Types of tests used in English Language Teaching Bachelor Paper
University of Latvia
Faculty of Modern Languages
Types of Tests Used in English Language.
Declaration of academic Integrity
I hereby declare that this study is my own and does not contain any
unacknowledged material from any source.
12 May, 2004
The present paper attempts to investigate various types of tests and
their application in the language classroom. The theoretical part deals
with the basic data about testing, the comparison of such issues as
assessment and valuation, reasons for testing, types of tests, such as
diagnostic, progress, achievement, placement and proficiency tests; test
formats and ways of testing.
It relates theory to practice by analyzing two proficiency tests:
TOEFL and CFC tests. They are carefully discussed and compared to find
any similarities or differences in their structure and design. The
conclusions drawn are based on the theory and analyses of the tests. The
data obtained indicate that the both tests though being sometimes
different in their purpose, design and structure, are constructed
according to the universally accepted pattern.
Table of Contents
What is test?……………………………………………………………………3
2.1 Inaccurate tests……………...…………………………………………….7
2.3 Reliability………….. ……………………………………………………11
3.1 Diagnostic tests………………………………. ………………………….13
3.2 Placement tests…………………………...……………………………….15
3.3 Progress tests……………………………………………...........................17
3.4 Achievement tests………………………..……………………………….18
3.5 Proficiency tests…………………………………………………………..20
4.1 Direct and Indirect testing…..…………………………………………....22
4.2 Discrete point and integrative testing……………………………………..24
4.3 Criterion-refernced and Norm-referenced testing…………………………25
4.4 Objective and Subjective testing...………………………………………..26
4.5 Communicative language testing…………………………………………26
5.1 Multiple choice tests………………………………………………………29
5.2 Short answer tests…………………………………………………………32
5.3 The Cloze tests and Gap-filling tests……………………………………..33
5.5 True/false items……………………………………………………………36
5.7 Listening Recall……………………………………………………………38
5.8 Testing Grammar through Error-recognition Items……………………….38
5.9 Controlled Writing…………………………………………………………39
5.10 Free Writing………………………………………………………………40
5.11 Test Formats Used in Testing Speaking Skills…………………………..41
Analysis of the Test of English as a Foreign Language and Cambridge
Certificate test according to test design criteria………………………………..43
Among all words used in a classroom there is the only word that
usually makes the students shudder: “test”. There is hardly a person who
would claim that s/he favours tests and finds them very motivating.
However, tests cannot be avoided completely, for they are inevitable
elements of learning process. They are included into curriculum at schools
and are to check the students’ level of knowledge and what they are able to
do; they could be accomplished at the beginning of the study year and at
the end of it; the students could be tested after working on new topics and
acquiring new vocabulary. Moreover, the students are to face the tests in
order to enter any foreign university or reveal the level of their English
language skills for themselves. For that purpose they take specially
designed tests that are Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL
test (further in the text) and CFC (further in the text), or Cambridge
First Certificate. Although, these tests can sometimes serve for different
purposes and are unrelated, they are sometimes quite common in their design
and structure. Therefore, the author of the paper is particularly
interested in the present research, for she assumes it to be of a great
significance not only for herself, but also for the individuals who are
either involved in the field or just want to learn more about TOEFL and CFC
tests, their structure, design and application. Therefore, the present
research will display various aspects of the theory discussed, accompanied
with the practical part vastly analyzed.
Thus, the goal of the present research is to investigate various types
of test formats and ways of testing, focusing particularly on TOEFL and CFC
tests, in order to see how the theory is used and could be applied in
The hypothesis is as follows: Serving for almost similar purpose, however
being sometimes different in their design and structure, the TOEFL and CFC
tests are usually constructed according to the accepted universal pattern.
The enabling objectives are as follows:
. To review literature on the nature of tests in order to make
theoretically well-motivated discussions on the choice of testing types;
. To analyse the selected types of tests, such as TOEFL and CFC tests;
. To draw relevant conclusions.
Methods of Research:
1) Analytical and selective study of the theory available;
2) Juxtaposition of the ideas selected from theory and tested against
3) Drawing conclusions.
. Selecting and adapting appropriate tests types, such as TOEFL and CFC, to
exemplify the theory.
The paper consists of six chapters each including sub-chapters.
Chapter 1 discusses the general data about tests. Chapter 2 describes
reliability and validity. Chapter 3 focuses on various types of tests.
Chapter 4 deals with ways of testing. Chapter 5 speaks on four language
skills. Chapter 6 offers the practical part of the paper.
What is test?
Hicks (2000:155) considers that the role of tests is very useful and
important, especially in language learning. It is a means to show both the
students and the teacher how much the learners have learnt during a course.
The author of the paper agrees with the statement, for she believes that in
order to see whether the students have acquired the material and are making
constant progress, the teacher will inevitably have to test his/her
learners. It does not mean that a usual test format with a set of
activities will be used all the time. To check the students’ knowledge the
teacher can apply a great range of assessment techniques, including even
the self-evaluation technique that is so beloved and favoured by the
students. Moreover, according to Heaton (1990:6), tests could be used to
display the strength and weaknesses of the teaching process and help the
teacher improve it. They can demonstrate what should be paid more attention
to, should be worked on and practised. Furthermore, the tests results will
display the students their weak points, and if carefully guided by the
teacher, the students will be even able to take any remedial actions.
Thompson (Forum, 2001) believes that students learn more when they
have tests. Here we can both agree and disagree. Certainly, preparing for a
test, the student has to study the material that is supposed to be tested,
but often it does not mean that such type of learning will obligatory lead
to acquisition and full understanding of it. On the opposite, it could
often lead to the pure cramming. That, consequently, will result in a
stressful situation the student will find her/himself before or during the
test, and the final outcome will be a complete deletion of the studied
material. We can base that previous statement on our own experience: when
working at school, the author of the present research had encountered such
examples for many times.
However, very often the tests can facilitate the students’ acquisition
process, i.e.: the students are to be checked the knowledge of the
irregular verbs forms. Being constantly tested by means of a small test,
they can learn them successfully and transfer them to their long-term
memory, as well. Although, according to Thompson tests decrease practice
and instruction time. What he means is that the students are as if limited;
they are exposed to practice of a new material, however, very often the
time implied for it is strictly recommended and observed by a syllabus.
That denotes that there will be certain requirements when to use a test.
Thus, the students find themselves in definite frames that the teacher will
employ. Nevertheless, there could be advantages that tests can offer: they
increase learning, for the students are supposed to study harder during the
preparation time before a test.
Thompson (ibid.) quotes Eggan, who emphasises the idea that the
learners study hard for the classes they are tested thoroughly. Further, he
cites Hilles, who considers that the students want and expect to be tested.
Nonetheless, this statement has been rather generalized. Speaking about the
students at school, we can declare that there is hardly a student who will
truly enjoy tests and their procedure. Usually, what we will see just sore
faces when a test is being mentioned. According to Thompson, the above-
mentioned idea could be applied to the students who want to pass their
final exams or to get a certificate in Test of English as a Foreign
Language (TOEFL) or First Certificate (FCE). Mostly this concerns adults or
the students who have their own special needs, such as going abroad to
study or work. This again supports the idea that motivation factor plays a
significant role in the learning process.
Moreover, too much of testing could be disastrous. It can entirely
change the students’ attitude towards learning the language, especially if
the results are usually dissatisfying and decrease their motivation towards
learning and the subject in general.
Furthermore, as Alderson (1996:212) assumes, we should not forget that
the tests when administered receive less support from the teacher as it is
usually during the exercises in a usual language classroom. The students
have to cope themselves; they cannot rely on the help of the teacher if
they are in doubt. During a usual procedure when doing various activities
the students know they can encounter the teacher’s help if they require it.
They know the teacher is always near and ready to assist, therefore, no one
is afraid to make a mistake and try to take a chance to do the exercises.
However, when writing a test and being left alone to deal with the test
activities, the students panic and forget everything they knew before. The
author of the paper believes that first what the teacher should do is to
teach the students to overcome their fear of tests and secondly, help them
acquire the ability to work independently believing in their own knowledge.
That ability according to Alderson is the main point, “the core meaning” of
the test. The students should be given confidence. Here we can refer to
Heaton (1990:7) who conceives, supported by Hicks, that students’
encouragement is a vital element in language learning. Another question
that may emerge here is how to reach the goal described above, how to
encourage the students. Thus, at this point we can speak about positive
results. In fact, our success motivates us to study further, encourages us
to proceed even if it is rather difficult and we are about to lose
confidence in ourselves. Therefore, we can speak about the tests as a tool
to increase motivation. However, having failed for considerable number of
times, the student would definitely oppose the previous statement. Hence,
we can speak about assessment and evaluation as means for increasing the
Concerning Hicks (2000:162), we often perceive these two terms –
evaluating and assessment – as two similar notions, though they are
entirely different. She states that when we assess our students we commonly
are interested in “how and how much our students have learnt”, but when we
evaluate them we are concerned with “how the learning process is
developing”. These both aspects are of great importance for the teacher and
the students and should be correlated in order to make evaluation and
assessment “go hand in hand”. However, very frequently, the teachers assess
the students without taking the aspect of evaluation into account.
According to Hicks, this assessment is typically applied when dealing with
examinations that take place either at the end of the course or school
year. Such assessment is known as achievement test. With the help of these
tests the teacher receives a clear picture of what his/her students have
learnt and which level they are comparing with the rest of the class. The
author of the paper agrees that achievement tests are very essential for
comparing how the students’ knowledge has changed during the course. This
could be of a great interest not only for the teacher, but also for the
authorities of the educational establishment the teacher is employed by.
Thus, evaluation of the learning process is not of the major importance
here. We can speak about evaluation when we deal with “small” tests the
teachers use during the course or studying year. It is a well-known fact
that these tests are employed in order to check how the learning process is
going on, where the students are, what difficulties they encounter and what
they are good at. These tests are also called “diagnostic” tests; they
could be of a great help for the teacher: judging from the results of the
test, analysing them the teacher will be able to improve or alter the
course and even introduce various innovations. These tests will define
whether the teacher can proceed with the new material or has to stop and
return to what has not been learnt sufficiently in order to implement
With respect to Hicks, we can display some of her useful and practical
ideas she proposes for the teachers to use in the classroom. In order to
incorporate evaluation together with assessment she suggests involving the
students directly into the process of testing. Before testing vocabulary
the teacher can ask the students to guess what kind of activities could be
applied in the test. The author of the paper believes that it will give
them an opportunity to visage how they are going to be tested, to be aware
of and wait for, and the most important, it will reduce fear the students
might face. Moreover, at the end of each test the students could be asked
their reflections: if there was a multiple choice, what helped them guess
correctly, what they used for that – their schemata or just pure guessing;
if there was a cloze test - did they use guessing from the context or some
other skills, etc. Furthermore, Hicks emphasises that such analysis will
display the students the way they are tested and establish an appropriate
test for each student. Likewise, evaluation will benefit the teacher as
well. S/he not only will be able to discover the students’ preferences, but
also find out why the students have failed a particular type of activity or
even the whole test. The evaluation will determine what is really wrong
with the structure or design of the test itself. Finally, the students
should be taught to evaluate the results of the test. They should be asked
to spot the places they have failed and together with the teacher attempt
to find out what has particularly caused the difficulties. This will lead
to consolidation of the material and may be even to comprehension of it.
