Types of tests used in English Language Teaching Bachelor Paper

3.3 Progress test


Having discussed two types of tests that are usually used at the beginning, we can approach the test typically employed during the study year to check the students development. We will speak about a progress test. According to Alderson (1996:217), progress test will show the teacher whether the students have learnt the recently taught material successfully. Basically, the teacher intends to check certain items, not general topics covered during the school or study year. Commonly, it is not very long and is determined to check the recent material. Therefore, the teacher might expect his/her learners to get rather high scores. The following type is supposed to be used after the students have learnt either a set of units on a theme or have covered a definite topic of the language. It will display the teacher whether the material has been successfully acquired or the students need additional practice instead of starting a new material.

A progress test will basically display the activities based on the material the teacher is determined to check. To evaluate it the teacher can work out a certain system of points that later will compose a mark. Typically, such tests do not influence the students final mark at the end of the year.

The authorities of school demand the teachers to conduct progress tests, as well. However, the teachers themselves decide on the necessity of applying them. Nevertheless, we can claim that progress test is inevitable part of the learning process. We can even take a responsibility to declare that progress test facilitate the material acquisition in a way. The students preparing for the test look through the material again and there is a chance it can be transferred to their long-term memory.

Further, we can come to Alderson (ibid.) who presumes that such type of testing could function as a motivating fact for the learners, for success will develop the students confidence in their own knowledge and motivate them study further more vigorously. In case, there will be two or three students whose scores are rather low, the teacher should encourage them by providing support in future and imply the idea that studying hard will allow them to catch up with the rest of the students sooner or later. The author of the paper basing on her experience agrees with the statement, for she had noticed that weaker students when they had managed to write their test successfully became proud of their achievement and started working better.

However, if the majority of the class scores a rather low grade, the teacher should be cautious. This could be a signal that there is either something wrong with the teaching or the students are low motivated or lazy.

3.4 Achievement tests


Apart from a progress test the teachers employ another type achievement test. According to Longman Dictionary of LTAL (3), an achievement test is a test, which measures a language someone has learned during a specific course, study or program. Here the progress is significant and, therefore, is the main point tested.

Alderson (1996:219) posits that achievement tests are more formal, whereas Hughes (1989:8) assumes that this type of tests will fully involve teachers, for they will be responsible for the preparation of such tests and giving them to the learners. He repeats the dictionary defining the notion of achievement tests, adding just that success of the students, groups of students, or the courses.

Furthermore, Alderson (ibid.) conceives that achievement tests are mainly given at definite times of the school year. Moreover, they could be extremely crucial for the students, for they are intended either to make the students pass or fail the test.

At this instant the author of the paper is determined to compare a progress and achievement test. Again if we look at these two types they might seem similar, however, it is not so. Drawing on the facts listed above (see sub-chapter 2.3) we can report that a progress test is typically used during the course to check the acquisition of an excerpted material. An achievement test checks the acquisition of the material, as well. Although, it is far different in its application time. We basically use an achievement test at the end of the course to check the acquisition of the material covered during the study year, not bits of it as it is with a progress test.

Quoting Hughes (ibid.) we can differentiate between two kinds of achievement tests: final and progress tests. Final tests are the tests that are usually given at the end of the course in order to check the students achieved results and whether the objectives set at the beginning have been successfully reached. Further Hughes highlights that ministries of education, official examining boards, school administration and even the teachers themselves design these tests. The tests are based on the curriculum and the course that has been studied. We assume, that is a well-known fact that teachers usually are responsible for composing such tests, and it requires a careful work.

Alternatively, Alderson (ibid.) mentions two usage types of achievement tests: formative and summative. The notion of a formative test denotes the idea that the teacher will be able after evaluating the results of the test reconsider his/her teaching, syllabus design and even slow down the pace of studying to consolidate the material if it is necessary in future. Notwithstanding, these reconsiderations will not affect the present students who have taken the test. They will be applied to the future syllabus design.

