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

Application Information
22 October, 2017
Have an indicative minimum score of English language proficiency test: 80 for TOEFL (IBT) or 5.5 for IELTS or ? be a national of a country where the Japanese Government Scholarship is offered. ? be under 35 years of age as of April 1, 2018.

Test yourself: Last goodbye - Bangkok Post
21 October, 2017

Bangkok Post

Test yourself: Last goodbye
Bangkok Post
Test Yourself is where you can improve your reading skills. Whether it's for tests like University Entrance Exams or IELTS and TOEFL, or even just for fun, these pages help you to read, understand and improve your English. Read the following stor...


Last goodbye
21 October, 2017
Test Yourself is where you can improve your reading skills. Whether it?s for tests like University Entrance Exams or IELTS and TOEFL, or even just for fun, these pages help you to read, understand and improve your English. Read the following story by ...

uMasterExam Offers a Platform To Connect With Top TOEFL iBT Tutors - PR Web (press release)
18 October, 2017

uMasterExam Offers a Platform To Connect With Top TOEFL iBT Tutors
PR Web (press release)
As a comprehensive TOEFL iBT prep guide, uMasterExam provides a list of private TOEFL iBT tutors for test candidates. Test applicants, from all around the world, can use uMasterExam to search for a private TOE...


QNCC to be new venue for IELTS - Gulf Times
17 October, 2017

Gulf Times

QNCC to be new venue for IELTS
Gulf Times
Dr Frank Fitzpatrick, country director at the British Council, Qatar said: ?The introduction of this most sophisticated and comprehensive test venue will significantly enrich the customer journey and experience for our IELTS candidates. We believe...


QNCC to be new venue for IELTS
17 October, 2017
British Council Qatar has joined hands with Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC) as the new International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test centre from November 1, 2017. QNCC, located in Gharafat Al Rayyan, on the Dukhan Highway in Doha, is ...

Buy registered IELTS, TOEFL, ESOL All English Language Certi - Vietnam Forum
16 October, 2017
This post was determined to be inappropriate by the TripAdvisor community and has been removed. To review the TripAdvisor Forums Posting Guidelines, please follow this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/pages/forums_posting_guidelines.html Our staff may also ...

Aquired Legit IELTS/TOEFL Certificate for Australia/UK Immigration (ielts.asap020@yahoo.com)
15 October, 2017
Sorry, you need to login or sign up using one of the blue buttons below in order to vote. As a new user, you get 3 WSO Credits free, so you can reward or punish any content you deem worthy right away. See you on the other side!

A Brief Guide to IELTS General Training Exam
10 October, 2017
The IELTS General Training test is for people who want to stay in an English-speaking country for training programs, secondary education, and employment. It measures the test takers practical English communication skills in various social and workplace ...

Buy Registered IELTS,TOEFL,Certificates,Passports,Drivers License,ID Cards,Visas,((phamthuy45@yahoo.com)) in Zoho Mail ?
10 October, 2017
Buy Registered IELTS,TOEFL,Certificates,Passports,Drivers License,ID Cards,Visas,((phamthuy45@yahoo.com)) in Zoho Mail ? Using Zoho Mail Buy Registered IELTS,TOEFL,Certificates,Passports,Drivers License,ID Cards,Visas,((phamthuy45@yahoo.com)) We offer ...

Judge orders Chinese student deported after guilty plea in exam scam - The Boston Globe
5 October, 2017

Judge orders Chinese student deported after guilty plea in exam scam
The Boston Globe
The TOEFL exam is used by more than 9,000 colleges, universities, and agencies around the world. It is also used by the US government in issuing, extending or renewing F-1 student visas, prosecutors said. Three ot...


TOEFL: cosa è e come prepararsi a Roma - RomaToday
30 September, 2017

RomaToday

TOEFL: cosa è e come prepararsi a Roma
RomaToday
Il TOEFL, ovvero il Test Of English as a Foreign Language, è un particolare test che valuta, in modo oggettivo, la padronanza della lingua inglese. Questa è la certificazione che viene, solitamente, richiesta per accedere alle più importanti...


NMC expects to change language test for overseas applicants ... - Nursing in Practice
28 September, 2017

Nursing in Practice

NMC expects to change language test for overseas applicants ...
Nursing in Practice
The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) is likely to announce the introduction of the Occupational English Test (OET) as an alternative to the IELTS ...

and more »


Nurses who failed English test aimed at curbing immigration set for a reprieve - The Guardian
23 September, 2017

The Guardian

Nurses who failed English test aimed at curbing immigration set for a reprieve
The Guardian
As a result the NMC brought in the IELTS test, but it led to a dramatic drop in foreign nurses registering in the UK, from 1,304 EU nurses in July 2016 to just 46 in April this year. Recruitment ...


Pearson Test of English accepted for New Zealand immigration
11 October, 2016
Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic), a leading online language proficiency test, will be an approved proof of English language proficiency for all visa categories with an English language requirement from Monday 21 November this year ...

Firm floats alternative to TOEFL
6 July, 2013
?PTE (Pearson Test of English) Academic is the most recent international test. It was developed in the 21st century,? de Jong said in a recent interview with The Japan Times. ?So we could make use of the experience and the information that is around ...

The CollegeBound Network's New International Student Portal, MyGlobalEducation.com, Partners with Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic)
30 March, 2010
CBN's new international web portal, www.MyGlobalEducation.com, and Pearson's new English language test, PTE Academic, provide enhanced options for non-native English speakers who plan on applying to higher education institutions. Founded in 1987 ...


Links to Websites

20 October, 2017
Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic) :: Pearson VUE
Pearson VUE delivers certification exams for Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic).

20 October, 2017
Pearson Test of English | PTE Academic
Study or move abroad with PTE Academic. The Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic) is the English test trusted by universities, colleges and governments ...

18 October, 2017
TOEFL Registration: Online Registration
Online Registration for the TOEFL® PBT Test You must complete the following four steps to register for the test:

18 October, 2017
International English Language Testing System - Wikipedia
The International English Language Testing System, or IELTS / ? a?. ? l t s /, is an international standardised test of English language proficiency for non-native ...

18 October, 2017
TOEFL: Home - Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
Information about the TOEFL tests and services are available online. Try the TOEFL practice questions.

17 October, 2017
Test of English as a Foreign Language - Wikipedia
Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL / ? t o? f ?l / TOH-f?l) is a standardized test to measure the English language ability of non-native ...

 
     
 
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.