And again the teacher’s role is very essential, for the students alone are
not able to cope with their mistakes. Thus, evaluation is inevitable
element of assessment if the teacher’s aim is to design a test that will
not make the students fail, but on the contrary, anticipate the test’s
To conclude we can add alluding to Alderson (1996:212) that the usual
classroom test should not be too complicated and should not discriminate
between the levels of the students. The test should test what was taught.
The author of the paper has the same opinion, for the students are very
different and the level of their knowledge is different either. It is
inappropriate to design a test of advanced level if among your learners
there are those whose level hardly exceeds lower intermediate.
Above all, the tests should take the learners’ ability to work and
think into account, for each student has his/her own pace, and some
students may fail just because they have not managed to accomplish the
required tasks in time.
Furthermore, Alderson assumes (ibid.) that the instructions of the
test should be unambiguous. The students should clearly see what they are
supposed and asked to do and not to be frustrated during the test.
Otherwise, they will spend more time on asking the teacher to explain what
they are supposed to do, but not on the completing of the tasks themselves.
Finally, according to Heaton (1990:10) and Alderson (1996:214), the teacher
should not give the tasks studied in the classroom for the test. They
explain it by the fact, that when testing we need to learn about the
students’ progress, but not to check what they remember. The author of the
paper concurs the idea and assumes that the one of the aims of the test is
to check whether the students are able to apply their knowledge in various
contexts. If this happens, that means they have acquired the new material.
Reliability and validity
1. Inaccurate tests
Hughes (1989:2) conceives that one of the reasons why the tests are not
favoured is that they measure not exactly what they have to measure. The
author of the paper supports the idea that it is impossible to evaluate
someone’s true abilities by tests. An individual might be a bright student
possessing a good knowledge of English, but, unfortunately, due to his/her
nervousness may fail the test, or vice versa, the student might have
crammed the tested material without a full comprehension of it. As a
result, during the test s/he is just capable of producing what has been
learnt by tremendous efforts, but not elaboration of the exact actual
knowledge of the student (that, unfortunately, does not exist at all).
Moreover, there could be even more disastrous case when the student has
cheated and used his/her neighbour’s work. Apart from the above-mentioned
there could be other factors that could influence an inadequate completion
of the test (sleepless night, various personal and health problems, etc.)
However, very often the test itself can provoke the failure of the
students to complete it. With the respect to the linguists, such as Hughes
(1989) and Alderson (1996), we are able to state that there are two main
causes of the test being inaccurate:
. Test content and techniques;
. Lack of reliability.
The first one means that the test’s design should response to what is
being tested. First, the test must content the exact material that is to be
tested. Second, the activities, or techniques, used in the test should be
adequate and relevant to what is being tested. This denotes they should not
frustrate the learners, but, on the contrary, facilitate and help the
students write the test successfully.
The next one denotes that one and the same test given at a different time
must score the same points. The results should not be different because of
the shift in time. For example, the test cannot be called reliable if the
score gathered during the first time the test was completed by the students
differs from that administered for the second time, though knowledge of the
learners has not changed at all. Furthermore, reliability can fail due to
the improper design of a test (unclear instructions and questions, etc.)
and due to the ways it is scored. The teacher may evaluate various students
differently taking different aspects into consideration (level of the
students, participation, effort, and even personal preferences.) If there
are two markers, then definitely there will be two different evaluations,
for each marker will possess his/her own criteria of marking and evaluating
one and the same work. For example, let us mention testing speaking skills.
Here one of the makers will probably treat grammar as the most significant
point to be evaluated, whereas the other will emphasise the fluency more.
Sometimes this could lead to the arguments between the makers;
nevertheless, we should never forget that still the main figure we have to
deal with is the student.
Now we can come to one of the important aspects of testing – validity.
Concerning Hughes, every test should be reliable as well as valid. Both
notions are very crucial elements of testing. However, according to Moss
(1994) there can be validity without reliability, or sometimes the border
between these two notions can just blur. Although, apart from those
elements, a good test should be efficient as well.
According to Bynom (Forum, 2001), validity deals with what is tested and
degree to which a test measures what is supposed to measure (Longman
Dictionary, LTAL). For example, if we test the students writing skills
giving them a composition test on Ways of Cooking, we cannot denote such
test as valid, for it can be argued that it tests not our abilities to
write, but the knowledge of cooking as a skill. Definitely, it is very
difficult to design a proper test with a good validity, therefore, the
author of the paper believes that it is very essential for the teacher to
know and understand what validity really is.
Regarding Weir (1990:22), there are five types of validity:
. Construct validity;
. Content validity
. Face validity
. Wash back validity;
. Criterion-related validity.
Weir (ibid.) states that construct validity is a theoretical concept that
involves other types of validity. Further, quoting Cronbach (1971), Weird
writes that to construct or plan a test you should research into testee’s
behaviour and mental organisation. It is the ground on which the test is
based; it is the starting point for a constructing of test tasks. In
addition, Weird displays the Kelly’s idea (1978) that test design requires
some theory, even if it is indirect exposure to it. Moreover, being able to
define the theoretical construct at the beginning of the test design, we
will be able to use it when dealing with the results of the test. The
author of the paper assumes that appropriately constructed at the
beginning, the test will not provoke any difficulties in its administration
and scoring later.
Another type of validity is content validity. Weir (ibid.) implies the
idea that content validity and construct one are closely bound and
sometimes even overlap with each other. Speaking about content validity, we
should emphasise that it is inevitable element of a good test. What is
meant is that usually duration of the classes or test time is rather
limited, and if we teach a rather broad topic such as “computers”, we
cannot design a test that would cover all the aspects of the following
topic. Therefore, to check the students’ knowledge we have to choose what
was taught: whether it was a specific vocabulary or various texts connected
with the topic, for it is impossible to test the whole material. The
teacher should not pick up tricky pieces that either were only mentioned
once or were not discussed in the classroom at all, though belonging to the
topic. S/he should not forget that the test is not a punishment or an
opportunity for the teacher to show the students that they are less clever.
Hence, we can state that content validity is closely connected with a
definite item that was taught and is supposed to be tested.
Face validity, according to Weir (ibid.), is not theory or samples
design. It is how the examinees and administration staff see the test:
whether it is construct and content valid or not. This will definitely
include debates and discussions about a test; it will involve the teachers’
cooperation and exchange of their ideas and experience.
Another type of validity to be discussed is wash back validity or
backwash. According to Hughes (1989:1) backwash is the effect of testing on
teaching and learning process. It could be both negative and positive.
Hughes believes that if the test is considered to be a significant element,
then preparation to it will occupy the most of the time and other teaching
and learning activities will be ignored. As the author of the paper is
concerned this is already a habitual situation in the schools of our
country, for our teachers are faced with the centralised exams and
everything they have to do is to prepare their students to them. Thus, the
teacher starts concentrating purely on the material that could be
encountered in the exam papers alluding to the examples taken from the past
exams. Therefore, numerous interesting activities are left behind; the
teachers are concerned just with the result and forget about different
techniques that could be introduced and later used by their students to
make the process of dealing with the exam tasks easier, such as guessing
form the context, applying schemata, etc.
The problem arises here when the objectives of the course done during the
study year differ from the objectives of the test. As a result we will have
a negative backwash, e.g. the students were taught to write a review of a
film, but during the test they are asked to write a letter of complaint.
However, unfortunately, the teacher has not planned and taught that.
Often a negative backwash may be caused by inappropriate test design.
Hughes further in his book speaks about multiple-choice activities that are
designed to check writing skills of the students. The author of the paper
is very confused by that, for it is unimaginable how writing an essay could
be tested with the help of multiple choices. Testing essay the teacher
first of all is interested in the students’ ability to apply their ideas in
writing, how it has been done, what language has been used, whether the
ideas are supported and discussed, etc. At this point multiple-choice
technique is highly inappropriate.
Notwithstanding, according to Hughes apart form negative side of the
backwash there is the positive backwash as well. It could be the creation
of an entirely new course designed especially for the students to make them
pass their final exams. The test given in a form of final exams imposes the
teacher to re-organise the course, choose appropriate books and activities
to achieve the set goal: pass the exam. Further, he emphasises the
importance of partnership between teaching and testing. Teaching should
meet the needs of testing. It could be understand in the following way that
teaching should correspond the demands of the test. However, it is a rather
complicated work, for according to the knowledge of the author of the paper
the teachers in our schools are not supplied with specially designed
materials that could assist them in their preparation the students to the
exams. The teachers are just given vague instructions and are free to act
on their own.
The last type that could be discussed is criterion-related validity. Weir
(1990:22.) assumes that it is connected with test scores link between two
different performances of the same test: either older established test or
future criterion performance. The author of the paper considers that this
type of validity is closely connected with criterion and evaluation the
teacher uses to assess the test. It could mean that the teacher has to work
out definite evaluation system and, moreover, should explain what she finds
important and worth evaluating and why. Usually the teachers design their
own system; often these are points that the students can obtain fulfilling
a certain task. Later the points are gathered and counted for the mark to
be put. Furthermore, the teacher can have a special table with points and
relevant marks. According to our knowledge, the language teachers decide on
the criteria together during a special meeting devoted to that topic, and
later they keep to it for the whole study year. Moreover, the teachers are
supposed to make his/her students acquainted with their evaluation system
for the students to be aware what they are expected to do.
According to Bynom (Forum, 2001) reliability shows that the test’s
results will be similar and will not change if one and the same test will
be given on various days. The author of the paper is of the same mind with
Bynom and presumes the reliability to be the one of the key elements of a
good test in general. For, as it has been already discussed before, the
essence of reliability is that when the students’ scores for one and the
same test, though given at different periods of time and with a rather
extended interval, will be approximately the same. It will not only display
the idea that the test is well organized, but will denote that the students
have acquired the new material well.
