Although tests are the dreaded learning part for our students, they are considered an important teaching tool. They create competition within the classroom, provide feedback and give a sense of success to the learners.
What is a test?
A test is a method of measuring a person’s ability or knowledge in a given area. It is obviously a set of technique or procedures that samples performance but infers competence and which takes into consideration the testee’s previous experience. Some fundamental characteristics of a test are the following:
- It is a measuring of ability or knowledge
- The measuring can be broad and inexact as in informal tests (a good tennis player)
- But it can also be mathematically quantified ( exact) as in formal tests
- It is the performance that is tested but the underlying knowledge that is targeted or inferred
- The target can be a given area (proficiency, grammar, pronunciation …)
- Tests take into consideration the testee’s previous experience.
Requirement of tests
It must be practical in terms of financial limitation, time constraints, ease of administration, scoring and interpretation
There are two types of test 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.
- Scorer or rater reliability on the other hand refer to the cosistency of scoring by two or more scorers
Does the test measure what it is intended to measure? This refers to content and construct validity
- If a test samples the class situations or the universe of the subject matter about which conclusions are to be drawn, it is said to have content validity.
- Constructs are things like ” proficiency”, ” communicative competence”, “self-esteem” … Any theoretical category can be thought of as a construct. Tests reflect these constructs. When preparing tests one need to be satisfied that these tests are adequate definitions of a construct.
Kinds of tests
- proficiency test
- Diagnostic test
- Achievement test
- Aptitude test
Discrete vs Integrative tests
Discrete tests derive from audiolingual structural approach of language learning. Language is seen in this approach as a sum of discrete blocks to be learned separately. It focuses on isolated language points that students must master before proceeding to a higher level.
Integrative tests appeared as the communicative approach started to gain fields in the foreign and second language teaching. If discrete items take language skill apart integrative tests put it back together. Examples of such tests include cloze tests and dictation.
Assessing communicative competence
Testing has to be pragmatically relevant. It should revolve around three main areas, namely
- sociolinguistics and illocutionary competence
Merill swain (1984) listed four primary criteria for the construction of communicative tests:
- Start from somewhere.
Building on existing knowledge and principles. This refers to a theoretical framework that is a foundation for devising any communicative tests.
- Concentrate on content
Instead of requiring the testee to jump from one topic to another, a communicative test need to have motivating, interesting and substantive content. This includes, for example, problem solving and situations that use context and are integrative and interactive.
- Bias for best.
Tests need to do everything possible to elicit the very best performance. this is possible only if the testee feel that s/he can indeed succeed and is provided with a stress free environment . The testee should also be given enough time to complete the task.
- Work for washback.
Tests provide feedback. This means that we should not teach to test. Tests are rather teaching tools for better achievements.
In a nutshell, while our students fear being tested, a lot of teachers contend that we cannot do without tests. Tests provide feedback and create competition. Nevertheless, there are some legitimate questions that need to be answered:
- ” Is everything we teach testable?”
- “Do we actually test performance or competence?”
- “Aren’t there any external factors that might affect tests?”
- “Is high scoring in a test really an evidence of language mastery?”
H.Douglas Brown (1987) “Principles of Language Learning and Teaching “