bright
bright
bright
bright
bright
tl
 
tr
lunder

Language Testing for Higher Education

A Language Testing Scenario for Group or Individual Study
Prof. Glenn Fulcher

Return to Scenario Selection

runder
lcunder
rcunder

 
     
 

Introduction
Language testing for higher education is extremely widespread, and most of it is English testing for academic purposes. Score users are normally academic institutions who wish to know whether an international student has the language abilities necessary to succeed in an academic environment. Of course, an admissions tutor in a University will take many factors into account when making a decision. These factors may include previous learning experience and evidence of content knowledge, references from previous teachers, personal statements, and even indications of personability, ability to work with others, and enthusiasm. If the applicant is a postgraduate it is common to take into account the ranking of the University from which they received their first degree. In addition, the tutor will wish to be reasonably certain that the applicant will be able to read the texts expected of first year students, take part in seminars, tutorials and lectures, and crucially to write assignments in the relevant academic genre. Universities offer both pre- and in-sessional language support programmes that may provide additional assistance. Students are frequently referred to such programmes if their scores on the language test are within the error range of the established cut-score for admission.

Testing English for Academic Purposes (EAP) is now a huge industry. The first thing we need to consider is just why English has become the primary language of higher education, not only in countries where English is the first language, but increasingly around the world (see this paper by Coleman on the use of English in Europe). In his book English as a Global Language, and this YouTube video, David Crystal argues that it is because of power: the language of science and the language of economics has been English for the last 400 years. This has given English, and English medium Universities, both status and advantage. Studying in these Universities has therefore become a goal of more and more international students, as their programs are perceived to provide more opportunities and career enhancement. As a result English language testing has expanded rapidly and is now a multi-million pound industry with the main test providers competing fiercely for market share.


A Brief Overview of Three Tests
There are many English for academic purposes tests on the market. However, the three dominant tests are the TOEFL, from Educational Testing Service, IELTS from the Cambridge/British Council/IDP partnership, and the PTE Academic from Pearson Assessment.

TOEFL
The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) was originally developed in the 1960s, but underwent a major retrofit in readiness for the release of the internet based test (iBT) in 2005. You can read about the retrofit in a book by Chapelle et al. (2008). ETS has long developed tests for University access, including the GRE and the College Board's SAT. In this YouTube video, released by ETS for its 60th anniversary, the CEO of the company explains the rationale behind the work: to provide meritocratic means of giving access to Universities - an aim that goes back to the 1930s. The TOEFL iBT is a linear test, even though its CBT predecessor was computer adaptive. Other novel features include the use of integrated tasks. The format is as follows:

Section Time Limit Questions Tasks
Reading 60-100 minutes 36-70 questions Read 3-5 passages from academic texts and answer questions.
Listening 60-90 minutes 34-51 questions Express an opinion on a familiar topic; speak based on reading and listening tasks.
Break 10 minutes - -
Speaking 20 minutes 6 tasks Express an opinion on a familiar topic; speak based on reading and listening tasks.
Writing 50 minutes 2 tasks Write essay responses based on reading and listening tasks; support an opinion in writing.

Sample test questions are available from the test producer, and independent test reviews are available. Research on the test is available online here.

IELTS
Similarly the International English Language Testing System has undergone many retrofits since its inception in the late 1970s. Much of this is documented in Davies (2008), which also contains sample test tasks from various versions of the test. IELTS had two forerunners in the United Kingdom. The first was the English Proficiency Test Battery (EPTB), which was developed in the 1960s by Alan Davies. This was superseded by the English Language Testing Service in the late 1970s. ELTS differed from IELTS primarily in the provision of subject-specific modules in additional to a general academic module: life sciences, medicine, physical science, social studies, and technology. Following a number of studies, including an ELTS validation study, IELTS was launched in 1989. The major change was the removal of the subject specific (ESP) modules, primarily because research had shown that given the generality of the material in the test, subject specific knowledge did not provide an advantage on a subject specific test (Clapham, 1996). Further retrofits have taken place at intervals since its introduction. The format is as follows:

Section Time Limit Questions
Listening 30 minutes 40 questions
Reading 60 minutes 40 questions
Writing 60 minutes 2 tasks (150 - 250 words)
Speaking 11 - 14 minutes -

Sample materials are available from the test producer. Research Reports are also freely available.

