Communicative tests

Difficulties to develop communicative tests

If teaching is carried out according to the communicative approach, then tests must be designed accordingly. However a lot of teachers believe that communicative tests are hard to prepare. In fact various challenging difficulties emerge when teachers develop communicative tests.

  1. One crucial concern is the problem of developing useful assessment instruments which can be employed accurately and efficiently in a range of typical classroom situations.
  2. Another challenge is to develop a  framework  which is based on attending to the theoretical requirements of both communicative teaching goals and test design principles.
  3. There are also difficulties associated with the English as a Foreign Language  context. While communicative theory emphasizes the importance of using authentic materials and of practicing meaningful communication in realistic social situations , these goals are almost impossible to achieve in EFL  settings.
  4. The EFL settings make impossible for learners to consolidate and practice what is learned in the classroom in real world situations which makes it very difficult to develop communicative tests.
  5. the extent to which it is possible to achieve the goal of meaningful communication remains entirely unclear, given the contextual requirement for simulating foreign interactions in EFL classrooms.
  6. communicative tests must also reflect contemporary theory concerning test design principles – validity, reliability, and practicality. I there is a lack of direct correlation between theory and practice, some specific discrepancies between test-design principles and efficiency requirements may occur.
  7. Some teachers contend that it is inevitable that rating communicative tests may be subjective as it is difficult to distinguish right from wrong responses in real life situations.

Tests requirements

Before developing any test, it is important to bear in mind the test requirements . These requirements include validity, reliability, and practicality.

  • Validity is concerned with how well a test measures what it is intended to measure. It includes:
    • content validity (how well performances demonstrate the specified learning domain),
    • construct validity (whether theoretical principles are reflected in the test design),
    • and face validity (the extent to which a test appears to measure what is intended).
  • Reliability is concerned with the dependability of results, or the extent to which performance is consistently measured. There are three aspects of reliability:
    • Test reliability mean that if we assign the same test to the same subjects or matched subjects on two different occasions it would yield the same result.
    • Inter-rater reliability (agreement between different rater of the same performance),
    • Intra-rater reliability (the same rater assessing the same performance on different occasions).
  • Practicality means that a test must be practical in terms of financial limitation, time constraints, ease of administration, scoring and interpretation

Tips to develop communicative tests

The bottom line of communicative tests is that they should test appropriateness rather than mere production of (inappropriate) grammatical sentences.  In addition tests have to be pragmatically relevant. They should revolve around three main areas, namely grammar, discourse, sociolinguistics and illocutionary competence.

Merill swain (1984) listed four primary criteria for the construction of communicative tests:

  • Starting from somewhere (knowledge, principles theoretical framework which is the foundation for devising any communicative tests.)
  • Concentrating on content (interesting and motivating content that may include situations that use context and that are integrative and interactive.)
  • Biasing for the best. That is tests need to do everything possible to elicit the very best performance. (stress free environment, enough time to complete the task…)
  • Working for washback. (Tests as feedback for further improvement.)

The following are tips for developing communicative tests:

  • Communicative tests may be context specific. That is a test for a group of business learners may differ from a test designed for university students
  • Testees must respond to real life situations.
  • Some criteria for communicative tests may be related to the degree of politeness , formality, …
  • Performance in communicative tests reflects an underlying competence that is linguistic, sociolinguistic, pragmatic, strategic…
  • Any communicative testing should consider this multi-dimensional nature of language.

Examples of communicative tests

Examples of communicative tests may include:

  1. Information gap.
    This involves two (or more) learners. Each testee has part of the information. They have to negotiate in order to get the missing information. A clear context must be specified for the test.
  2. Letter writing.
    learners may be asked to write, for example, a business letter to ask for information or to respond to a complaint by a customer
  3. Note taking.
    Testees are involved in a listening activity in which they have to take notes and, for example, write a report

These are just some examples of course. If you have any idea for a communicative test please feel free to share.

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