Summative usage will deal precisely with the students success or failure. The teacher will immediately can take up remedial activities to improve a situation.

Further, Alderson (ibid.) and Heaton (1990:14) stipulate that designing an achievement test is rather time-consuming, for the achievement test is basically devised to cover a broad topic of the material covered during the course. In addition, one and the same achievement test could be given to more than one class at school to check both the students progress and the teachers work. At that point it is very essential to consider the material covered by different classes or groups. You cannot ask the students what they have not been taught. Heaton (ibid.) emphasises the close cooperative work of the teachers as a crucial element in test design. However, in the school the author of the paper used to work the teachers did not cooperate in designing achievement tests. Each teacher was free to write the test that best suits his/her children.

Developing the topic, we can focus on Hughes idea that there is an approach how to design a test; it is called syllabus-content approach. The test is based on a syllabus studied or a book taken during the course. This test could be described as a fair test, for it focuses mainly on the detailed material that the students are supposed to have studied. Hughes (ibid.) points out that if the test is inappropriately designed, it could result in unsuccessful accomplishment of it. Sometimes the demands of the test may differ from the objectives of the course. Therefore, the test should be based directly on the objectives of the course. Consequently, it will influence the choice of books appropriate to the syllable and syllable itself. The backwash will be positive not only for the test, but also for the teaching. Furthermore, we should mention that the students have to know the criteria according to which they are going to be evaluated.

To conclude we shall state again that achievement tests are meant to check the mastery of the material covered by the learners. They will be great helpers for the teachers future work and will contribute a lot to the students progress.

3.5 Proficiency tests


The last type of test to be discussed is a proficiency test. Regarding Longman Dictionary of LTAL (292) proficiency test is a test, which measures how much of a language a person knows or has learnt. It is not bound to any curriculum or syllabus, but is intended to check the learners language competence. Although, some preparation and administration was done before taking the test, the tests results are what being focused on. The examples of such tests could be the American Testing of English as Foreign Language test (further in the text TOEFL) that is used to measures the learners general knowledge of English in order to allow them to enter any high educational establishments or to take up a job in the USA. Another proficiency test is Cambridge First Certificate test that has almost the same aim as TOEFL.

Hughes (1989:10) gives the similar definition of proficiency tests stressing that training is not the thing that is emphasised, but the language. He adds that proficient in the case of proficiency tests means possessing a certain ability of using the language according to an appropriate purpose. It denotes that the learners language ability could be tested in various fields or subjects (art, science, medicine, etc.) in order to check whether the learner could suit the demands of a specific field or not. This could refer to TOEFL tests. Apart from TOEFL we can speak about Cambridge First Certificate test, which is general and does not concern any specific field. The aim of this test is to reveal whether the learners language abilities have reached a certain standard set. The test could be taken by anyone who is interested in testing the level of language knowledge. There are special tests levels, which can be chosen by a candidate. If a candidate has passed the exam s/he can take another one of a different level. However, these entire tests are not free of charge, and in order to take it an individual has to pay for them.

Regarding Hughes (ibid.) who supposes that the only similar factor about such tests that they are not based on any courses, but are intended to measure the candidates suitability for a certain post or course at the university, we can add that in order to pass these tests a candidate has to attend special preparatory courses.

Moreover, Hughes (ibid.) believes that the proficiency tests affect learners more in negative way, than in positive one.

The author of the paper both agrees and does not agree with the Hughes proposed statement. Definitely, this test could make the testee depressed and exhausted by taking a rather long test. Moreover, the proficiency tests are rather impartial; they are not testee-friendly.

However, there is a useful factor amongst the negative ones. It is preparation to proficiency tests, for it involves all language material starting from grammar finishing with listening comprehension. All four skills are being practised during the preparation course; various reading task and activities have been incorporated; writing has been stressed focusing on all possible types of essays, letters, reviews, etc. Speaking has been practiced as well. The whole material has been consolidated for many times.