Pearson PTE
The PTE Academic was rolled out in 2009 with the explicit aim of taking market share away from the two established tests (see the review of 2009). In this YouTube Video Professor John de Jong introduces the test. It differs from the others primarily in the fact that testing is 'on demand' rather than on set test dates, and the scores are issued within 5 working days. This speed is achieved through the use of automated scoring, even for the speaking component. For an introduction to automated scoring see the video on this topic by Xiaoming Xi. PTE Academic also claims to have the most advanced biometric test security system to ensure that ghost writers cannot take tests on behalf of others. The format of this computer based test is as follows:

Section Time Limit Questions Tasks
Introduction Not timed - -
Speaking and Writing 77 - 93 minutes Speaking, speaking and reading, speaking and listening, writing. Personal introduction, reading aloud, repeating sentences, describing a picture, re-tell a lecture, answer short questions, summarize a text, write an essay.
Reading 132 - 41 minutes reading, reading and writing. Multiple-choice, re-order paragraphs, blank filling.
Optional Break 10 minutes - -
Listening 45 - 57 minutes Listening, listening and reading, listening and writing. Summarize spoken text, multiple-choice, blank filling, highlight correct summary, select missing words, highlight incorrect words, write from dictation.

A complete test overview is available in this tutorial. Pearson makes available a number of scored (for a fee) and unscored (free) practice tests. Pearson makes its research available on this website.


Marketing
Providers of tests of English for University entry are in competition with each other and therefore promote their tests widely. This is particularly the case with social media and the internet. ETS, Cambridge and Pearson all have YouTube channels. The latest video from each of these companies is imported here.

ETS TOEFL Austrade Win Your Future Contest
Thousands of students from across the globe were given a chance to win a year of study in Australia. Here are the seven finalists and the winner! From: TOEFLtv Views: 26839 14 ratings Time: 01:25 More in Education
Posted on 26 December, 2013


Cambridge English: First (from 2015), Victoria and Edward
Read examiner's comments here http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/173977-cambridge-english-first-speaking-test-examiner-comments.pdf This includes comment... From: cambridgeenglishtv Views: 1201 25 ratings Time: 14:23 More in Education
Posted on 21 July, 2014


Score Report Website
A walk-through of the PTE Academic score report website from a student point of view. From: PearsonPTE Views: 130 0 ratings Time: 01:37 More in Education
Posted on 10 June, 2014


Testing and Immigration
In many European countries and Australia language testing for University entrance has become wrapped up in immigration policy (see Extra et al., Hogan-Brun et al., and Slade et al.). This is partly because countries have tried to attract students into higher education with the promise that on graduation they may stay and work, and that their spouses may obtain a work permit while they are studying. When the financial and economic climate is not so good these are usually withdrawn. Also, a reduction in student numbers is one of the few ways that governments can be seen to control immigration. In this news clip from the United Kingdom the controversy is clear. On the one hand students are seen as vital to the economy, while on the other politicians wish to restrict student visas and insist that students return home at the end of their studies. The use of set scores on language tests as a criterion for issuing student visas is the easiest way to implement such policies, but it is a highly controversial practice.


For Discussion

  1. The primary users of language test scores for higher education are admissions tutors. Do a Google search on 'admissions tutor': what precisely is their job? Can you think of other kinds of information they may take into account apart from those listed above? What are the consequences of making a poor decision?
  2. Look at sample materials from the three tests mentioned on this page, along with the overview of the test from the website of the test provider. In what ways are they similar? How is each one distinctive? Are there any features that you think are particularly attractive or problematic?
  3. Each of the tests listed on this page publishes research into the validity of the test for its intended purpose. What kinds of evidence does each present? Select one piece of research and write a critical review.
  4. Tests are designed for particular purposes. The constructs, skills, abilities or knowledge that the test is designed to measure are defined in the test specifications. The tests described on this page are all intended to serve the same decision making purpose. For this reason decision makers sometimes wish to have score comparisons, like this one produced by ETS: Score Comparison Tool. You can also find a link on this page to the research conducted to construct this tool. Why do you think admissions tutors wish to have this kind of information even though it is very difficult to compare results on tests that are not generated by the same specifications?
  5. Look at the news links on the right side of this web page. Choose one or two that look interesting and/or controversial. What are the issues that are of concern to the wider public in language testing for University entry?
  6. Using these language tests in immigration policy is highly controversial and raises many ethical issues. But as Bishop (2004) correctly argues there is nothing in the Standards for Educational and Psychological Assessment, or even the ILTA Code of Ethics, that clearly makes such use unethical. Yet, it makes many language testers uneasy. Why do you think this is the case? What is your position on this use of tests?
  7. When designing domain specific tests it can be useful to have access to a corpus like the Michigan Corpus of Academic English (MICASE). Look at examples of specific speech events from this corpus. How might you use this data in researching a test of spoken academic English?