A reliable test, according to Bynom, will contain well-formulated tasks
and not indefinite questions; the student will know what exactly should be
done. The test will always present ready examples at the beginning of each
task to clarify what should be done. The students will not be frustrated
and will know exactly what they are asked to perform. However, judging form
the personal experience, the author of the paper has to admit, that even
such hints may confuse the students; they may fail to understand the
requirements and, consequently, fail to complete the task correctly. This
could be explained by the fact that the students are very often
inattentive, lack patience and try to accomplish the test quickly without
bothering to double check it.
Further, regarding to Heaton (1990:13), who states that the test could be
unreliable if the two different markers mark it, we can add that this
factor should be accepted, as well. For example, one representative of
marking team could be rather lenient and have different demands and
requirements, but the other one could appear to be too strict and would pay
attention to any detail. Thus, we can come to another important factor
influencing the reliability that is marker’s comparison of examinees’
answers. Moreover, we have to admit a rather sad fact but not the
exceptional one that the maker’s personal attitude towards the testee could
impact his/her evaluation. No one has to exclude various home or health
problems the marker can encounter at that moment, as well.
To summarize, we can say that for a good test possessing validity and
reliability is not enough. The test should be practical, or in other words,
efficient. It should be easily understood by the examinee, ease scored and
administered, and, certainly, rather cheap. It should not last for
eternity, for both examiner and examinee could become tired during five
hours non-stop testing process. Moreover, testing the students the teachers
should be aware of the fact that together with checking their knowledge the
test can influence the students negatively. Therefore, the teachers ought
to design such a test that it could encourage the students, but not to make
them reassure in their own abilities. The test should be a friend, not an
enemy. Thus, the issue of validity and reliability is very essential in
creating a good test. The test should measure what it is supposed to
measure, but not the knowledge beyond the students’ abilities. Moreover,
the test will be a true indicator whether the learning process and the
teacher’s work is effective.
Types of tests
Different scholars (Alderson, 1996; Heaton, 1990; Underhill, 1991) in
their researches ask the similar question – why test, do the teachers
really need them and for what purpose. Further, they all agree that test is
not the teacher’s desire to catch the students unprepared with what they
are not acquainted; it is also not the motivating factor for the students
to study. In fact, the test is a request for information and possibility to
learn what the teachers did not know about their students before. We can
add here that the test is important for the students, too, though they are
unaware of that. The test is supposed to display not only the students’
weak points, but also their strong sides. It could act as an indicator of
progress the student is gradually making learning the language. Moreover,
we can cite the idea of Hughes (1989:5) who emphasises that we can check
the progress, general or specific knowledge of the students, etc. This
claim will directly lead us to the statement that for each of these
purposes there is a special type of testing. According to some scholars
(Thompson, 2001; Hughes, 1989; Alderson, 1996; Heaton, 1990; Underhill,
1991), there are four traditional categories or types of tests: proficiency
tests, achievement tests, diagnostic tests, and placement tests. The author
of the paper, once being a teacher, can claim that she is acquainted with
three of them and has frequently used them in her teaching practice.
In the following sub-chapters we are determined to discuss different
types of tests and if possible to apply our own experience in using them.
3.1. Diagnostic tests
It is wise to start our discussion with that type of testing, for it
is typically the first step each teacher, even non-language teacher, takes
at the beginning of a new school year. In the establishment the author of
the paper was working it was one of the main rules to start a new study
year giving the students a diagnostic test. Every year the administration
of the school had stemmed a special plan where every teacher was supposed
to write when and how they were going to test their students. Moreover, the
teachers were supposed to analyse the diagnostic tests, complete special
documents and provide diagrams with the results of each class or group if a
class was divided. Then, at the end of the study year the teachers were
demanded to compare the results of them with the final, achievement test
(see in Appendix 1). The author of the paper has used this type of test for
several times, but had never gone deep into details how it is constructed,
why and what for. Therefore, the facts listed below were of great value for
Referring to Longman Dictionary of LTAL (106) diagnostic tests is a
test that is meant to display what the student knows and what s/he does not
know. The dictionary gives an example of testing the learners’
pronunciation of English sounds. Moreover, the test can check the students’
knowledge before starting a particular course. Hughes (1989:6) adds that
diagnostic tests are supposed to spot the students’ weak and strong points.
Heaton (1990:13) compares such type of test with a diagnosis of a patient,
and the teacher with a doctor who states the diagnosis. Underhill
(1991:14.) adds that a diagnostic test provides the student with a variety
of language elements, which will help the teacher to determine what the
student knows or does not know. We believe that the teacher will
intentionally include the material that either is presumed to be taught by
a syllabus or could be a starting point for a course without the knowledge
of which the further work is not possible. Thus, we fully agree with the
Heaton’s comparison where he contrasts the test with a patient’s diagnosis.
The diagnostic test displays the teacher a situation of the students’
current knowledge. This is very essential especially when the students
return from their summer holidays (that produces a rather substantial gap
in their knowledge) or if the students start a new course and the teacher
is completely unfamiliar with the level of the group. Hence, the teacher
has to consider carefully about the items s/he is interested in to teach.
This consideration reflects Heaton’s proposal (ibid.), which stipulates
that the teachers should be systematic to design the tasks that are
supposed to illustrate the students’ abilities, and they should know what
exactly they are testing. Moreover, Underhill (ibid.) points out that apart
from the above-mentioned the most essential element of the diagnostic test
is that the students should not feel depressed when the test is completed.
Therefore, very often the teachers do not put any marks for the diagnostic
test and sometimes even do not show the test to the learners if the
students do not ask the teacher to return it. Nevertheless, regarding our
own experience, the learners, especially the young ones, are eager to know
their results and even demand marks for their work. Notwithstanding, it is
up to the teacher whether to inform his/her students with the results or
not; however, the test represents a valuable information mostly for the
teacher and his/her plans for designing a syllabus.
Returning to Hughes (ibid.) we can emphasise his belief that this
type of test is very useful for individual check. It means that this test
could be applicable for checking a definite item; it is not necessary that
it will cover broader topics of the language. However, further Hughes
assumes that this test is rather difficult to design and the size of the
test can be even impractical. It means that if the teacher wants to check
the students’ knowledge of Present simple, s/he will require a great deal
of examples for the students to choose from. It will demand a tiresome work
from the teacher to compose such type of the test, and may even confuse the
At that point we can allude to our experience in giving a diagnostic
test in Form 5. It was the class the teacher had worked before and knew the
students and their level rather good. However, new learners had joined the
class, and the teacher had not a slightest idea about their abilities. It
was obvious that the students worried about how they would accomplish the
test and what marks would they receive. The teacher had ensured them that
the test would not be evaluated by marks. It was necessary for the teacher
to plan her future work. That was done to release the tension in the class
and make the students get rid of the stress that might be crucial for the
results. The students immediately felt free and set to work. Later when
analysing and summarizing the results the teacher realized that the
students’ knowledge was purely good. Certainly, there were the place the
students required more practice; therefore during the next class the
students were offered remedial activities on the points they had
encountered any difficulties. Moreover, that was the case when the students
were particularly interested in their marks.
To conclude, we can conceive that interpreting the results of
diagnostic tests the teachers apart from predicting why the student has
done the exercises the way s/he has, but not the other, will receive a
significant information about his/her group s/he is going to work with and
later use the information as a basis for the forming syllabus.
3.2 Placement tests
Another type of test we are intended to discuss is a placement test.
Concerning Longman Dictionary of LTAL again (279-280) we can see that a
placement test is a test that places the students at an appropriate level
in a programme or a course. This term does not refer to the system and
construction of the test, but to its usage purpose. According to Hughes
(1989:7), this type of test is also used to decide which group or class the
learner could be joined to. This statement is entirely supported by another
scholar, such as Alderson (1996:216), who declares that this type of test
is meant for showing the teacher the students’ level of the language
ability. It will assist to put the student exactly in that group that
responds his/her true abilities.
Heaton (ibid.) adheres that the following type of testing should be
general and should purely focus on a vast range of topics of the language
not on just specific one. Therefore, the placement test typically could be
represented in the form of dictations, interviews, grammar tests, etc.
Moreover, according to Heaton (ibid.), the placement test should deal
exactly with the language skills relevant to those that will be taught
during a particular course. If our course includes development of writing
skills required for politics, it is not appropriate to study writing
required for medical purposes. Thus, Heaton (ibid.) presumes that is fairly
important to analyse and study the syllabus beforehand. For the placement
test is completely attributed to the future course programme. Furthermore,
Hughes (ibid.) stresses that each institution will have its own placement
tests meeting its needs. The test suitable for one institution will not
suit the needs of another. Likewise, the matter of scoring is particularly
significant in the case of placement tests, for the scores gathered serve
as a basis for putting the students into different groups appropriate to
At this point we can attempt to compare a placement test and
diagnostic one. From the first sight these both types of tests could look
similar. They both are given at the beginning of the study year and both
are meant for distinguishing the students’ level of the current knowledge.
However, if we consider the facts described in sub-chapter 2.1 we will see
how they are different. A diagnostic test is meant for displaying a picture
of the students’ general knowledge at the beginning of the study year for
the teacher to plan further work and design an appropriate syllabus for
his/her students. Whereas, a placement test is designed and given in order
to use the information of the students’ knowledge for putting the students
into groups according to their level of the language. Indeed, they are both
used for teacher’s planning of the course their functions differ. A
colleague of mine, who works at school, has informed me that they have used
a placement test at the beginning of the year and it appeared to be
relevant and efficient for her and her colleague’s future teaching. The
students were divided according to their English language abilities: the
students with better knowledge were put together, whereas the weaker
students formed their own group. It does not mean discrimination between
the students. The teachers have explained the students the reason for such
actions, why it was necessary – they wanted to produce an appropriate
teaching for each student taking his/her abilities into account. The
teachers have altered their syllabus to meet the demands of the students.
The result proved to be satisfying. The students with better knowledge
progressed; no one halted them. The weaker students have gradually improved
their knowledge, for they received due attention than it would be in a
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
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
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
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
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 teacher’s 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 test’s 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 learner’s 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
To summarize we can claim that there are different types of tests that
serve for different purposes. Moreover, they all are necessary for the
teacher’s work, for them, apart from a proficiency test, could contribute
to successful material acquisition by learners.
