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Designing tests

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When we write tests for our classes, we need to bear in mind the characteristics of good tests which we discussed. We will think very carefully about how practical our tests will be in terms of time (including how long it will take us to mark them).

When writing progress tests, it is important to try to work out what we want to achieve, especially since the students’ results in a progress test will have an immediate effect on their motivation. AS a consequence, we need to think about how difficult we want the test to be. It is designed so that only the best students will pass, or should everyone get a good mark? Some test designers, especially for public exams, appear to have an idea of how many students should get a high grade, what percentage of examinees should pass satisfactorily, and what an acceptable failing percentage would look like.

Progress tests should not work like that, however. Their purpose is only to see how well the students have learnt what they have been taught. Our intention, as far as possible, should be to allow the students to show us what they know and can do, not what they don’t know and can’t do.

When designing tests for our classes, it is helpful to make a list of the things we want to test. This list might include grammar items (e.g. the present continuous) or direct tasks (e.g. sending an email to arrange a meeting). When we have made our lists, we can decide how much importance to give to each item. We can then reflect these different levels of importance either by making specific elements take up most of the time (or space) on the test, or by weighting the marks to reflect the importance of a particular element. In other words, we might give a writing task double the marks of an equivalent indirect test item to reflect our belief in the importance of direct test types.

When we have decided what to include, we write the test. However, it is important that we do not just hand it straight over to the students to take. It will be much more sensible to show the test to colleagues (who frequently notice things we had not thought of) first. If possible, it is a good idea to try the test out with students of roughly the same level as the ones it is designed for. This will show us if there are any items which are more difficult (or easier) than we thought, and it will highlight any items which are unclear – or which cause unnecessary problems.

Finally, once we have given the test and marked it, we should see if we need to make any changes to it if we are to use some or all of it again.

It is not always necessary to write our own tests, however. Many coursebooks now include test items or test generators which can be used instead of home-grown versions. However, such tests may not take account of the particular situation or learning experiences of our own classes.

Conclusion /in this chapter we have:

· discussed the different reasons that students take tests, and detailed the differences between placement test, progress tests, achievement tests, public examinations and proficiency tests.

· mentioned the fact that test design may be physical constraints (e.g. time and money).

· talked about the washback effect which can sometimes persuade teachers to work only on exam preparation with their students while ignoring general language development. We have said this is not usually a good thing. We talked about the effect of success or failure in tests on students’ motivation.

· looked at examples of different test types and items including discrete test items (one thing at a time) and integrative test items (where students use a variety of language and skills); direct test items (where students are asked to do things with the language – e.g. writing a report) and indirect items (where they are tested about the language – e.g. grammar tests).

· discussed the issue of subjectivity when it comes to marking tests and shown how marking scales can counter such subjectivity – though if they are over-detailed they may become cumbersome.

· said that when preparing tests, we need to decide what we want to test and how important each part of a test is in relation to the other parts. We said that teachers should show their tests to colleagues and try them out before using them «for real».


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