Writing Effective Tests for ESL Students

Testing ESL students TESOLOne of the most challenging tasks that ESL teachers need to fulfill is evaluating their students. After many years in the profession, it is sometimes a little easier to gauge whether students are improving while taking the class. However, this ballpark impression, which can sometimes be based on experience and instinct, is very difficult to quantify and prove. Furthermore, it is far from accurate. Thus, ESL teachers must learn and develop a trustworthy method of evaluating their students in order to provide evidence of their students’ progress and improvement.

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What is Being Evaluated? – Testing in TESOL

It is adamant that, as a teacher, you can clearly identify what is being tested or evaluated by each of the exercises or tasks. The real aim of the exercise must be straightforward and clear.

For example, if the goal of an exercise is to test a student’s knowledge of vocabulary only, marks should be awarded or taken away only for mistakes or correct answers in this area and not for other grammar mistakes when the student writes example sentences.

Ideally, the task or exercise should be built efficiently so this possible confusion is avoided. Following this idea, a better way of testing vocabulary would be asking students to complete sentences already written or to match the vocabulary word to the correct definition. This kind of exercise would test the students’ comprehension and recognition of the vocabulary. However, if the aim is to test the students’ use of the vocabulary word correctly, sometimes doing this efficiently can be more complicated.

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Recognition vs Production – Testing in TESOL

Evaluating comprehension and recognition in general can be easier, and assigning a mark to students can be done more accurately than when evaluating a student’s ability to speak or write in a second language.

Following the example above, testing whether a student can use certain vocabulary words correctly can lead to other kinds of mistakes if the student is asked to write the definition of these words or to use these words in sentences of their own. The best way of evaluating their ability to use the new vocabulary is to try and ignore all other mistakes that may surround the new vocabulary. Furthermore, students must understand that in order to prove their knowledge of these words, they must use them in sentences that denote their meaning clearly.

The possibility that students might not understand the instructions, or that their grammar mistakes obscure the meaning of the vocabulary words, makes testing of a student’s writing skills more challenging.

Similarly, when evaluating speaking skills, the above needs to be taken into consideration as well. Added to this, aspects like pronunciation, fluency and intonation also play an important part in enhancing or hindering a student’s ability to speak clearly and complete a speaking task successfully, so they should also be accounted for in the marking scheme.

In order to avoid further confusion, and for straightforward marking, the teacher needs to create one exercise to evaluate each objective or skill. When more than one exercise is used to evaluate one skill, it is suggested that one be a recognition type of exercise while the other requires the student to produce (write or speak) in order to have some balance in the evaluation.

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Levels, Benchmarks, Checklists and Rubrics – Testing in TESOL

In conclusion, when evaluating ESL students’ performance in learning and improving their language skills, it is of utmost importance that teachers have a clear list of goals or expectations.

Standardized tests and other testing methods have come up with benchmarks, levels and rubrics that teachers can use in order to evaluate their students. Teachers can use these general ones if they have them available, or they can create their own; which will often be better for them. Using these ‘checklists’ will improve the teacher’s objectivity and fairness when evaluating the students. Furthermore, it will make marking a less daunting and taxing task, while at the same time the results will be more accurate.

Related Articles:

Testing ESL Students: Preparing Grammar and Vocabulary Tests

Assessing Listening Skills and Spelling with Dictation

Evaluating Speaking Skills