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 teacher’s 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 learner’s real knowledge of
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
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
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.
Advancing further, we have come to norm-referenced test that measures
the knowledge of the learner and compares it with the knowledge of another
member of his/her group. The learner’s score is compared with the scores of
the other students. According to Hughes (ibid.), this type of test does not
show us what exactly the student knows. Therefore, we presume that the best
test format for the following type of testing could be a placement test,
for it concerns the students’ placement and division according to their
knowledge of the foreign language. There the score is vital, as well.
4.4 Objective and subjective testing
It worth mentioning that apart from scoring and testing the learners’
abilities another essential role could be devoted to indirect factors that
influence evaluating. These are objective and subjective issues in testing.
According to Hughes (1989:19), the difference between these two types is
the way of scoring and presence or absence of the examiner’s judgement. If
there is not any judgement, the test is objective. On the contrary, the
subjective test involves personal judgement of the examiner. The author of
the paper sees it as when testing the students objectively, the teacher
usually checks just the knowledge of the topic. Whereas, testing
subjectively could imply the teacher’s ideas and judgements. This could be
encountered during speaking test where the student can produce either
positive or negative impression on the teacher. Moreover, the teacher’s
impression and his/her knowledge of the students’ true abilities can
seriously influence assessing process. For example, the student has failed
the test; however, the teacher knows the true abilities of the student and,
therefore, s/he will assess the work of that student differently taking all
the factors into account.
4.5 Communicative language testing
Referring to Bynom (ibid.), this type of testing has become popular
since 1970-80s. It involves the knowledge of grammar and how it could be
applied in written and oral language; the knowledge when to speak and what
to say in an appropriate situation; knowledge of verbal and non-verbal
communication. All these types of knowledge should be successfully used in
a situation. It bases on the functional use of the language. Moreover,
communicative language testing helps the learners feel themselves in real-
life situation and acquire the relevant language.
Weir (1990:7) stipulates that the current type of testing tests
exactly the “performance” of communication. Further, he develops the idea
of “competence” due to the fact that an individual usually acts in a
variety of situations. Afterwards, reconsidering Bachman’s idea he comes
with another notion – ‘communicative language ability’.
Weir (1990:10-11) assumes that in order to work out a good
communicative language test we have to bear in mind the issue of precision:
both the skills and performance should be accurate. Besides, their
collaboration is vital for the students’ placement in the so-called ‘real
life situation’. However, without a context the communicative language test
would not function. The context should be as closer to the real life as
possible. It is required in order to help the student feel him/herself in
the natural environment. Furthermore, Weir (ibid.) stresses that language
‘fades’ if deprived of the context.
Weir (ibid., p.11) says: “to measure language proficiency adequately
in each situation, account must be taken of: where, when, how, with whom,
and why the language is to be used, and on what topics, and with what
effect.” Moreover, Weirs (ibid.) emphasises the crucial role of the
schemata (prior knowledge) in the communicative language tests.
The tasks used in the communicative language testing should be
authentic and ‘direct’ in order the student will be able to perform as it
is done in everyday life.
According to Weir (ibid.), the students have to be ready to speak in
any situation; they have to be ready to discuss some topics in groups and
be able to overcome difficulties met in the natural environment. Therefore,
the tests of this type are never simplified, but are given as they could be
encountered in the surroundings of the native speaker. Moreover, the
student has to possess some communicative skills, that is how to behave in
a certain situation, how to apply body language, etc.
Finally, we can repeat that communicative language testing involves
the learner’s ability to operate with the language s/he knows and apply it
in a certain situation s/he is placed in. S/he should be capable of
behaving in real-life situation with confidence and be ready to supply the
information required by a certain situation. Thereof, we can speak about
communicative language testing as a testing of the student’s ability to
behave him/herself, as he or she would do in everyday life. We evaluate
To conclude we will repeat that there are different types testing used
in the language teaching: discreet point and integrative testing, direct
and indirect testing, etc. All of them are vital for testing the students.
Testing the Language Skills
In this chapter we will attempt to examine the various elements or
formats of tests that could be applied for testing of four language skills:
reading, listening, writing and speaking. First, we will look at multiple-
choice tests, after that we will come to cloze tests and gap filling, then
to dictations and so on. Ultimately, we will attempt to draw a parallel
between them and the skills they could be used for.
5.1 Multiple choice tests
It is not surprising why we have started exactly with multiple-choice
tests (MCQs, further in the text). To the author’s concern these tests are
widely used by teachers in their teaching practice, and, moreover, are
favoured by the students (Here the author has been supported by the
equivalent idea of Alderson (1996:222)). Heaton (1990:79) believes that
multiple-choice questions are basically employed to test vocabulary.
However, we can argue with the statement, for the multiple choice tests
could be successfully used for testing grammar, as well as for testing
listening or reading skills.
It is a well-known fact how a multiple-choice test looks like:
1. ---- not until the invention of the camera that artists
correctly painted horses racing.
A) There was
B) It was
“Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL Test”:
A task basically is represented by a number of sentences, which should
be provided with the right variant, that, in its turn, is usually given
below. Furthermore, apart from the right variant the students are offered a
set of distractors, which are normally introduced in order to “deceive” the
learner. If the student knows the material that is being tested, s/he will
spot the right variant, supply it and successfully accomplish the task. The
distractors, or wrong words, basically slightly differ from the correct
variant and sometimes are even funny. Nevertheless, very often they could
be represented by the synonyms of the correct answer whose differences are
known to those who encounter the language more frequently as their job or
study field. In that case they could be hardly differentiated, and the
students are frustrated. Certainly, the following cases could be implied
when teaching vocabulary, and, consequently, will demand the students’
ability to use the right synonym. The author of the paper had given the
multiple-choice tests to her students and must confess that despite
difficulties in preparing them, the students found them easier to do. They
motivated their favour for them as it was rather convenient for them to
find the right variant, definitely if they knew what to look for. We
presume that such test format as if motivated the learners and supplied
them additional support that they were deprived during the test where
nobody could hope for the teacher’s help.
Everything mentioned above has raised the author’s interest in the
theory on multiple-choice test format and, therefore, she finds extremely
useful the following list of advantages and disadvantages generated by
Weir. He (1990:43) lists four advantages and six disadvantages of the
multiple-choice questions test. Let us look at the advantages first:
. According to Weir, the multiple-choice questions are structured in
such a form that there is no possibility for the teacher or as he
places “marker” to apply his/her personal attitude to the marking
The author of the paper finds it to be very significant, for employing
the test of this format we see only what the student knows or does not
know; the teacher cannot raise or lower the marker basing on the students’
additional ideas displayed in the work. Furthermore, the teacher, though
knowing the strong and weak points of his/her students, cannot apply this
information as well to influence the mark. What s/he gets are the pure
facts of the students’ knowledge.
Another advantage is:
. The usage of pre-test that could be helpful for stating the level of
difficulty of the examples and the test in the whole. That will
reduce the probability of the test being inadequate or too
complicated both for completing and marking.
This could mean that the teacher can ensure his/her students and
him/herself against failures. For this purposes s/he just has to test the
multiple-choice test to avoid troubles connected with its inadequacy that
later can lead to the disaster for the students receiving bad marks due to
the fact that the test’s examples were too complicated or too ambiguous.
The next advantage concerns the format of the test that clearly implies
the idea of what the learner should do. The instructions are clear,
unambiguous. The students know what they are expected to do and do not
waste their precious time on trying to figure out what they are supposed to
The last advantage displayed by Weir is that the MCQs in a certain
context are better than open-ended or short-answer questions, for the
learners are not required to produce their writing skills. This eliminates
the students’ fear of mistakes they can make while writing; moreover, the
task does not demand any creative activity, but only checks the exact
knowledge of the material.
Having considered the advantages of MCQs, it is worth speaking about its
disadvantages. We will not present all of them only what we find of the
utmost interest and value for us.
The first disadvantage concerns the students’ guessing the answers;
therefore, we cannot objectively judge his/her true knowledge of the topic.
We are not able to see whether the student knows the material or have just
luckily ticked or circled the right variant. Therefore, it could be
connected with another shortcoming of the following test format that while
scoring the teacher will not get the right and true picture of what the
students really know.
Another interesting point that could be mentioned it that multiple-
choice differ from the real-life situation by the choice of alternatives.
Usually, in our everyday life we have to choose between two alternatives,
whereas the multiple-choice testing might confuse the learner by the
examples s/he even has not thought about. That will definitely lead to
frustration, and, consequently, to the student’s failure to accomplish the
Besides, regarding Weir (ibid.) who quotes Heaton (1975) we can
stipulate that in some cases multiple-choice tests are not adequate and it
is better to use open-ended questions to avoid the pro-long lists of
multiple-choice items. This probably will concern the subject, which will
require a more precise description and explanation from the students’ side.
To finish up with the drawbacks of MCQs we can declare that they are
relatively costly and time-consuming to prepare. The test designer should
carefully select and analyse each item to be included in the test to avoid
ambiguity and imprecision. Furthermore, s/he should check all possible
grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes, evaluate the quality of
information offered for the learners’ tasks and choose the correct and
relevant distractors for the students not to confuse them during the test.
To conclude we can cite Heaton (1990:17) who stipulates that designing a
multiple-choice items test is not so fearful and hard as many teachers
think. The only thing you need is practice accompanied by a bit of theory.
He suggests for an inexperienced teacher to use not more than three options
if the teacher encounters certain difficulties in supplying more examples
for the distractors. The options should be grammatically correct and of
equal length. Moreover, the context should be appropriate to illustrate an
example and make the student guess right.
5.2 Short answer tests
A further format that is worth mentioning is short answer test
format. According to Alderson (1996:223) short answer tests could be
substitutes to multiple-choice tests. The only difference is that apart
from the optional answers the students will have to provide short answers.
The author of the paper had not used this test format, thus, she cannot
draw on her experience. Therefore, she will just list the ideas produced by
other linguists, to be more exact Alderson’s suggestions.
Alderson (ibid.) believes that short answer tests will contribute to
the students’ results, for they will be able to support their answers and,
if necessary, clarify why they responded in that way but not the other. It
could be explained that the students will have an opportunity to prove
their answers and support them if necessary.
Nevertheless, the short answer tests are relatively complicated for
the teacher to be designed. The teacher has to consider a variety of ideas
and thoughts to create a fairy relevant test with fairly relevant items.
May be that could explain the fact why this test format is not such a
common occasion as MCQs are.