Latest HE Language Testing News

ETS???????TOEFL iBT??????????????5????????? - MSN??????
Posted on 31 July, 2014

ETS???????TOEFL iBT??????????????5?????????
MSN??????
???????????????????2014 ? 7?30??-- ???????????TOEFL(R) ??????????Educational Testing Service??????????????????ETS????????TOEFL??????????????????????CIEE??? ...

and more »


More English-language standards added to HCM City school curriculum - VietNamNet Bridge
Posted on 30 July, 2014

VietNamNet Bridge

More English-language standards added to HCM City school curriculum
VietNamNet Bridge
At a workshop on teaching and learning English in HCM City organized by the city's education department on July 22, participants heard the IIG's presentation about the TOEFL Primary test, a new st...


Proofs De Facto Relationship - Student Visa for 190 or 189 (after) - Expat Forum
Posted on 30 July, 2014

Proofs De Facto Relationship - Student Visa for 190 or 189 (after)
Expat Forum
I'm in the same situation as yours, but already applying for the 189 visa. I still haven't received my grant, however, the last time we heard from the CO he requested my spouse IELTS test result and nothing else. Accordi...


Business Today - Australia Network
Posted on 30 July, 2014

Business Today
Australia Network
Our programs are supported by a wealth of additional material, whether you need to refresh your basic skills or are aiming to score high on the IELTS test. Improve your English in fun and interesting ways with our English Learning programs for a range ...



Free IELTS Test Preparation Materials: The Best Way to Study for the Exam - Free Press Release Center (press release)
Posted on 30 July, 2014

Free IELTS Test Preparation Materials: The Best Way to Study for the Exam
Free Press Release Center (press release)
Auckland, New Zealand ? July 30th, 2014 /PressCable/ ? IELTS candidates interested in free IELTS test preparation materials will find relevant and useful information on the new recent...


Osaka bets big on TOEFL to boost English levels - The Japan Times
Posted on 27 July, 2014

Osaka bets big on TOEFL to boost English levels
The Japan Times
TOEFL iBT is an Internet-based English exam that tests reading, writing, listening and speaking aimed at people who will pursue academic studies in the medium of English, says Jaime Miller, a TOEFL teacher and founder of English Succes...


Duolingo Launches Its Certification Program To Take On TOEFL - TechCrunch
Posted on 23 July, 2014

GigaOM

Duolingo Launches Its Certification Program To Take On TOEFL
TechCrunch
Duolingo, the free language learning service, today announced the launch of Test Center, its digital language certification program. The company is launching this service with an English Proficiency Exam that will rate yo...


Examen TOEFL, a un clic y por 20 dólares - CNNExpansión.com
Posted on 23 July, 2014

El Economista

Examen TOEFL, a un clic y por 20 dólares
CNNExpansión.com
Exámenes de certificación como TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) que avala el idioma inglés, podrán tomarse a través de esta aplicación. El costo por examen será de 20 dólares, con una duración de 40 minutos y de 250...


TOEFL comes to town - Calcutta Telegraph
Posted on 17 July, 2014

Calcutta Telegraph

TOEFL comes to town
Calcutta Telegraph
Bhubaneswar, July 17: Anshul Jain, 25, an engineer wanting to pursue Masters of Science at a California-based university, had to go to Calcutta to take the test of English as a foreign language, popularly known as TOEFL. But for the likes of ...


TOEFL: tried and tested - Times Higher Education
Posted on 16 July, 2014

TOEFL: tried and tested
Times Higher Education
Harris incorrectly identifies which English language test featured in a recent BBC Panorama investigation. The issue involves the TOEIC test of workplace English. The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which was never the focus of the Home ...


Online IELTS Having Great Success With Students Worldwide - DigitalJournal.com
Posted on 10 July, 2014

Online IELTS Having Great Success With Students Worldwide
DigitalJournal.com
Online IELTS is a company founded by Kunaal Tailor, Kunaal has put together a team of high quality, professional and experienced, native English speaking tutors. The company works with students from all over the world and ...


