Category: Testing and Assessment

12 Characteristics of a Good Language Test

A good test should be:

1- Valid:

It means that it measures what it is supposed to measure. It tests what it ought to test. A good test which measures control of grammar should have no difficult lexical items.

2- Reliable:

If it is taken again by ( same students, same conditions ), the score will be almost the same regarding that the time between the test and the retest is of reasonable length. If it is given twice to same students under the same circumstances, it will produce almost the same results. In this case it is said that the test provides consistency in measuring the items being evaluated.

3- Practical:

It is easy to be conducted, easy to score without wasting too much time or effort.

4- Comprehensive:

It covers all the items that have been taught or studied. It includes items from different areas of the material assigned for the test so as to check accurately the amount of students’ knowledge

5- Relevant:

It measures reasonably well the achievement of the desired objectives.

6- Balanced:

It tests linguistic as well as communicative competence and it reflects the real command of the language. It tests also appropriateness and accuracy.

7- Appropriate in difficulty:

It is neither too hard nor too easy. Questions should be progressive in difficulty to reduce stress and tension

8- Clear:

Questions and instructions should be clear. Pupils should know what to do exactly.

9- Authentic:

The language of the test should reflect everyday discourse

10- Appropriate for time:

A good test should be appropriate in length for the allotted time.

11- Objective:

If it is marked by different teachers, the score will be the same. Marking process should not be affected by the teacher’s personality. Questions and answers are so clear and definite that the marker would give the students the score he/she deserves.

12- Economical:

It makes the best use of the teacher’s limited time for preparing and grading and it makes the best use of the pupil’s assigned time for answering all items. So, we can say that oral exams in classes of +30 students are not economical as it requires too much time and effort to be conducted.


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Cambridge English Exams & How They Are Mapped to the CEFR

There are five main Cambridge English exams:

  1. Key English Test (KET),
  2. Preliminary English Test (PET),
  3. First Certificate in English (FCE),
  4. Certificate of Advanced English (CAE), and
  5. Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE).

These exams are designed to assess competency in English for learners of English as a second or foreign language.

KET is the easiest of the Cambridge exams. It is for elementary level. You can do this exam if you want to know that you have basic knowledge of reading, writing, speaking and listening in English. The test has three sections:

  1. Reading & Writing – 70 minutes, 56 questions.
  2. Listening – 25 minutes.
  3. Speaking – 8:10 minutes.

PET is for intermediate level. With this level of English you will be able to enjoy holidays in English speaking countries. And once you have passed this exam, you should probably continue your studying in English. The test has three sections:

  1. Reading & Writing are taken together – 90 minutes.
  2. Listening – 30 minutes.
  3. Speaking – an interview, 10 minutes.

FCE is the most important of the Cambridge exams as it gives you the first certificate in English. It is for upper intermediate level. The test has four sections:

  1. Reading & Use of English – 75 minutes.
  2. Writing – 2 essays, 80 minutes.
  3. Listening – 40 minutes. 
  4. Speaking – interview, normally with another candidate, 14 minutes.

CAE is for you if you can communicate with confidence in English for work or study purposes. The test has four sections:

  1. Reading & Use of English – 90 minutes.
  2. Writing – 2 tasks, 90 minutes.
  3. Listening – 40 minutes, 30 questions.
  4. Speaking – interview, normally with another candidate, 15 minutes.

CPE is the hardest of the Cambridge exams. It is for super advanced level. If you pass this test, it means that your English is good enough to teach English to others and to study at any British university. The test has five sections:

1. Reading – 4 parts, 90 minutes.

  • part 1: 3 texts with 18 gaps.
  • part 2: 4 related texts with 2 questions each.
  • part 3: text with missing paragraphs.
  • part 4: text with multiple choice questions.

2. Composition – 2 tasks, 2 hours.

3. Use of English – 3 parts, 90 minutes

  • part 1: text with 15 gaps.
  • part 2: word formation.
  • part 3: gapped sentences.

4. Listening – 2 parts, 3 or 4 recordings, 40 minutes.

  • part 1: 4 passages with multiple choice questions.
  • part 2: 1 long passage with gapped text.

5. Interview – normally with another candidate, 15 minutes.

Cambridge English exams aim to provide information about the learners’ level in each individual language skill (reading, writing, speaking and listening), to enable learners to act on problem areas and monitor their own progress. They are also designed to allow students to be actively involved in their learning, and gain self-confidence as they move to the next level.