At this point we have come to advantages and drawbacks of short
answer tests. Weir (1990:44) says that this type of testing differs from
MCQs by the absence of the answers. The students have to provide the answer
themselves. That will give the marker the clear idea whether the students
know what they write about or not. Certainly, the teacher will be definite
about the students’ knowledge, whereas in MCQs s/he can doubt whether the
students know or have just guessed the correct answer. Moreover, short
answer test could make the students apply their various language skills
techniques they use while dealing with any reading, listening or speaking
Finally, Weir (ibid.) stipulates that if the questions are well
formulated, there is a high chance the student will supply short, well-
formulated answer. Therefore, a variety of questions could be included in
the test to cover a broader field of the student’s knowledge, and certainly
it will require a great work from the teacher.
Nevertheless, there are certain drawbacks displayed by the following
test format. One of the major disadvantages could be the students’
involvement in writing. For if we are determined to check the students
reading abilities, it is not appropriate to give the students writing tasks
due to the high possibility of the spelling and grammar mistakes that may
occur during the process. Therefore, we have to decide upon our priorities
– what do we want to test. Furthermore, the students while writing can
produce far different answers than expected. It will be rather complicated
to decide whether to consider them as mistakes or not.
5.3 The cloze test and gap-filling tests
Before coming to the theory on cloze tests we assume that it is
necessary for us to speak about a term “cloze”. Weir (1990:46) informs that
it was coined by W.L. Taylor (1953) from the word ‘closure’ and meant the
individual’s ability to complete a model.
However, to follow the model one has to posses certain skills to do
so. Hence, we can speak about introduction of such skill that Weir calls
deduction. Deduction is an important aspect for dealing with anything that
is unknown and unfamiliar. Thus, before giving a cloze test the teacher has
to be certain whether his/her students are familiar with the deduction
Alderson (1996:224) assumes that there are two cloze test techniques:
pseudo-random and rational cloze technique. In the pseudo-random test the
test designer deletes words at a definite rate, or as Heaton (1990:19)
places it, systematically, for example every 7th word should be deleted
occasionally with the initiate letter of the omitting word left as a
Although you may think of Britain as England ,i...is really four
countries in one. There a.. …..four very distinct nations within the
British I………: England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, each with their
o…..unique culture, history, cuisine, literature a…..even languages.
(Discovering Britain, Pavlockij B.
However, the task could be more demanding if the teacher will not
assist the learners’ guesses and will not provide any hints:
Scotland is in the north and Wales in the west were………separate
countries. They have different customs,……………….., language and, in Scotland’
s case, different legal and educational……………….
The examples shown above do not yield to be ideal examples at all.
Without doubt, the material used in the task should more or less provide
the students with the appropriate clues to form correct guessing.
Notwithstanding, the author of the paper has used such tests in her
practice and according to her observations; she can conclude that the tasks
with the first letter left are highly motivating for the students and
supply a lot of help for them. Moreover, having discussed the following
test format the teacher has revealed that the students like it and receive
a real pleasure if they are able to confirm their guess and find the right
However, according to Alderson (ibid.), the teacher commonly does not
intend to check a certain material by the cloze test. The main point here
is the independence of the student and his/her ability to apply all the
necessary techniques to fill in the blank spaces. Concerning the mentioned-
above scholars, we have to agree that the following type of test is
actually relatively challenging, for it demands vast language knowledge
from the student. Heaton (ibid.) believes that each third or fourth deleted
word can turn into the handicap for the learner due to the lack of
prompting devices, such as collocations, prepositions, etc. Whereas, the
removal of each ninth word may even lead to the exhausting reading process.
On the contrary, the rational cloze technique, or as it is usually
called gap-filling, is based on the deletion of words connected with the
topic the teacher wants or intends to check. At this time the teacher
controls the procedure more than it is in the pseudo-random test discussed
above. Moreover, s/he tries to delete every fifth or sixth word, but does
it rather carefully not to distort the meaning and mislead the learner.
Besides, a significant factor in this type of testing is that the teacher
removes exactly the main words that are supposed to be checked, i.e.:
Britain…….a deceptively large island and ……surrounded by some very
beautiful coastline. The south of England has popular sandy beaches,
especially in the west. But the coast in the south west Wales…..a unique
coastal National Park. Its beaches…… great for sunbathing and the rock
pools and cliffs ……..havens for wildlife. Up in Scotland, the striking
white beaches of the west coast and islands……excellent places for
(Discovering Britain, Pavlockij B. M., 2000)
It is evident that the teacher’s aim by the help of the rational cloze
test is to check the students’ knowledge of the Present simple of the verb
“to be”. Thereof, the cloze tests could be successfully used for testing
grammar, as well.
We have come again to the point when we are going to mention the
advantages and disadvantages of cloze and gap-filling testing coined by
Weir. Regarding Weir, there are more disadvantages than advantages in
applying the cloze tests. He says that to design a cloze test is fairly
easy, and they are easy to evaluate, and it is the best means to check
reading comprehension. Concerning the drawbacks, we can emphasise that
randomly removed words usually will act as distractors and will not be of
true importance for the students to comprehend a message if, for example,
it is a reading task.
Compared to the cloze test, gap filling is more material based, for
it checks the students’ knowledge of a particular topic. Therefore, we can
speak about the first advantage that is the learners will know exactly what
they should insert. Moreover, the selectively deleted items allow focusing
exactly on them and do not confuse the student.
The last what could be said about gap filling tests is that this
technique limits us to check only a certain language skill, e.g. a
vocabulary on different topics.
It is worth mentioning that in the 80s German school introduced an
alternative to cloze test another type of testing – C-Tests. This test was
based on the cloze test system; however, every second word there was
deleted. It could seem quite a complicated type, though it is not.
According to Weir (1990:47) in this type every deleted word is partially
preserved. Thus, the students, if they possess a fairly good knowledge of
the language and can activate their schemata, or background knowledge of a
topic or the world, they will succeed in completing the test. Such test
format could look as follows:
Cats ha…. always been surro………by superstitions. In anc……Egypt
ca….were cons……. sacred, but in medi…..Europe ma….. people beli…… cats we….
witches in disgu…… A popular supers……... about ca…. is that a blac…cat,
cros… your pa… from left to rig…., will bri… you bad lu…. However, in some
cult….. a black ca… is thought to be a go… omen rat… than a ba… one.
(First certificate Star, Luke
Definitely there are advantages and disadvantages of the following
test format. According to Weir, due to the frequency of the deleted items
there is a great possibility to include more tested items in the test.
Moreover, this test is economical. However, despite all the advantages, the
test can mislead the students as it is fragmented. The examples are
deprived from the context that could be very helpful for the students’
guessing of the missing parts.
5.5 True/False items
This test format is familiar for all the teachers and students. Each
reading task will always be followed with true/false activities that will
intend to check the students’ comprehension of a text. The students will be
offered a set of statements some of which are true and some are wrong,
1. People went to see ‘Cats’ because of the story. T F
2. Lloyd Webber’s father helped his career. T F
3. Lloyd Webber comes from a musical family. T F
( Famous Britons, Michael
They usually should be ticked, and in order to tick the correct variants
the students have to be able to employ various guessing strategies.
According to Weir (1990:48), the advantage of such test is found in
its applicability and suitability. One can write more true/false statements
for a test and use them to check the students’ progress or achievement.
Furthermore, the current sort of testing could be more motivating for the
students than a multiple-choice test. It will not make the students
confused offering just one possibility than a multiple-choice test, which
typically proposes more than one option to choose from. Moreover, it is
easy to answer for the students and check for the teachers.
Another test format that could be applied in the language classroom is
dictation. We commonly use dictations to check spelling; nevertheless, it
could be applied to test listening comprehension, as well. It is obvious
that to dictate something we have either to speak or read. It means that
while writing a dictation the student has to be able to perceive the spoken
language efficiently enough to produce in on paper. For this purpose the
student will require a variety of techniques such as schemata and its
application, predictions, guessing and context clues, etc. Further, it also
is constrained that dictation help the students develop their abilities to
distinguish between phonemes, separate words and intonation. Besides,
dictations function in spoken language; thereof the students have an
opportunity to learn to understand the language through listening. To
conclude what has been mentioned above we can agree with Weir (1990:49)
that dictations will force the students to use the variety of skills:
listening, reading, speaking and writing skills.
Heaton (1990:28) advises that to enable the students comprehend
successfully, the teacher need to read carefully and clearly, however
avoiding slow, word for word reading. Moreover, to allow the students to
check what they have written the repetition will be required. The author of
the paper when giving dictations to her students had encountered the need
for repetition for a number of times. The following could be explained by
many factors, such as the students are not able to perceive spoken speech
through listening; they are not able to elaborate various guessing,
inferring of the meaning techniques or their pace of writing is simply
rather slow. Thus, we entirely support the next statement claimed by Heaton
that it is wise after the first reading of a dictation to ask a set of
comprehension questions to make the students aware of the general idea of a
text. It will simplify the process of the understanding.
Notwithstanding, even an ideal variant will definitely contain some
drawbacks. The same could be applied to dictations. First, to write a
dictation, the student requires a good memory. S/he has to retain
information they have heard in order to display it later; moreover, the
information should be identical to the original. Therefore, we can claim
that the student has to recognize at least seventy-eighty per cent of what
has been dictated. In that case we short-term memory should be well
Apart from memory, scoring could be problematic, as well. Weir
(1990:50) believes that is difficult to decide what to pay attention to:
whether to evaluate spelling and grammar, or just perceived information.
Thus, the teacher has to work out a certain set of criteria, as we have
already mentioned that in Chapter 1, the criteria s/he will be operating
with. Besides, the students should be acquainted with it, as well.
In addition, Weir (ibid.) says that dictating is more efficient if it
is recorded on the tape and is delivered by a native speaker. It could mean
that the students will have a chance to fell themselves in the real-life
situation; for this is the actual purpose they learn the language for. The
following has been expanded by Heaton (ibid.) that speaking face to face
with a speaker is even more beneficial, for we can compensate the lack of
understanding by his/her facial expression, gestures and movements.
Listening to a cassette does not provide us with such a chance, and
therefore, it is more challenging and requires more developed skills to
understand a recorded message.
5.7 Listening Recall
This test format is specifically applied to testing listening skills.
It differs from a dictation that it supplies the students with a printed
text. However, the text is given not as the complete script of the tape.
Certain words that carry the meaning load are deleted from a passage, and
the students after listening to the tape are supposed to insert them.
