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.


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

3 Things International Students Should Know About the IELTS Exam - U.S. News & World Report
Posted on 23 April, 2015

U.S. News & World Report

3 Things International Students Should Know About the IELTS Exam
U.S. News & World Report
Prospective undergraduate or graduate students who are applying to universities in English-speaking countries,? or to programs where English is the language of instruction, will likely ...


Perbedaan TOEFL dan IELTS - Okezone
Posted on 22 April, 2015

Okezone

Perbedaan TOEFL dan IELTS
Okezone
JAKARTA - Ketika membaca persyaratan kuliah atau program beasiswa, khususnya di luar negeri, umumnya kita harus melampirkan sertifikat Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) atau International English Language Testing System (IELTS).
Tips Memperoleh Sk...


TOEFL to host live Facebook Chat on April 23 - Hindustan Times
Posted on 22 April, 2015

Hindustan Times

TOEFL to host live Facebook Chat on April 23
Hindustan Times
Test of English as Foreign Language (TOEFL) programme will host a live Facebook chat to celebrate English Language Day on April 23. Any student willing to gain more knowledge about English language and the TOEFL test can pa...


University of Canberra cancelled contracts with international student agencies ... - ABC Online
Posted on 20 April, 2015

Sydney Morning Herald

University of Canberra cancelled contracts with international student agencies ...
ABC Online
There are multiple measurements used to gauge an international student's English abilities, with two of the largest being the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and ...


TOEFL Program to Celebrate English Language Day through Global Live ... - iSchoolGuide
Posted on 16 April, 2015

iSchoolGuide

TOEFL Program to Celebrate English Language Day through Global Live ...
iSchoolGuide
According to TOEFL, the live chat is just a part of a larger campaign that aims to help students start their study-abroad adventure with the TOEFL program by serving as a personal navigator on Facebook ...


El programa TOEFL® alberga el chat mundial en directo en Facebook® el 23 de ... - PR Newswire (Comunicado de prensa)
Posted on 15 April, 2015

PR Newswire (Comunicado de prensa)

El programa TOEFL® alberga el chat mundial en directo en Facebook® el 23 de ...
PR Newswire (Comunicado de prensa)
PRINCETON, Nueva Jersey, 15 de abril de 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- El programa TOEFL® celebra el English Language Day con un chat en directo mundial de preg...


Ways to substitute IELTS score and using a migration agent - Australia Forum
Posted on 13 April, 2015

Ways to substitute IELTS score and using a migration agent
Australia Forum
In regards to the English test requirements, the conditions of these visas state that unless you have a passport from the USA, UK, Ireland, New Zealand and Canada, you need to sit and IELTS or equivalent English test within ...


New test for many UK visa applicants - Hindustan Times
Posted on 2 April, 2015

Hindustan Times

New test for many UK visa applicants
Hindustan Times
IELTS will continue to play an important role in language testing for immigration in the UK and other countries, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand. IELTS tests for visa purposes can only be taken at authorised centres. Wh...


Not a single IELTS centre, ticket agent registered in SAS Nagar - Hindustan Times
Posted on 31 March, 2015

Hindustan Times

Not a single IELTS centre, ticket agent registered in SAS Nagar
Hindustan Times
Not only immigration companies, even International English Language Testing System (IELTS) coaching institutes and ticket agents need mandatory registration under the Punjab Prevention of Human Smuggling ...


IELTS approved as English Proficiency test for all UK visa applications - PrepSure
Posted on 28 March, 2015

PrepSure

IELTS approved as English Proficiency test for all UK visa applications
PrepSure
The United Kingdom (UK) government has announced some important changes to English language tests that are accepted to process the UK visa applications. IELTS (International English Language Testing System), wh...


IELTS, Trinity to be only approved exams for UK visas - The PIE News
Posted on 24 February, 2015

The PIE News

IELTS, Trinity to be only approved exams for UK visas
The PIE News
?We are very disappointed that we will not be able to continue to offer PTE Academic as a UK SELT as we believe that the unrivalled security, speed and convenience of PTE Academic delivers an outstanding service to visa ...


Pearson Test of English Academic accepted by the Australian Government for ... - afaqs
Posted on 11 June, 2014

Pearson Test of English Academic accepted by the Australian Government for ...
afaqs
Pearson, the World's leading learning company, today announced that the Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic) has been approved by the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection...



Links to Websites

Posted on 24 April, 2015
Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic)
PTE Academic is the world's leading computer-based test of English for study abroad and immigration. PTE Academic offers fast, flexible English testing.

Posted on 24 April, 2015
How To Prepare For Pearson Test Of English - PTE Practice ...
Pearson Test of English Academic Exam, also known as PTE Academic Exam, is conducted by a London based media company called Pearson.

Posted on 23 April, 2015
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 22 April, 2015
Official Guide to the TOEFL Test With CD-ROM, 4th Edition ...
Amazon.com: Official Guide to the TOEFL Test With CD-ROM, 4th Edition (Official Guide to the Toefl Ibt) (9780071766586): Educational Testing Service: Books

Posted on 22 April, 2015
Test of English as a Foreign Language - Wikipedia, the ...
Test of English as a Foreign Language or TOEFL is a standardized test of English language proficiency for non-native English language speakers wishing to enroll in U ...

Posted on 22 April, 2015
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.

 
     
 
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.