Cambridge English exams are also mapped according to The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEF or CEFR).

(CEF or CEFR) was put together by the Council of Europe as a way of standardizing the levels of language exams in different regions. It is very widely used internationally and all important exams are mapped to the CEFR.

CEFR has six levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2. Here is a short description for each level and the Cambridge English exam at it.

A1 level is described as a basic ability to communicate and exchange information in a simple way.

A2 level is described as an ability to deal with simple, straightforward information and begin to express oneself in familiar contexts. Cambridge Key English Test (KET) is at this level.

B1 level is described as the ability to express oneself in a limited way in familiar situations and to deal in a general way with non-routine information. Cambridge Preliminary English Test (PET) is at this level.

B2 level is described as the capacity to achieve most goals and express oneself on a range of topics. Cambridge First Certificate in English (FCE) is at this level.

C1 level is described as the ability to communicate with the emphasis on how well it is done, in terms of appropriacy, sensitivity and the capacity to deal with unfamiliar topics. Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English (CAE) is at this level.

C2 level is described as the capacity to deal with material which is academic or cognitively demanding, and to use language to good effect at a level of performance which may in certain aspects be more advanced than that of an average native speaker. Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) is at this level.

What is your level of English? Which exam should you study for? If you want to check your level of English, Subscribe to our Blog to send you by email an English level test. At the end of the test your level will be assessed at a CEF level (A2 to C2). Then, with the comparison mentioned above, you will be able to decide which exam you should study for. 

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Top 5 Characteristics of a Good Language Test

A good language test should have a positive effect on learning and teaching. Such a test should aim at specifying areas of difficulties experienced by the class or the individual students so that additional practice and corrective exercises can be given.

A good language test should also measure students’ performance without setting “traps” for them. It should be developed well to provide an opportunity for students to show their ability to perform certain language tasks.

On the other side, the test should enable the teachers to find out which parts of the language program cause difficulty for the class. In this way, the teachers can evaluate the effectiveness of the syllabus as well as the methods and materials they are using.

Although language testing is a fundamental part of learning and teaching in school today, it is at any level a highly complex process because it must be based on theory as well as practice.

A written language test is a classic example of formal assessment where students should be aware of being tested for a reason. There are some various characteristics that should be taken into account when constructing and using a language test. These qualities should be addressed with high consideration in order for a language test to have the positive effect.

This article sheds some light on the top five characteristics of a good language test. In order to describe it as Good, a language test should be:

1. Reliable:

Reliability is consistency, dependence and trust. This means that the results of a reliable test should be dependable. They should be consistent (remain stable, should not be different when the test is used in different days).  A test that is called reliable yield similar results with similar group of students took the same test under identical conditions.

Thus reliability has three aspects:  reliability of the test itself, reliability of the way in which it has been marked, and reliability of the way in which it has been administered.

The three aspects of reliability are named: equivalence, stability and internal consistency (homogeneity).

The first aspect, equivalence, refers to the amount of agreement between two or more tests that are administered at nearly the same point in time.

Equivalence is measured through administering two parallel forms of the same test to the same group. This administration of the parallel forms occurs at the same time or following some time delay.

The second aspect of reliability, stability, is said to occur when similar scores are obtained with repeated testing with the same group of respondents. In other words, the scores are consistent from one time to the next. Stability is assessed through administering the same test to the same individuals under the same conditions after some period of time.

The third and last aspect of reliability is internal consistency (or homogeneity). Internal consistency concerns the extent to which items on the test are measuring the same thing.

There are three factors affect test reliability:

  1. The length of the test. longer tests produce more reliable results than very brief quizzes. In general, the more items on a test, the more reliable it is considered to be.
  2. The administration of the test which include the classroom setting (lighting, seating arrangements, acoustics, lack of intrusive noise etc.) and how the teacher manages the test administration.
  3. Affective status of students. Test anxiety can affect students’ test results.

2. Valid:

The term validity refers to whether or not the test measures what it claims to measure. On a test with high validity the items will be closely linked to the test’s intended focus. Unless a test is valid it serves no useful function.

One of the most important types of validity for teachers is content validity which means that the test assesses the course content and the outcomes using formats familiar to the students.

Content validity is the extent to which the selection of tasks in a test is representative of the larger set of tasks of which the test is assumed to be a sample. A test needs to be a representative sample of the teaching contents as defined and covered in the curriculum.