Hence, it could be related to a gap-filling test. Here the cassette is
usually played for two times; first, the students listen for information
and attempt to insert the missing details. The second time allows them to
add what they had failed to understand at the beginning. The author of the
paper had not used that as a direct test format but as a while-listening
activity during her classes. According to her scrutiny the students with
more advanced language abilities were able to comprehend the texts
immediately, whereas the weaker students sometimes could not manage to
understand the message even listening for the tape for the third time. That
again proves the significance of usage of pre-, while and post-listening
activities in the language classroom. Weir (ibid.) states that such type of
testing involves the students’ short-time memory, which they need to switch
while listening to the tape.
According to Weir (ibid.), one of the advantages of listening recall
is uncomplicated construction, administration and marking.
Nevertheless, there are several disadvantages, as well. There is a
danger, that the students will read the passage before listening to the
tape, thus we will not be able to evaluate exactly their listening skills.
The author of the current paper had encountered the similar situation,
where the teacher warns the students not to read but just listen. However,
they start reading immediately after receiving the text, even though the
tape record being still turned off.
5.8 Testing Grammar Through Error-recognition Items and Word Formation
One of the test formats for testing grammar is error-recognition
items. Here the teacher writes sentences underlining various words. One of
the words is obligatory wrong, and the students have to identify what word
is wrong and should be corrected. Heaton (ibid.) introduces a variation of
that type, saying that the teacher can supply the students with incorrect
sentences asking the students to provide the right variant. This again
demands a fairly good knowledge of the subject from the students to
differentiate between the right and wrong variants. In that case the error-
recognition format could be compared with multiple-choice format and even
called a branch of it. Below you can find the example of error-recognition
1. I can’t come to the phone – I have / I’m having a shower!
2. I watched/ I was watching TV when suddenly the telephone
3. I had been waiting/ I had waited in the rain for ages when
she finally turned up.
(First certificate Star, Luke
Further, for testing grammar and language structures we often use
word-formation tasks, e.g.:
Making friends and ………people is a gift that some influence
………….people seem to be born with, while for others it luck
is a skill that has to be ……..through practice and acquire
hard work. It is, however, …….to know that most skills, comfort
particularly ………….skill, can be learnt and that it is never society
too late to start improving.
(First certificate Star, Luke
|verb |noun |person |Adjective |
|Invent | | | |
| | |discoverer |- |
| |creation | | |
It is frequently used in centralized exams to know the students’
ability to coin new words that displays the students’ advanced level of the
language. The students are demanded coining nouns from verbs, adjectives
from nouns, etc. This requires certain knowledge of prefixes, suffixes and
roots in order to create a necessary word. Word coinage is an inevitable
skill for recognizing new word items either.
5.9 Controlled writing
In order to check the students grammar and writing ability the
teacher can use different test formats: transformation, broken sentences,
sentence and paragraph completion, form filling, notes and diaries.
According to Heaton (1990:32), transformation deals with re-writing
sentences. For example, the students are asked to change a sentence in
Active voice into a sentence in Passive voice. To differ the task the
teacher can put the required word in brackets at the end of each sentence.
The students will need to transform a sentence to fit the word in brackets.
Or another example of transformation could be changing the focus of the
1. Berlin is not an easy city to move about in.
2. I wonder if you could open the window.
You couldn’t ………………….
3. When did you start to learn English?
(First certificate Star, Luke
Prodromou, and p.40)
Further, he discusses the sentences that are divided into fragments
(he calls them broken sentences), and the student’s task is to arrange the
words in order to produce correct examples. Thus, the students have to know
grammar and syntaxes to make a right sentence with the correct word order.
Sometimes the students are asked to alter the words to make grammatically
correct sentences, e.g.:
1. a German/hunting/huge/black dog
2. a 25-year-old/Opera/tall singer
3. a brand-new/plastic/shopping/green bag
4. an English/young/interesting teacher
(First certificate Star, Luke
Prodromou, and p.80)
Afterwards, the students can be asked to complete the whole
paragraphs, finish dialogues, write diaries using the given information,
and fill the form, for example hotel check-in. The author of the paper had
used writing a diary in her 8th form, when the learners had to write the
diary of captain’s wife whose husband disappeared in the sea. They also had
to write the diary of the captain himself before the catastrophe. The
students liked the task immensely.
5.10 Free writing
Heaton (ibid.) believes that the most suitable way to check the
students’ writing skills is asking them to write a composition. The teacher
can include a variety of testing criteria there depending on what is really
being tested. The topics for a composition should be appropriate to the age
of the students and respond to their interest. However, the teacher has to
establish clearly what s/he is going to check (the material studied: e.g.
grammar) and what could be neglected. The students have to know whether
the teacher is interested in the context or may be s/he is concerned with
grammar and spelling, as well.
5.11 Test Formats Used in Testing Speaking Skills
We are not going to deep into details of test formats used for
testing speaking skills. Heaton (ibid.) displays that one of the most
essential elements of testing speaking is pronunciation. To check how the
students pronounce certain testing items the teacher may ask his/her
students to read aloud and retell stories. Moreover, the teacher will
receive the impression how well his/her students can operate with the
Afterwards, the teachers can use pictures to test the students’
speaking skills. This is widely used task, and a lot of teachers use it to
check the students speaking skills and the knowledge of the vocabulary.
Moreover, while describing the picture the student will have to imply the
correct grammar and knowledge of the English sentence structure. The
description could be done on the spot and does not require a lot of time
for preparation, though Heaton (ibid.) stipulates that the teacher should
ensure his/her students with a time during which they can formulate their
ideas before presentation.
Apart from the pictures the students could be offered to describe a
person if their topic is people’s appearance or jobs, stay the sequence of
events basing on the provided information or pictures accompanying the
task, spot differences between two pictures and compare them. Further,
Heaton (ibid.) displays a rather interesting task. The students receive a
picture with speech bubbles. They are asked to write what they think people
are saying. This in turn involves creativity from the students and could be
assessed as an additional element and contribute to the students’ marks.
Definitely, each teacher will develop and give the students various tasks
regarding the criteria and demands to be tested.
In conclusion we can say that the teacher can use a variety of test
formats, such as multiple-choice questions, transfer of information;
reordering the words, describe a picture, listening to the instructions to
check the language skills of his/her students. Every teacher has to choose
him/herself the tasks that will be appropriate to their way of teaching and
the needs of the students.
Below we have attached the table of four language skills and test
formats applicable for each skill.
| | |
|Language Skills |Test Formats |
| | |
|Reading skills |1 Multiple-choice items |
| |Short answers test |
| |Cloze test |
| |Gap-filling test |
| |False/true statement |
| | |
|Listening skills |Multiple-choice items |
| |False/true statements |
| |Gap-filling tests |
| |Dictations |
| |Listening recall |
| | |
|Writing skills |Dictations |
| |Compositions |
| |Reproductions |
| |Writing stories |
| |Writing diaries |
| |Filling-in forms |
| |Word formation |
| |Sentence transformation |
| | |
|Speaking skills |Retelling stories |
| |Describing pictures |
| |Describing people |
| |Spotting the differences |
Analysis of the Test of English as a Foreign Language and Cambridge First
Certificate test according to test design criteria.
The present chapter deals with the practical part of the research. It
will be based on the analysis and comparison of two proficiency tests
formats TOEFL (The Test of English as a Foreign Language) test and CFC
(Cambridge First Certificate) test. We will start with the brief
description of their overall features; afterwards we will make an attempt
to contrast them and draw relevant conclusions.
The first test to be discussed is Cambridge First Certificate test. It
will usually consist of five papers: reading with the duration time 1 hour
and 15 minutes, writing -1 hour 30 minutes, use of English -1 hour 15
minutes, listening - 40 minutes and speaking approximately 14 minutes.
There is no absolute pass mark, but the candidates need to get about 60% of
the total marks to pass with a Grade C (Prodromou, 1998:6-7).
TOEFL test is an examination that intends to evaluate the level of the
English language of a foreign speaker (Gear, 1996:3-4). Moreover, it is
commonly one of the aspects included into the entrance exams of any
university in the USA. The institution the person requires the test for
could implement the demanded score here. Nevertheless, the highest score
does not differ from that of the CFC. TOEFL test as CFC test consists of
four different parts: listening comprehension that occupies approximately
35 minutes and consists of three parts, structure and written expression
with time limit 25 minutes composed of two tasks and reading comprehension
– 55 minutes, consisting of several passages.
Here we can notice some differences between CFC and TOEFL tests: when
TOEFL test consists of just four parts, CFC includes a speaking part more.
Moreover, each part of each test will include a various range of tasks,
i.e. each part TOEFL test will mainly be composed of two tasks, whereas
CFC will classically contain four different activities.
Doing the tests in both cases the students will get special answers
sheets where they will have to mark the answers they think are the right
ones. The instructions before the taking the test usually warn the
participants not to write in the books with questions. Moreover, both tests
are checked by the scoring machine, therefore the students should be aware
of what type of marking the answers they have to use. In both cases it
should be a black lead pencil for the scoring machine to read. The answers
should not be circled or lightly marked; in TOEFL test the students are
supposed to fill in an oval answer with a letter inside corresponding to
the question, whereas in CFC the students will have to fill in a small
rectangular under a certain letter. Together the two tests remind the
participants to choose only one answer. If the student changes his/her mind
and decides to choose another answer, s/he can easily rub out the previous
We can call the both tests valid, for they test what is supposed to be
tested and measured and they usually have the same format and length;
regarding reliability, we cannot say exactly whether there is reliability
or not, for if the student was not lucky for the first time taking the
test, s/he can study hard and take the test again for the second time and,
thus, score a better result.
Both of the tests involve the four skills: reading, listening, speaking
and writing. The difference could be found in the sequence of them, for
example if CFC test will start with reading first, TOEFL test will deal
with listening. The types of tasks and activities implied in the test
differ as well. We will start our analysis with reading part.
Reading Comprehension Part
CFC reading paper will test the students’ ability to read in a variety of
ways: reading for gist (understanding of the text), reading for details,
understanding how a text is organized and deducing the meaning from the
context. (Typically, the students could be given four parts to fill)
(Prodromou, 1998:8). For that purpose CFC reading paper will offer the
students multiple matching. The students will have to match headings or
summary sentences to the parts of the text. They will have to show their
ability to grasp the overall meaning of the text involving various kinds of
knowledge such as morphological, semantic and syntactical one. For example:
Meet the Flinstones, a modern Stone Age family. From the town of Bedrock,
here’s a bit about their history….
