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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  1. MARIA INOI 021945927

    i agree 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.

  2. I totally agree with you… Thanks job well done

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