AUS is now an official IELTS test venue in Sharjah - Zawya (registration)
Posted on 10 July, 2014

Zawya (registration)

AUS is now an official IELTS test venue in Sharjah
Zawya (registration)
American University of Sharjah ( AUS ) has recently signed an agreement with the British Council making the university an official IELTS test venue in Sharjah. Around 1,000-2,000 test takers are expected to ...


5 sites gratuitos focados no Toefl, o exame de inglês do Ciência sem Fronteiras - Último Segundo - iG
Posted on 7 July, 2014

5 sites gratuitos focados no Toefl, o exame de inglês do Ciência sem Fronteiras
Último Segundo - iG
Nunca os universitários brasileiros precisaram se preocupar tanto com o teste de proficiência em inglês Toefl (Test of English as a Foreign Language). Considerado o principal exame de certificação em...


Kuwaiti official urges students undergo IELTS exams - Kuwait News Agency
Posted on 6 July, 2014

Kuwait News Agency

Kuwaiti official urges students undergo IELTS exams
Kuwait News Agency
LONDON, July 6 (KUNA) -- Head of the Kuwaiti Cultural Office in the United Kingdom Dr. Mohammad Al-Hajeri has urged Kuwaiti students who have been accepted by UK universities to sit for the IELTS (International...


English language tests: poor preparation? - Times Higher Education
Posted on 2 July, 2014

Times Higher Education

English language tests: poor preparation?
Times Higher Education
Skill in IELTS essay writing, for example, merely demonstrates a student's ability to cobble together a superficial argument in a reasonably coherent format. It can actually encourage a formulaic approach to Engl...



Links to Websites

Posted on 29 July, 2014
Test of English as a Foreign Language - TOEFL: Home
Information about the TOEFL tests and services are available online. Try the TOEFL practice questions.

Posted on 29 July, 2014
The TOEFL Test: Find Your Format - Educational Testing Service
The TOEFL iBT® test, administered via the Internet, is offered more than 50 times a year at ETS-authorized test centers throughout the world.

Posted on 29 July, 2014
TOEFL® Prep- and TOEFL® Preparation -- 120 TOEFL ...
TOEFL is an acronym that stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. It measures your proficiency in the English language in an academic context.

Posted on 28 July, 2014
TOEFLGoAnywhere.org - The TOEFL® Test
Want to study abroad? Need a visa for an English-speaking country? The TOEFL English-language test can get you there. Visit TOEFLGoAnywhere.org for more info.

Posted on 28 July, 2014
IELTS - International English Language Testing System| Home
Find an IELTS test centre near you, understand the test format and try sample test questions.

Posted on 28 July, 2014
IELTS International English language test system | Take IELTS
Take IELTS English test with British Council. IELTS ? The worlds leading English test of listening, reading, writing and speaking. Book your IELTS test NOW!

Posted on 28 July, 2014
International English Language Testing System - Wikipedia ...
The International English Language Testing System, or IELTS is an international standardised test of English language proficiency for non-native English language ...

Posted on 27 July, 2014
Institutions - International English Language Testing System
Who accepts IELTS? Detailed Search. Search by location

 
     
 
References
     
 
  • Bishop, S. (2004). Thinking about professional ethics. Language Assessment Quarterly 1(2&3), 109 - 122.
  • Brandt, C. (2010). Scaffolding ESL Undergraduates' Academic Acculturation through Journal Articles as Teaching Resource. International Journal of Arts and Sciences 3(17), 276 - 286.
  • Clapham, C. (1996). The development of IELTS: a study of the effect of background knowledge on reading comprehension. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Chapelle, C. A., M. K. Enright & J. M. Jamieson (2008). Building a Validity Argument for the Test of English as a Foreign Language. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Coleman, J. A. (2006). English-medium teaching in European Higher Education.Language Teaching 39(1), 1 - 14.
  • Davies, A. (2008). Assessing Academic Egnlish: Testing English proficiency 1950 - 1989 - the IELTS Solution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Extra, G., Spotti & P. Van Avermaet (Eds.) (2009). Language Testing, migration and citizenship: Cross-national perspectives on integration regimes. London and New York: Continuum.
  • Hogan-Brun, G., C. Mar-Molinero & P. Stevenson (Eds.) (2009). Discourses on language and integration: Critical perspectives on Language Testing regimes in Europe. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Nunan, D. (2003). The Impact of English as a Global Language on Educational Policies and Practices in the Asia-Pacific Region TESOL Quarterly 37(4), 589 - 613.
  • Slade, C. & M. Möllering (Eds.) (2010). From migrant to citizen: Testing language, testing culture. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.