To summarize we can claim that there are different types of tests that serve for different purposes. Moreover, they all are necessary for the teachers work, for them, apart from a proficiency test, could contribute to successful material acquisition by learners.

Chapter 4

Ways of testing

In this chapter we will attempt to discuss various types of testing and if possible compare them. We will start with the most general ones and move to more specific and detailed ways of testing.

4.1 Direct and indirect testing


The first types of testing we are intended to discuss are direct and indirect testing. First, we will try to define each of them; secondly, we will endeavour to compare them.

We will commence our discussion with direct testing that according to Hughes (1989:14) means the involvement of a skill that is supposed to be tested. The following view means that when applying the direct testing the teacher will be interested in testing a particular skill, e.g. if the aim of the test is to check listening comprehension, the students will be given a test that will check their listening skills, such as listening to the tape and doing the accompanying tasks. Such type of test will not engage testing of other skills. Hughes (ibid.) emphasises the importance of using authentic materials. Though, we stipulate that the teacher is free to decide him/herself what kind of material the students should be provided with. It the teachers aim is to teach the students to comprehend the real, native speech, s/he will apply the authentic material in teaching and later, logically, in tests. Developing the idea we can cite Bynom (2001:8) who assumes that direct testing introduces real-life language through authentic tasks. Consequently, it will lead to the usage of role-plays, summarising the general idea, providing the missing information, etc. Moving further and analysing the statements made by the linguists (Bynom, 2001; Hughes,1989) we can posit the idea that direct testing will be task-oriented, effective and easy to manage if it tests such skills as writing or speaking. It could be explained by the fact that the tasks intended to check the skills mentioned above give us precise information about the learners abilities. Moreover, we can maintain that when testing writing the teacher demands the students to write a certain task, such as an essay, a composition or reproduction, and it will be precisely the point the teacher will be intended to check. There will be certain demands imposed on writing test; the teacher might be just interested in the students ability to produce the right layout of an essay without taking grammar into account, or, on the contrary, will be more concerned with grammatical and syntactical structures. What concerns testing speaking skills, here the author of the paper does not support the idea promoted by Bynom that it could be treated as direct testing. Definitely, you will have a certain task to involve your speaking skills; however, speaking is not possible without employment of listening skills. This in turn will generate the idea that apart from speaking skills the teacher will test the students ability to understand the speech s/he hears, thus involving speaking skills.

It is said that the advantages of direct testing is that it is intended to test some certain abilities, and preparation for that usually involves persistent practice of certain skills. Nevertheless, the skills tested are deprived from the authentic situation that later may cause difficulties for the students in using them.

Now we can shift to another notion - indirect testing. It differs from direct one in the way that it measures a skill through some other skill. It could mean the incorporation of various skills that are connected with each other, e.g. listening and speaking skills.

Indirect testing, regarding to Hughes, tests the usage of the language in real-life situation. Moreover, it suits all situations; whereas direct testing is bound to certain tasks intended to check a certain skill. Hughes (ibid.) assumes that indirect testing is more effective than direct one, for it covers a broader part of the language. It denotes that the learners are not constrained to one particular skill and a relevant exercise. They are free to elaborate all four skills; what is checked is their ability to operate with those skills and apply them in various, even unpredictable situations. This is the true indicator of the learners real knowledge of the language.

Indirect testing has more advantages that disadvantages, although the only drawback according to Hughes is that such type of testing is difficult to evaluate. It could be frustrating what to check and how to check; whether grammar should be evaluated higher, than composition structure or vice versa. The author of the paper agrees with that, however, basing on her experience at school again, she must claim that it is not so easy to apply indirect testing. This could be rather time-consuming, for it is a well-known fact that the duration of the class is just forty minutes; moreover, it is rather complicated to construct indirect test it demands a lot of work, but our teachers are usually overloaded with a variety of other duties. Thus, we can only hope on the course books that supply us with a variety of activities that involve cooperation of all four skills.

