Are students shying away from computer based language proficiency tests?


I was recently speaking to someone at a well known organisation that also acts as an examination centre for international proficiency exams. He made a very interesting comment, that certainly got my attention, and that was that students may shy away from computer based tests, simply because they may perceive that having to use a keyboard may impact on their chance of passing a proficiency test. Issues of concern may include potential candidates typing speeds, and computer literacy skills. Okay, we are in the internet age, and the kids may eat, sleep and dream social networks and cyberspace, but when it comes to high-stakes exams, people may shy away. I think there is something worth noting in this observation. So whilst the exam format for the TOEFL ibt and Pearson Academic may be all computer based, may be people at IDP/Cambridge Esol should think hard about whether turning IELTS into a computer based format exam is not necessarily the next logical step. Your view?

Assessment without numbers

What does a number mean? If someone gets 80 on the TOEFL iBT what does it actually mean? Is someone who gets 85 better that someone who got 80? Really? How?

What about in the classroom? You give students a score out of 10, 15, 20 etc, but what does the score really mean? What does good, very good or excellent mean? Do we really know what we mean? Do the students understand what the scores mean, or even these expressions?

What if scores were totally replaced by descriptions or descriptors? What if we gave a student a description of what they had achieved?

Are we giving students marks, because that’s the way it’s always been? Or may be this is also a reflection of our educational backgrounds as well as the undergraduate and graduate courses we’ve taken. After all, we probably also got scores or grades.

And what about the usefulness of assessment. What can we do to make students more aware and at the same time get them to do something about their learning?

It might require us as teachers to also take a closer look at what we mean, and/or what our students are really doing. But may be we just don’t have the time?

So there are a lot of questions here, a lot of elements, what now?

Well, what do you think? What do you do? How can we reinvent testing and assessment?

I’m hoping to add future posts to the questions above.

The Common European Framework – CEFR

A “wiki-leak” of Brian North’s rarely available PhD –

The Development of a Common Framework Scale of Language Proficiency. Here’s the link:

I have many issues with the CEFR, it’s implementation, the politics, the passive acceptance of it, both in the public and academic domains. At the same time, there are many people who are highly accomplished language testers who praise it highly. It has been implemented in different contexts and is proving invaluable. There are published case studies of it’s use. But it can also result in emotive discussions, where even respectable academics, people who I respect, become like angry gang members, ready to pull up their academic sleeves accusing each other of just plain jealousy – not academic talk you’d say. Yes, it’s not academic, but it’s good to let the human side out now and then, as it reminds us that in fact we are all mere humans at the end of the day.  But where did it all begin? This read is a part of it.

Having Brian’s PhD publicly available means that it is open to greater dissemination, by a more informed public.

Thanks to the sender.

Have an enjoyable read!