1. Somewhere in the world, every hour of every day, The Flinstones is being
broadcast. An incredible 300 million fans tune in to watch it regularly.
Whether you like them or not, Fred, Wilma and their neighbours are
impossible to avoid….
A) Rocky jokes B) A Stone Age family in skins C) A new idea D) A
popular show, etc.
Prodromou, First Certificate Star,
Thus, basing on the theory we have discussed in the first part of our
paper, we can claim that it is integrative type of test, though being
direct, that denotes testing one particular skill directly, but not through
other language skills.
Afterwards, CFC may offer the students multiple choice, gapped texts and
again multiple matching only connected with information. In multiple-choice
activity the students will have to answer four-option multiple-choice
questions about a text. For example:
Mad Cow Disease is a deadly illness of the brain and it is the non-
technical term for BSE or Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis. This so difficult
to say that journalists and even some doctors prefer the more vivid Mad Cow
1. We use the expression Mad Cow Disease because
A) it is more accurate.
B) It is easier to say.
C) It links cows with people.
D) It sounds less scientific.
Prodromou, First Certificate Star,
It is obvious that only one answer will be the right one, but the others
will be distractors that will try to confuse the reader. It will limit the
students and make them use a variety of reading strategies, knowledge of
vocabulary and syntaxes to discover the right variant. However, the
students will not have an opportunity to support their choices and prove
why the answer they have chosen is the exact one. Moreover, the students
will be checked whether they understand the general meaning of the text,
its details, whether they can infer the meaning from the text and
understand references (who refers who). Thus, we can declare that this type
of test is integrative, for it involves the students’ abilities to apply
various reading strategies and still direct, for it tests just reading
The same could be said about gapped texts that will check the students’
knowledge of reading strategies, such as organization of the text, reading
for gist, etc. (examples available in Appendix p.17) To complete it the
students will have to show their knowledge of the certain areas of the
language. Multiple matching will require the students to match pieces of
information either with a certain text divided into fragments or with
several texts joined together with one topic (examples available in
CFC will display various types of texts in order to see how well the
students can cope with any authentic material when dealing with reading.
They will have to show their capability of dealing with advertisements,
letters, stories, travelling brochures, guides, manuals, and magazine and
newspaper articles. The type of test applicable here will be integrative,
including a variety of strategies and direct checking the students reading
TOEFL test’s reading part usually involves the students’ general
comprehension of a text. It is regularly a text followed by a number of
questions about it typically in the form of multiple choice items format.
However, this part of the test requires the students to show their skills
in reading for gist, the students have to define the main idea of a text;
afterwards, the students will have to display their knowledge of the
vocabulary, especially synonyms, ability to infer the meaning, define the
words and apply their skills connected with working with references, i.e.:
….The biggest disadvantage was that the sound and pictures could become
unsynchronised if, for example, the gramophone needle jumped or if the
speed of the projector changed. This system was only effective for a single
song or dialogue sequence…..
47. The word “sequence” in line 14 is closest in meaning to
Gear, Cambridge preparation for the TOEFL test, 1996
The students will be offered to read several passages, usually
historical, scientific, medical, etc. facts. They will intend to check the
students’ ability to understand specific types of tests taken from specific
fields, the skill required at the universities, whereas CFC will offer the
students the texts they can encounter in their everyday life being abroad.
Each text will be typically accompanied with seven questions.
TOEFL test will chiefly use multiple-choice items; there will be no gap
filling or matching implied. Thus, we can call a reading part of TOEFL test
as a direct, for it tests the students reading skills, and more discrete
point tests than integrative, for it is mainly concerned with checking the
students’ knowledge of vocabulary (examples available in Appendix p.391-
The above mentioned could be stated as the first difference: TOEFL test
is a discreet point test, while CFC is integrative one.
Another difference between CFC and TOEFL reading part could be a variety
of tasks given to test the students’ reading skills. CFC will mostly offer
a great range of tasks (headings, summary, fragmented texts) and texts
types, while TOEFL will not vary a lot.
The listening part of CFC test aims to test the students’ ability to
listen and understand the gist, the main points, and specific information
is to deduce meaning. TOEFL test will check whether the students are able
to understand conversations and talks in English.
CFC test will offer the students a variety of activities in order to
check whether the students can imply effective listening strategies to
comprehend the message. It suggests the idea of the test being integrative,
for it will focus on different means that could be used to deal with a
listening task. For example, CFC offers multiple choices as a task
(examples available in Appendix p.37): the students listen to several short
extracts that are taken from different contexts. They could be dialogues or
monologues as well. The answer sheet will display the three answer items
from which the students will have to choose the correct one. The task could
ask the students to guess who the speaker is, where the action takes place,
what the conversation is about and even it can include the question about
the feelings and emotions of speakers that could be guessed from the
Afterwards, there will be another task – note taking or blank filling
that will check the student’s ability to listen for gist and for details.
This type will demand the student’s capability to use his/her writing
skills to put down information they will hear. They will have to be able to
pick up the necessary information and retain it in their memory in order to
fulfil the task (examples available in Appendix p.87).
Subsequently, a further task could engage multiple matching where the
students will have to concentrate on a particular kind of information. This
task could be displayed in the form of a dialogue or a monologue. The
students will be given several answers with letters that should be inserted
into the right box. However, there will always be one option that does not
suit any question, the so-called distractor. Moreover, asking the students
to complete a grid, i.e. advantages and disadvantages of anything, could
expand the task, i.e. advantages and disadvantages of keeping a certain
| |Advantages |Disadvantages |
|dog | | |
|cat | | |
|fish | | |
Prodromou, First Certificate Star,
Moreover, the listening task could involve True/false activities where
the students will have to listen to a dialogue or a monologue and react to
it (examples available in Appendix). The students will have to display how
well they have comprehended the message ticking the statements whether they
are true or false. In spite of that, Yes/No questions could take place. We
have been discussing them already in our theoretical part and mentioned
that the so-called open-ended questions allow the students support their
answers. Answering them, the students are having a chance to prove why they
have chosen a certain answer, but not the other. Usually, if the students
are aware of such a possibility, they fill more secure and motivated, for
they can be certain that the examiner will be able to realize the students’
point. However, it is not a very appropriate type for such a test as CFC,
for checking such tests will be rather time-consuming.
Listening part of the TOEFL test differs a lot from that of CFC, for it
is fully based on the multiple-choice items that focus mainly on the
understanding of the main idea of a message (examples available in Appendix
p.379-384) The participants are exposed to a set of short dialogues that
are accompanied with four answers, where three are usually distractors and
the rest one is correct, i.e.:
(man) I think, I’ll have the curtains changed.
(woman) They are a bit worn.
(narrator) What does the woman mean?
A) She thinks every bit of change is important.
B) She wants to wear them.
C) She thinks they’ve been worn enough.
D) She thinks they’re in bad condition.
Gear, Cambridge preparation for the TOEFL test,
The test implies the idea that to do it the students have to use a
variety of listening strategies, but it is not directly aimed at it.
Whereas, the listening part of CFC test is structured so that the students
would be able to display their listening skills and strategies, that are so
useful for them to comprehend the real message in the real-life situation
dealing with a native speaker.
Thus, we can distinguish certain similarities and differences, which we
can encounter comparing them. They are both direct aiming at checking one
exact skill; however, CFC is integrative, but TOEFL is discreet point test.
Moreover, the test formats differ as well. CFC is richer in activities,
than TOEFL test, which offer the students just multiple-choice items test.
The author of the paper presumes that CFC listening part is more testee-
friendly, while TOEFL listening part is more “reserved” and does not allow
the students fill free, but alarmed.
Writing part of CFC test tests the students’ ability to write different
types of writing texts. These could be transactional letters, simple
letters, compositions, descriptions, reports, etc. Moreover, the students
could be asked to write an opinion composition and even an article
(examples available in Appendix p.38).
Transactional letters are aimed at making somebody do something. Writing
them, the students have to keep in mind that they are supposed to get a
There are different types of transactional letters, such as a letter of
complaint, a letter of invitation, a letter asking for information and a
letter describing something. The task requiring the students ability to
write these letters will supply the students with necessary information,
may be even pictures, and usually will ask for the students’ personal
opinion. Moreover, the students have to be aware of the style that should
be used depending on the requirements. Furthermore, the students will have
to know how the letters are structured, for it will be the factor that will
be evaluated as well.
Another writing task such as writing articles for a magazine will require
the students to display their writing abilities, the knowledge of the
vocabulary, the style and letter organization knowledge (examples available
in Appendix 38).
Writing a report will be based on the students’ capability to gather
facts and analyse them. It could involve a kind of a research work and
knowledge how to express and link the ideas together (examples available in
Writing a narrative story will ask the creativity from the students to
make it interesting and original. Again the students will have to be able
to express and link their ideas to produce a meaningful text.
Opinion composition will involve the students’ abilities to state
advantages and disadvantages of the topic being discussed, expressing own
opinion, stating the problem and possible solutions of it and expansion on
the topic analysing various aspects of a topic.
Another writing task could be a book review. The students will have to
know how to plan and organize the review, giving brief information about an
author and some essential details about a book. Moreover, personal opinion
of the students will be required as well.
Thus, looking at the facts stated above we can declare that the writing
part of CFC is purely integrative type of test, for it involves all
possible written tasks and strategies that should be used to accomplish the
tasks effectively. Furthermore, it will be a direct testing aimed at
testing the students’ writing skills. The tasks and activities presented in
this part of CFC reflect the students’ needs they may meet in a real-life
situation, for every possible writing piece is given.
The writing part of TOEFL test will generally involve essay writing.
There will not be any letters or book reviews. The students will be given a
topic that is typically a statement and they will have to expand it and
write about it giving the facts, ideas and sometimes even a personal
opinion, i.e.: “ If the earth to be saved from environmental catastrophe,
we shall all have to make major changes in our lifestyles” (Gear, Cambridge
preparation for the TOEFL test, 1996). This type of writing will focus on
expressing ideas and their linking as well. To write a good essay the
students will require the knowledge of the topic, or schemata, the
knowledge of a relevant vocabulary, appropriate style and organization of
the written text, i.e. thesis sentence, paragraphs, etc (examples available
in Appendix p. 377 – 378).
Therefore, we can conclude that the writing part of TOEFL test could be
called also an integrative type of test involving the range of strategies.
Moreover, it could be defined as direct testing, for it implies testing
exactly the writing skill. Furthermore, it is totally based on the
knowledge how to organize an essay with all necessary paragraphs,
introductions and conclusions.