4.2 Discrete point and integrative testing


Having discussed the kinds of testing that deal with general aspects, such as certain skills and variety of skills in cooperation, we can come to the more detailed types as discrete point and integrative testing. According to Longman Dictionary of LTAL (112), discrete point test is a language test that is meant to test a particular language item, e.g. tenses. The basis of that type of tests is that we can test components of the language (grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and spelling) and language skills (listening, reading, speaking, and writing) separately. We can declare that discrete point test is a common test used by the teachers in our schools. Having studied a grammar topic or new vocabulary, having practiced it a great deal, the teacher basically gives a test based on the covered material. This test usually includes the items that were studied and will never display anything else from a far different field. The same will concern the language skills; if the teacher aim is to check reading skills; the other skills will be neglected. The author of the paper had used such types of tests herself, especially after a definite grammar topic was studied. She had to construct the tests herself basing on the examples displayed in various grammar books. It was usually gap-filling exercises, multiple choice items or cloze tests. Sometimes a creative work was offered, where the students had to write a story involving a certain grammar theme that was being checked. According to her observance, the students who studied hard were able to complete them successfully, though there were the cases when the students failed. Now having discussed the theory on validity, reliability and types of testing, it is even more difficult to realize who was really to blame for the test failures: either the tests were wrongly designed or there was a problem in teaching. Notwithstanding, this type was and still remains to be the most general and acceptable type in schools of our country, for it is easy to design, it concerns a certain aspect of the language and is easy to score. If we speak about types of tests we can say that this way of testing refers more to a progress test (You can see the examples of such type of test in Appendix 2).

Nevertheless, according to Bynom (2001:8) there is a certain drawback of discrete point testing, for it tests only separated parts, but does not show us the whole language. It is true, if our aim is to incorporate the whole language. Though, if we are to check the exact material the students were supposed to learn, then why not use it.

Discussing further, we have come to integrative tests. According to Longman Dictionary of LTAL, the integrative test intends to check several language skills and language components together or simultaneously. Hughes (1989:15) stipulates that the integrative tests display the learners knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, spelling together, but not as separate skills or items.

Alderson (1996:219) poses that, by and large, most teachers prefer using integrative testing to discrete point type. He explains the fact that basically the teachers either have no enough of spare time to check a certain split item being tested or the purpose of the test is only considered to view the whole material. Moreover, some language skills such as reading do not require the precise investigation of the students abilities whether they can cope with definite fragments of the text or not. We can render the prior statements as the idea that the teachers are mostly concerned with general language knowledge, but not with bits and pieces of it. The separate items usually are not capable of showing the real state of the students knowledge. What concerns the author of the paper, she finds integrative testing very useful, though more habitual one she believes to be discrete point test. She assumes that the teacher should incorporate both types of testing for effective evaluation of the students true language abilities.

4.3 Criterion-referenced and norm referenced testing


The next types of testing to be discussed are criterion-referenced and norm referenced testing. They are not focused directly on the language items, but on the scores the students can get. Again we should concern Longman Dictionary of LTAL (17) that states that criterion-referenced test measures the knowledge of the students according to set standards or criteria. This means that there will be certain criteria according to which the students will be assessed. There will be various criteria for different levels of the students language knowledge. Here the aim of testing is not to compare the results of the students. It is connected with the learners knowledge of the subject. As Hughes (1989:16) puts it the criterion-referenced tests check the actual language abilities of the students. They distinguish the weak and strong points of the students. The students either manage to pass the test or fail it. However, they never feel better or worse than their classmates, for the progress is focused and checked. At this point we can speak about the centralized exams at the end of the twelfth and ninth form. As far as the author of the paper is concerned, the results of the exams are confident, and the learners after passing the exams are conferred with various levels relevant to their language ability. Apart from that, once a year in Latvian schools the students are given tests designed by the officials of the Ministry of Education to check the level of the students and, what is most important, the work of the teacher. They call them diagnostic tests, though according to the material discussed above it is rather arguable. Nevertheless, we can accept the fact that criterion-referenced testing could be used in the form of diagnostic tests.

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