Like reliability there are also some factors which affect the validity of test scores.

Factors in the test:

  • Unclear directions to students to respond the test.
  • Difficulty of the reading vocabulary and sentence structure.
  • Too easy or too difficult test items.
  • Ambiguous statements in the test items.
  • Inappropriate test items for measuring a particular outcome.
  • Inadequate time provided to take the test.
  • Length of the test is too short.
  • Test items not arranged in order of difficulty.

Factors in test administration and scoring:

  • Unfair aid to individual students, who ask for help,
  • Cheating by students during testing.
  • Unreliable scoring of essay type answers.
  • Insufficient time to complete the test.
  • Adverse physical and psychological condition at the time of testing.

Factors related to students:

  • Test anxiety of the students.
  • Physical and Psychological state of the student,

3. Practical:

Practical test is the test that is developed and administered within the available time and with available resources. Based on this definition, practicality can be measured by the availability of the resources required to develop and conduct the test.

Practicality refers to the economy of time, effort and money in testing. Practical test should be easy to design, easy to administer, easy to mark and easy to interpret its results.

Traditionally, test practicality has referred to whether we have the resources to deliver the test that we design.

A test is practical when it:

  • is not too expensive,
  • stays with appropriate time constraints,
  • is relatively easy to administer, and
  • has a scoring/evaluation procedure that is specific and time efficient.

4. Discriminate:

All assessment is based on comparison, either between one student and another, or between students as they are now and as they were earlier. An important feature of a good test is its capacity to discriminate among the performance of different students or the same student in different points in time. The extent of the need to Discrimination varies according to the purpose of the test.

5. Authentic:

Authenticity means that the language response that students give in the test is appropriate to the language of communication.  The test items should be related to the usage of the target language.

Other definitions of authenticity are rather similar. The Dictionary of language testing, for instance, states that “a language test is said to be authentic when it mirrors as exactly as possible the content and skills under test”.  It defines authenticity as “the degree to which test materials and test conditions succeed in replicating those in the target situation”.

Authentic tests are an attempt to duplicate as closely as possible the circumstances of real-life situations. A growing commitment to a proficiency-based view of language learning and teaching makes authenticity in language assessment necessary.

In conclusion:

There is criticism toward most classroom language tests showed that they don’t assess students’ language competence or proficiency because most language teachers don’t have the ability to construct tests with the features mentioned above. This lack of ability deserves more attention from both teachers and supervisors.

A teacher should be trained on designing, developing and conducting the language tests that include the above characteristics and the feature of being valuable learning tools.

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Assessment Literacy – Information for Teachers Interested in Issues of Language Assessment

Assessment procedures should be used to achieve three main purposes:

  1. Providing end-of-term grading or certification (summative evaluation)
  2. Providing information on the learner’s strengths and weaknesses (formative evaluation)
  3. Helping the teacher and/or learner to plan further work (integrative evaluation)

When assessing learning outcomes, the teacher should be concerned with four main decisions. These decisions relate to the following broad four questions:

  1. What to assess,
  2. When to assess,
  3. How to assess and
  4. How to use the information provided by the assessment process to support learning and to improve one’s own teaching.

Teachers can use tests and examinations to be aware of:

  • The learner’s competence or performance,
  • The student’s knowledge of culture of the native speaker of the language,
  • The ability to use language in realistic contexts.

When designing tests, teachers need to consider:

  • How valid the test is in terms of the aims and objectives of language learning,
  • How reliable the test is in terms of the grading procedures,
  • How practical the test is in terms of designing and administering it.

Ongoing assessment in the classroom is a must to provide a continuous picture of the learner’s ongoing progress and should be used both by the teacher and the learner. There are some important points the teacher should take into account when designing assessment tasks in the classroom. They are as follows:

  • Assessment procedures should be valid and appropriate to learning aims and objectives.
  • In-class activities should be used to monitor and assess learners’ participation and performance.
  • Assessment tasks should aim mainly at identifying strengths and areas for improvement in the learner’s performance.
  • There should be some assessment procedures to assess the learner’s ability to work independently and collaboratively.
  • The process and results of assessment should give helpful information for planning teaching and learning for individuals and groups.
  • Assessment of the learner’s performance and learning progress should be in the form of descriptive evaluation, which should be transparent and comprehensible to the learner, parents and others.
  • Reports, checklists, grades etc. can be used to chart and monitor the learner’s progress.
  • Assessment scales and a valid institutional/national/international grading system should be used in assessing the learner’s performance. Grades assigned for tests and examinations should use reliable and transparent procedures.