Use of English or Structure and Written Expressions
An import role in both tests is occupied by use of English or as it is
called in TOEFL Structure and Written Expressions part. It aims at testing
the students’ knowledge of grammar and vocabulary used in the English
CFC offers the students a range of various activities and task to be done
during the testing time. They are multiple choice cloze, open cloze, key
word transformations, error correction and word formation. Whereas, the
usual procedure of the same part in TOEFL test will mostly include multiple-
choice cloze and error correction.
The multiple choice cloze in CFC will usually be in the form of a gapped
text followed by fifteen multiple questions with four options, as always
the only one will be the correct. It will mostly be concerned with
vocabulary items or grammar issues (examples available in Appendix p.44).
Robin Williams was creative and gifted from an early age. He was a/an
(1)_______________child and at school was always a (2)_____________pupil:
he wrestled, ran cross-country and worked (3)_____________at his studies.
1. A imaginary B imaginative C fantastic D mythical
2. A classic B model C superior D spoilt
3. A quickly B easily C hard D fast
Prodromou, First Certificate Star,
Open cloze will mostly be presented in the form of a text with several
spaces, which the students will have to complete with an appropriate word.
It will imply the students’ knowledge of grammar and vocabulary and will
involve the students’ ability to predict and guess from the context
(examples available in Appendix p.94). The task will be rather complicated,
for it will not be a C-test type where the words to be inserted preserve
the initial letter or letters to make the guessing process easier. In our
case the students will have to know how the words and phrases are connected
together, how the sentences are linked, and they will have to know the
grammar forms and structures, so, for example, if they see have/has, they
should immediately know that Present perfect is used. For example:
When you join the International Bird Society, your membership
(1)_____________ make a positive difference to birds everywhere – even if
the only ones you see are the blue tits…..
Prodromou, First Certificate Star,
Key word transformations will make the students alter the sentences
structures, however preserving the entire meaning of them. They will have
to complete a sentence with a given word; here the vocabulary and grammar
will be of major interest again (examples available in Appendix p.86). The
usual change will occur with phrasal verbs, active and passive voice, verbs
and prepositions that go together, etc.:
1. I didn’t like the story and I didn’t like the actors. neither
I ______________________the actors.
Prodromou, First Certificate Star,
Error correction will implement the students’ knowledge of grammar
structures. The students will receive a passage in which they will have to
find incorrect item and highlight it (examples available in Appendix p.55).
Such types of activities will usually include an extra or unnecessary word.
These words could be relative pronouns, prepositions, articles,
conjunctions, etc. For example:
________ If you want to find out about someone’s personality, one way of
to do it is to
________take a sample of their handwriting and analyse it; this is called
________graphology. To do graphology properly, it is important to use
Prodromou, First Certificate Star, 1998
Word formation will based on completing a text by making an appropriate
word form from a word stem given, i.e. discover – discovery (examples
available in Appendix p.104). This part will focus mainly on vocabulary,
especially on word formation rules. Here the knowledge of suffixes and
prefixes will be essential for the students. For example:
Who is mad? Cows or farmers?
Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis is a (1)___________ brain DEAD
Disorder found amongst cows. As this medical term is almost
(2) _________for the majority of ordinary people to say, the illness
is (3)________known as Mad Cow Disease. POPULAR
Prodromou, First Certificate Star, 1998
Concerning TOEFL test, we might say that it is similar to CFC use of
English; however, it displays just several types of tasks. As we have
already mentioned they are error correction and multiple choice cloze.
Multiple choice cloze typically consists of a range of statements in which
there will be a certain grammar structure missing. It is usually based on
grammar, than on vocabulary (examples available in Appendix p. 385 – 386).
The students will have to know how the subject and predicate go together,
how the words and sentence parts are linked with each other. For example:
1. --------infinitely large number of undiscovered galaxies.
B) There are an
C) From an
D) Since there are
Gear, Cambridge preparation for the TOEFL test, 1996
Error correction will differ from that in CFC, for in TOEFL test we will
have a statement with the underlined words that are supposed to be wrong.
The students will have to choose the correct variant (examples available in
Appendix p. 387 – 390). It will usually be based on the students’ knowledge
of grammar items and word formation as well. For example:
Drying food by means of solar energy is ancient process applied wherever
food and climate conditions
A B C D
make it possible.
Gear, Cambridge preparation for the TOEFL test, 1996
In conclusion we can state that Use of English is both discreet and
integrative type of testing, for in some tasks of CFC the knowledge of word
formation is demanded, but in some grammar will be included either.
The Use of English of CFC and TOEFL will be a direct testing, for it will
test the students’ grammar and vocabulary knowledge.
Speaking is another part of the test that is present in CFC and is not
included into TOEFL test. It could be explained by the fact that if the
student passes TOEFL test successfully, s/he will be interviewed directly
at the place s/he needed the test for.
Therefore, will briefly look at CFC speaking part and discuss it. It aims
at the students’ ability to use spoken language effectively in different
types of interaction. The students could be asked to give personal
information, talk about pictures and photographs, be involved in pair work
task or even in discussion.
In personal information part the students could be asked to supply the
personal details about themselves: i.e. their job, family position,
studies, etc.( examples available in Appendix 10 – 11).
In describing pictures or photographs they will have to share their
opinion about them speaking with an examiner. There will be a time limit
set for the talk.
In pair work task and discussion the students will be supplied either by
pictures or photos or by charts and diagrams. They will be joined in pairs
and will have to carry out the task together. It could be either the
solving the problem, planning something, putting something in order or
discussing a certain topic. Discussion will certainly require the students’
personal opinion and analysis of a topic (examples available in Appendix
In CFC the students will have to cooperate with another interlocutor:
either the examiner or another participant.
The author of the paper assume that this part is both integrative and
indirect testing. It is integrative, for it will involve the students’
knowledge of the whole aspects of the language: grammar, sentence
structure, vocabulary, listening skills and may be even reading skills if
the task will be written. To communicate successfully the students will
require listening and comprehending the other speaker’s message to respond.
Grammar should be accurate to produce a good and correct dialogue or a
monologue, for accuracy is an important factor there. The rich word stock
will be inevitable element as well.
Indirect testing means that the whole material will be included while
testing speaking skills.
To conclude we can declare that CFC and TOEFL tests are both integrative
and discreet point tests. They are also direct, however, speaking part in
CFC could be defined as indirect one involving all four skills to be used.
The present research attempted to investigate the essence of two
types of tests, such as TOEFL and CFC tests. The research has achieved the
initially set goals and objectives. It dealt with the basic data about
testing, where the author had displayed the ideas what was the essence of
tests, why the students should be tested, what consequences could tests
produce and whom they would mostly influence. Afterwards, the reasons for
testing were discussed, where the author of the paper had gradually showed
why tests were significant in the process of learning and the role of
testing in the teaching process. After the basic data had been discussed,
the author came directly to types of testing. At that point the author of
the research made an attempt to review various sources on the topic she was
able to find. She had presented the definitions of the types of tests
offered in Longman dictionary of LTAL and then had compared them with the
definitions given by various authors. Later, the author of the research
displayed the ways of their applications and reasons for that. She had also
presented several examples of tests types in the Appendix. The author of
the paper had also discussed ways of testing, such as discrete point test
and integrative test, objective and subjective tests, direct and indirect
tests, etc. The attention was drawn to the significance of their usage and
the purpose for it. Furthermore, the discussion had changed the focus on
another important issue, such as tests formats and approaches for testing
four language skills. Here the author had broadly and explicitly discussed
and analysed the tests formats, such as MCQs, false/true items, cloze
tests, gap-filling tests, etc. She had focused on their application and
skills for which they are used. Moreover, she had displayed various
examples to exemplify each test format, offering several of them in
Appendix of the paper. Likewise, a table with the language skills and test
formats applicable for them was attached to the work as well. Further, a
practical part in the form of the tests’ analysis was presented.
The author of the paper had also dealt with the main issues that are
very vital and essential in analysis of the tests. She had focused on the
reliability and validity of the tests and tried to trace them in TOEFL and
CFC tests. She had thoroughly discussed the tasks and activities composing
the tests designed to test the students’ language skills. Moreover, she had
attempted to compare the two tests and find out any similarities and
differences between them. She had methodically studied each part of the
tests, starting from reading skills finishing with speaking. She had
presented a detailed investigation into the matter together with the
examples that could be observed in Appendix, as well.
Eventually, she had gained her aim having checked the theory into
practice and had proved that it really functioned in the real world.
Moreover, she had revealed that though being sometimes different in their
purpose, design and structure, the TOEFL test and CFC test are constructed
according to the universally accepted pattern.
Thus, the hypothesis of the present research has been confirmed.
1. The role of tests is very useful and important, especially in language
learning, for they indicates how much the learners have learnt during a
course, as well as display the strength and weaknesses of the teaching
process and help the teacher improve it.
2. The tests can facilitate the students’ acquisition process and function
as a tool to increase their motivation; however, too much of testing
could be disastrous changing entirely the students’ attitude towards
learning the language, especially if the results are usually
3. Assessment and evaluation are important aspects for the teacher and the
students and should be correlated in order to make evaluation and
assessment “go hand in hand”.
4. The test should be valid and reliable. They should test what was taught,
taking the learner’s individual pace into account. Moreover, the
instructions of the test should be unambiguous.
5. Validity deals with what is tested and degree to which a test measures
what is supposed to measure.
6. Reliability shows that the test’s results will be similar and will not
change if one and the same test will be given on various days.
7. There are four traditional categories or types of tests: proficiency
tests measuring how much of a language a person knows or has learnt;
achievement tests measuring a language someone has learned during a
specific course, study or program; diagnostic tests displaying the
knowledge of the students or lack of it, and placement tests placing the
students at an appropriate level in a programme or a course.
8. There are two important aspect direct and indirect testing. Direct
testing means the involvement of a skill that is supposed to be tested,
whereas indirect testing tests the usage of the language in real-life
situation and is assumed to be more effective.
9. Discrete point test is a language test that is meant to test a
particular language item, whereas the integrative test intends to check
several language skills and language components together or
10. There are various tests formats, such as multiple-choice tasks, gap-
filling tests, cloze tests, true/false statements, etc. used to check
four language skills.
11. To enter any foreign university the students are supposed to take the
TOEFL or CFC tests. Besides, they can be taken to reveal the student’s
level of the English language.
12. Serving for almost similar purpose, however being sometimes different
in their design and structure, the TOEFL and CFC tests are usually
constructed according to the accepted universal pattern.
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