a good idea for junior employees to mentor senior employees. Of course, mentoring is usually done the other way around, old people mentoring young people. But this reverse mentoring method can be a mutually beneficial experience for both the young mentor and the senior mentee. Younger people are often early adopters of new tools such as apps, technology and social media. When younger employees see that their senior employees don't understand the tools, it creates a lack of respect and uncertainty on how the organization is going to move forward in the future. When the junior employees become mentors to the senior employees, they can help the older mentees learn up-to-date technology and trends. This will allow the senior employees to become more digitally savvy. Senior employees who are mentored by junior employees also can help their younger mentors by sharing their insights on the industry, business and life in general. In this way, reverse mentoring can be invaluable for both older mentees and younger mentors. 

How to respond to a difficult TOEFL academic discussion question

response 2

Digital transformation requires digital leadership. This is why I support the idea of junior employees mentoring senior employees. In the digital age, businesses that fail to learn from the young do so at their own peril. Consider the once-colossal companies Avon and Revlon, which filed for bankruptcy in 2022. These companies continued to employ outdated traditional business models instead of adapting to the digital age. Conversely, consider the tremendous business success of Kylie Jenner, the youngest of the Kardashians, who became the youngest self-made billionaire in history in under 10 years by using her social media platform to cleverly promote and sell her cosmetic products to a vast audience. These cautionary tales teach us that the best way for established companies to adapt to the digital age is to learn from the young, with junior employees becoming the mentors of senior employees.


response 3

The rapid pace of technological and social change in the 21st century means that past generations can no longer accurately predict the future. Instead, it is the future generation that can help us to understand and navigate the evolving world around us. This is why senior employees should be mentored by junior employees. One obvious benefit of this is that senior employees can become more tech-savvy. Another benefit of reverse mentoring is that it can foster a more inclusive company culture. Modern society is increasingly diverse, and younger people tend to be more open-minded and inclusive than older generations. So, when senior employees are mentored by junior employees, they are exposed to new ideas and perspectives, which can help to create a more inclusive and welcoming workplace. Studies have shown that company culture and business success are closely linked. Companies with inclusive and positive cultures tend to be more successful than those with toxic or exclusionary cultures. By creating a more inclusive and positive company culture, reverse mentoring can lead to improved business performance.