When assessing the learner’s language performance, the teacher should assess the learner’s ability to:

  • produce a spoken text according to criteria such as content, range, accuracy, fluency, appropriateness of usage, etc.
  • produce a written text according to criteria such as content, range, accuracy, cohesion and coherence, etc.
  • understand and interpret a spoken text such as listening for gist, specific or detailed information, implication, etc.
  • understand and interpret a written text such as reading for gist, specific or detailed information, implication, etc.
  • engage in spoken interaction according to criteria such as content, range, accuracy, fluency and conversational strategies.
  • engage in written interaction according to criteria such as content, range, accuracy and appropriateness of response, etc.

When assessing the learner’s awareness of language culture, the teacher should assess the learner’s:

  • knowledge of cultural facts, events etc. of the target language communities.
  • ability to make comparisons between their own and the culture of target language communities.
  • ability to respond and act appropriately in encounters with the target language culture.

When learners make common errors during assessment tasks, the teacher should:

  • analyze these errors and identify the processes that may cause them.
  • provide constructive feedback to learners concerning their errors.
  • deal with errors that occur in class in a way which supports learning processes and communication.
  • deal with errors that occur in spoken and written language in ways which support learning processes and do not undermine confidence and communication.

Test Your English – Vocabulary & Grammar

I invite you to join my group “Test Your English” on Edmodo to be aware of your level in English, vocabulary, grammar, functions and the four skills. It’s free to join the group and it takes under a minute to create an account on Edmodo.

Instructions to join this group:

  1. Visit www.edmodo.com from your mobile or computer.
    2. Click on the “Join a group” button and enter the code, z3jgwd.
  2. Follow the instructions to create a new account or login to your account to join “Test Your English” group on Edmodo.

Question Types to Test Your Students’ English Skills

As a teacher of English, you need to test your students’ English periodically to know to what extent they learned the language. Learning English should include mainly learning vocabulary and grammar. In addition, you should test their reading comprehension and writing skill. If you want your test to be complete and comprehensive, your test should include a listening activity and a speaking task. Here are some suggestions for the questions you may include in your test:

Vocabulary

To test knowledge of vocabulary, you can ask students to:

  1. Write words which relate to common topics such as family, work , school, jobs, …etc.
  2. Use the appropriate word from a list to fill in the space in a context.
  3. Match the words with their meanings.
  4. Choose the right word from certain options to complete a context.

Grammar

To test knowledge of grammar, you can ask students to:

  1. Choose the right word or phrase from certain options to complete a structure.
  2. Change a sentence from tense to another using a clue.
  3. Rearrange words to make a grammatically correct sentence.

Reading

To test reading skills, you can ask students to:

  1. Read for skimming to answer questions on the main points of a reading passage.
  2. Read carefully to answer some questions on details.
  3. Summarize a long reading passage in two or three sentences.
  4. Extract some information from a short text to fill in a table.
  5. Read a story and then put the main events in the right order.

Writing

To test writing skills, you can ask students to:

  1. Write accurately certain amount of words about certain topic using correct sentence structure, word order and connectors.
  2. Write different kinds of written texts like essay, letter, email, story, short paragraph, etc. following the rules of writing each kind.
  3. Use some given guided words to write about a certain topic.

Listening

To test listening skills, you can ask students to:

  1. Listen for specific information in listening texts.
  2. Listen to short dialogues and tell the meanings of some words in context.
  3. Follow a listening short text and show understanding by doing the instructions included in the text.

Speaking

To test speaking skills, you can ask students to:

  1. Speak clearly using appropriate stress and intonation.
  2. Pronounce words so that they can be understood.
  3. Describe pictures or other visual material connecting ideas together accurately and with a range of language.

16 Types of School Tests

1- Objective Test vs. Subjective Test:

Objective test is independent of the person marking that test. There is usually a key of answers that leaves no room for subjectivity in grading (e.g. M.C tests or false-true tests) but in Subjective test, the score depends on the marker. It usually happens that different markers give different scores. The gap between the markers may be sometimes very wide (e.g. in free writing).

2- Speed Test vs. Achievement Test:

The speed test aims at measuring the speed of performance. It is made a little longer than the time given. (e.g. Two hundred items on grammar to be answered in an hour) but achievement test aims at measuring students achievement. The given time is made to be adequate; emphasis here is on measuring achievement not speed.

3- Public Test vs. Local Test:

The public test is given on a country-wide scale and prepared by a central authority. It is usually announced and relatively long. It is normally given at the end of a school cycle but the local test is locally prepared and given at the same school level by the class teacher.

4- Standard Test vs. Normal Test:

The standard test is carefully designed and undergoes long experimentation and research. Each score has a special interpretation that indicates where a certain scorer stands among a statistical population of similar individuals but the normal test is not standardized. The majority of tests, of course, belong to this normal category.

5- Written Test vs. Oral Test:

The answers for written test are to be given in a written form but the answers for oral test are to be given orally.

6- Announced Test vs. Drop Test:

The teacher assigns the test material and fixes a certain date in advance for the announced test but the drop test is given without previous announcement. It is usually a short one and it aims at keeping students on the alert.

7- Classroom Test vs. Home Test:

The test questions of the classroom test are given and answered in class but the home test is given in class but answered at home .

8- Closed-Book Test vs. Open-Book Test:

Textbook are closed while students are taking the closed-book test but students are allowed to use their books while answering the questions of the open-book test.

Quick Guidelines for Writing Effective Test Questions

It is a challenging task for teachers to write test questions, especially when a test is being used to measure certain learning outcomes. Take into account the following guidelines before you begin writing test questions.                                                     

True/False questions

True/False questions include high probability of guessing the correct response so it is better to avoid them and find a more substantial way to ask the questions. If you think of using this kind of questions, you must not include them any of the qualifying words such as “sometimes” or “always” because these words provide a clue to the correct answer. True/False questions are best used for pre-tests to help identify what the learner doesn’t know.

MCQs

Multiple choice questions or MCQs are less subject to guessing. In addition, they can be used to assess higher-level thinking. The stems and solutions or alternatives must be constructed effectively by:

  1. Stating the stems clearly presenting a single, clear problem or question in each stem.
  2. Avoiding negative phrases or irrelevant material in the stems.
  3. Avoiding clues to the right answer and using “all of the above” or “none of the above” in the alternatives.
  4. ensuring that distractions or alternatives are reasonable and presented in logical order.

Essay Questions

Essay questions are and should be used mainly to measure higher-level thinking skills such as analyzing, synthesizing and making connections. In these questions, clear guidelines should be provided about the topic, grading or marking so that students can be well aware of how to write the essay. Students should be provided with a lot of practice on writing several short essays rather than on a long one to allow them to write on a variety of topics.

20 Questions to Ask yourself Before Printing your Test

Ask and answer the following questions before printing any test. Improve the test, then go ahead to print it.

1. Is the purpose of the test clear?

Is it a unit, month or end of term test? Is it to test what?

2. Does the test match the test specifications?

Are number and types of questions, distribution of marks, length of the reading text and time allowed as in the specifications?

3. Does the test content match the syllabus content?

Are the vocabulary, structures, functions, reading and writing questions in the test included in the syllabus?

4. Do the test questions match the objectives of the syllabus?

Do the test items measure to what extent the objectives are achieved?

5. Do the test items cover the cognitive levels?

Do the test items encourage students to show understanding, apply what they’ve learned, analyze, combine and evaluate?

6. Is the total time allowed clearly mentioned?

7. Are the marks for each question clearly written beside the question?

8. Are instructions clear on what exactly students have to do?

9. Are instructions grammatically correct, spelled correctly and written  in simple, clear language?

10. Are the format and layout clear and easy to follow?

Regarding to format:

  • Are the pages and all the questions numbered?
  • Is the font familiar and easy to read?
  • Are the texts and spaces well distributed?
  • Are the pictures and tables clear?

Regarding to layout:

  • Are the instructions clearly distinguished from the questions?
  • Are all relevant questions on one page?
  • Is there enough space for students to write their answers?

11. Are the questions organized in appropriate order from easy to difficult?

12. Are questions independent of each other? (students should not answer one question depending on another)

13. Are the questions in the right level according to the students’ level?  

14. Is the answer key available in a separate paper, correct and complete?

15. Is there only one correct answer for each MCQ?

16. Are all acceptable answers included in the answer key?

17. Is there a clear rating scale for marking writing question?

18. Are the marks easy to compute?

19. Are all questions free of bias in any way?

20. Is the test as a whole free of any offensive language?    

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